Happiness… An inside Job

In the pursuit of happiness, one of the hardest concepts to get our head around is the fact that happiness is an inside job, with the sole responsibility of happiness is within us rather than dependent on other people or external factors.

I know people say ‘happiness is a choice’, but how many of us really chose to be happy? Isn’t it easier to blame others/ events / weather for our unhappiness rather than admit we are unhappy because we choose to be?!

For me, it was one thing knowing that whether I am happy or sad depended entirely on me and actually doing something about it! Doing something about it, turns out to be quite simple; and it was all in my head!

  • Positive reframing

Every day we come to face to face with many events and circumstances that affect our emotions negatively. Everything from arguments, bad days at work, tantrum throwing children (or adults for that matter!) to cancelled trains and unfair parking tickets test your emotions and feelings to the limit.

Whatever the situation maybe, one of the main things to remember is that there is something between the situation and you, and that is your thoughts about the situation. By changing the thoughts can completely change the way you feel about the situation; you can go from feeling completely awful to something resembling happiness and the power to make this change is entirely up to you.

In psychology, this is called positive reframing; a way of trying to reconsider the things and events in a more positive light. Positive reframing doesn’t change a situation, but it changes the way you feel about it by putting a positive perspective to it, finding the ‘sliver- lining’ in every situation.

Example diagram

There isn’t always an easy option, but there is always a silver-lining if you look hard enough for it. One of my all-time favourite quotes is ‘this too shall pass’ and whatever situation you find yourself, whether positive or negative, it too will come to pass so ride out the negatives and savour the positives.

  • Make Gratitude your attitude

Cultivating gratitude is one of the best ways to be in a state of happiness. By focusing more and more on what you are grateful for, the more you start seeing life in a completely new frame of mind. This is also one of the key tools in using law of attraction to your vantage; what you focus on you attract – so by focusing on what you are grateful for you are more likely to attract it into your life.

How does gratitude help you to be happier person? First of all, being grateful for things you have make you count your blessings and this has an impact of our mood and emotional well-being and this is backed up several studies (including C.Watkins et al (Berkeley)) . Other positive psychology studies have shown that practicing gratitude consistency leads to not only to positive emotions, but to positive experiences, improved health, stronger relationships and resilience to adversity.

Most of us have something to be grateful for; food on our plates, a shelter to stay warm; someone to call a friend or a family and if you are reading this, then a smart phone or a computer at your fingertips to access abundance of information. There is always something to be grateful for, in any situation if you look hard enough.

  • Live in the moment

One of the fundamental things to remember is that the only reality we have is this moment in time is the present while the past and future does not exist outside of our mind! So if we focus on the present moment, rather than worry about the past or be anxious about the future, we are on the road to living a happier life.

“Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy” – unknown

In does take some practice to be present in the moment but when you start living this way, you can learn to appreciate the beauty of the moment and live a fuller life. Here are few techniques that you can use to stay in the moment.

Breathe: One of the best ways to do this is simply be and focus on this present moment. Turn off your smart phone / computer or whatever distraction you have around you and focus on your breath and stay present to the moment.

Notice small things: Another exercise to stay in the moment is to notice what happening around you without judgment and notice the small things; sound of a clock ticking, bird song in the garden; light flickering on your phone; vapors rising out of a hot cup of tea.

Meditate: Of course one of the ultimate ways to be present in the moment is to practice meditation. There are many meditative techniques and teachings out there, but the main thing with meditation is patience as sometimes it will take time to train your mind.

  • Good relationships

I recently watched a TED talk by Robert Waldinger on a 75 years study into true happiness and satisfaction, based on Harvard study in America. Since the 1930’s, this study followed over 3000-odd adults in America, ranging from Harvard graduates to deprived inner city Boston young adults, to understand what really makes people truly happy and not surprisingly, one single reason that stood out as vital for happiness is good relationships and social connections.

However, in the first instance, fostering good relationships seems to be at odds with the concept of inner happiness. If your happiness is driven by your inner most thoughts and feelings, why should a good relationship matter? First of all, we humans are social animals and we thrive at best in groups and when we are connected to others. So we can be happy on our own, but we are much happier when we are connected to someone else.

But even far more fundamental point is that people who have inner happiness are much better at relationships than those who rely on other people to drive their happiness. Those who have found inner happiness are usually whole and secure and they do not need other people to fill in their happiness, instead their own happiness flows into the relationship, flourishing the relationship.

“Happiness is an inside job. Don’t assign anyone else that much power over your life” – Mandy Hale

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Happiness… An inside Job

In the pursuit of happiness, one of the hardest concepts to get our head around is the fact that happiness is an inside job, with the sole responsibility of happiness is within us rather than dependent on other people or external factors.

I know people say ‘happiness is a choice’, but how many of us really chose to be happy? Isn’t it easier to blame others/ events / weather for our unhappiness rather than admit we are unhappy because we choose to be?!

For me, it was one thing knowing that whether I am happy or sad depended entirely on me and actually doing something about it! Doing something about it, turns out to be quite simple; and it was all in my head!

  • Positive reframing

Every day we come to face to face with many events and circumstances that affect our emotions negatively. Everything from arguments, bad days at work, tantrum throwing children (or adults for that matter!) to cancelled trains and unfair parking tickets test your emotions and feelings to the limit.

Whatever the situation maybe, one of the main things to remember is that there is something between the situation and you, and that is your thoughts about the situation. By changing the thoughts can completely change the way you feel about the situation; you can go from feeling completely awful to something resembling happiness and the power to make this change is entirely up to you.

In psychology, this is called positive reframing; a way of trying to reconsider the things and events in a more positive light. Positive reframing doesn’t change a situation, but it changes the way you feel about it by putting a positive perspective to it, finding the ‘sliver- lining’ in every situation.

Example diagram

There isn’t always an easy option, but there is always a silver-lining if you look hard enough for it. One of my all-time favourite quotes is ‘this too shall pass’ and whatever situation you find yourself, whether positive or negative, it too will come to pass so ride out the negatives and savour the positives.

  • Make Gratitude your attitude

Cultivating gratitude is one of the best ways to be in a state of happiness. By focusing more and more on what you are grateful for, the more you start seeing life in a completely new frame of mind. This is also one of the key tools in using law of attraction to your vantage; what you focus on you attract – so by focusing on what you are grateful for you are more likely to attract it into your life.

How does gratitude help you to be happier person? First of all, being grateful for things you have make you count your blessings and this has an impact of our mood and emotional well-being and this is backed up several studies (including C.Watkins et al (Berkeley)) . Other positive psychology studies have shown that practicing gratitude consistency leads to not only to positive emotions, but to positive experiences, improved health, stronger relationships and resilience to adversity.

Most of us have something to be grateful for; food on our plates, a shelter to stay warm; someone to call a friend or a family and if you are reading this, then a smart phone or a computer at your fingertips to access abundance of information. There is always something to be grateful for, in any situation if you look hard enough.

  • Live in the moment

One of the fundamental things to remember is that the only reality we have is this moment in time is the present while the past and future does not exist outside of our mind! So if we focus on the present moment, rather than worry about the past or be anxious about the future, we are on the road to living a happier life.

“Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy” – unknown

In does take some practice to be present in the moment but when you start living this way, you can learn to appreciate the beauty of the moment and live a fuller life. Here are few techniques that you can use to stay in the moment.

Breathe: One of the best ways to do this is simply be and focus on this present moment. Turn off your smart phone / computer or whatever distraction you have around you and focus on your breath and stay present to the moment.

Notice small things: Another exercise to stay in the moment is to notice what happening around you without judgment and notice the small things; sound of a clock ticking, bird song in the garden; light flickering on your phone; vapors rising out of a hot cup of tea.

Meditate: Of course one of the ultimate ways to be present in the moment is to practice meditation. There are many meditative techniques and teachings out there, but the main thing with meditation is patience as sometimes it will take time to train your mind.

  • Good relationships

I recently watched a TED talk by Robert Waldinger on a 75 years study into true happiness and satisfaction, based on Harvard study in America. Since the 1930’s, this study followed over 3000-odd adults in America, ranging from Harvard graduates to deprived inner city Boston young adults, to understand what really makes people truly happy and not surprisingly, one single reason that stood out as vital for happiness is good relationships and social connections.

However, in the first instance, fostering good relationships seems to be at odds with the concept of inner happiness. If your happiness is driven by your inner most thoughts and feelings, why should a good relationship matter? First of all, we humans are social animals and we thrive at best in groups and when we are connected to others. So we can be happy on our own, but we are much happier when we are connected to someone else.

But even far more fundamental point is that people who have inner happiness are much better at relationships than those who rely on other people to drive their happiness. Those who have found inner happiness are usually whole and secure and they do not need other people to fill in their happiness, instead their own happiness flows into the relationship, flourishing the relationship.

“Happiness is an inside job. Don’t assign anyone else that much power over your life” – Mandy Hale

 

 

 

The thing called work…

At the beginning of the year I had one of the best jobs that I had in my career, at least from the point of view of having had a great work life balance, control over what I needed to do and liking the people that I worked with. Then something inside me compelled me to change roles and fast forward 6 months and I am in a job that is really busy, I have lost a lot of my autonomy and I don’t feel like I am in control of my own work. One of the first initial thoughts was ‘have I made a mistake? Should have I stuck to the role I knew and I was comfortable with?’ However, the part that compelled me to move, deep down knew that not only this is a good learning experience, but vital for me to move forward and that this will contribute to who I want to be, even if I fully don’t understand what it is at the moment.

When I joined the team, some of my colleagues were putting in 45-50 hours a week and this was considered a norm in this particular team. For me, someone with a young child, differing home priories and charity commitments (and not to mention blogging commitments!), this certainly wasn’t the norm, but also near impossible. The old me would have given up before I even started soon as I saw the hours the others put in, or at the very least I would not have been motivated to perform at my best as I would have assumed I am on a downward slope anyway.

However, with my new found wisdom though law of attraction, setting positive intensions and using mindfulness, I decided to give my new work role a full-hearted go, which is a real test of my beliefs as well as my ability. My overall goal for this role was that I will not only survive this role, but I will thrive in this role, while also maintaining my work life balance no matter what and not compromising on the quality & quantity of time I spend with my daughter.

My morning routine for work consists of setting my intensions in the morning just as I am waking up and then doing a quick meditation session on my commute to work. Sometimes, I listen to audio books by great self-help teachers such as Dr Wayne Dyer and Abraham Hicks, while also listening to upbeat music before I walk into work. On the way back, I also tend to write down all the things I was grateful for the day and sometimes when I do have a bad day, writing it down also helped me to get perspective on the issue.

Here are some of the main intensions I have been setting myself every morning:

  • I felt good at work today
  • I had a relaxing day at work and I come home energized
  • I had a sense of achievement today, completing all the tasks that I wanted to
  • I have built some of the best working relationships that I can
  • I helped someone at work today
  • I finished my work at 5.30 today
  • I had learned something new at work
  • I had a wonderful day at filled with fun and laughter at work

All my intensions are usually in past tense and there is a good reason for it; I will say it to myself in past tense and then I will close my eyes and visualise how I would feel at the end of the day when I have achieved these intensions and try and hold on to that feeling as much as I can.

One of the other techniques that have helped me is mindfulness towards my tasks and towards my feelings while I am work. In the past, not only my mind will wonder during mundane tasks, but also I will move from one task to another without completing it and getting distracted. When I have a lot of work to do, I try and prioritise as much as I can and I stick to one task at a time while being mindful when my attention waivers. This way, I can concentrate on the most value add tasks and go home when I need to. One of the other sides to mindfulness is compassion; I think this is one of the most important tools in the modern work place. By practicing more compassion and less judgement, I started seeing even the most difficult people as not difficult, but as individuals who are having a difficult time themselves and need my kindness, not anger or frustration.

Looking back at the past few months, all of these tools and techniques have helped me to make my work life not just bearable, but really enjoyable. Some of my colleagues have commented on my positive attitude and my ‘bounce-back-ability’ even during turbulent times. I know this is not my long term future, but it the short term it is serving my purpose of giving opportunities to test out my beliefs while building up skills and knowledge on a professional and personal basis. Ultimately, I know this is all part of my happiness journey though the thing called life….

Hardest lesson of all… Patience…

  
I have recently become a hot yoga junkie and over the weekend one of the things my yoga teacher said struck a chord with me. I was in the middle of the Fixed Firm pose ( you sit on your knees, compressing the knee joints) which is often my most difficult pose, one that always find it difficult to practice, let alone master, so at this point I often give up and sit down. At this point, my yoga teacher said ‘ you have built up resistance over 30 years in your knees and it may take couple of years for your knees to let it go, so be patient, if you don’t get it immediately’.  That’s when it stuck me; our minds are the same, we have build up years of habits and certain level of resistance to change, but once we made up our minds to change, we expect results almost immediately. When results don’t know up immediately we get disheartened and give up. 

Nowadays I try to challenge myself  when I am at the point of giving up; when what I desire doesn’t happen, even though I am doing all the positive thinking in the world and using all the tools that I know of, I think to myself,’patience’.

At the very least, next time I do yoga, I am going to give the Fixed Firm pose a real go and be patient with myself if I can’t master it; it will come to me over time. On the same basis, I know I can manifest what I want in my life, but I shouldn’t expect a neat timetable. Somethings show up in my life a lot quickly than others. The things that are slow to show up often means that there in a mental block in my subconscious, it’s just going to take a little bit of time to get around the block! 

“Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to to keep a good attitude while waiting” – Joyce Meyer 

 

Practical Mind Tools: Mindfulness

The concept of mindfulness has taken off in a big way in recent years from medical psychology field as part of mental wellbeing therapies including mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) to the corporate world, where numerous mindfulness based courses are popping up to improve productivity and enhance business success. What is mindfulness and how can it be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to wellness and success?

For me the elegance of mindfulness is the simplicity of the concept; paying attention to the current moment.  That means switching off from your ‘auto-pilot’ mode and paying attention to your current thoughts, feelings, or the world around you without judgement. Although mindfulness goes in hand in hand with meditation, unlike meditation, the beauty of mindfulness is that it can be practiced at any time by anyone and without any prior knowledge or skill set.

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Mindfulness example: Mindful showering

Next time you take a shower, pay full attention to taking a shower and try and use all your senses to pay attention; feel the water on your skin; sense the temperature of the water; smell the soap or shampoo; hear the water trickle down and watch the lather of the soap. Whatever you do, pay full attention to having the shower. Chances are half way though your mind will start to wonder and think about plans for the rest of the day or the chores that you need to get done still, but try to gently bring it back to the present moment and focus once again on your senses and paying attention to what you are doing.

Mindfulness is not actually a new concept; along with meditation practices it is rooted in two and half thousand year old eastern traditions. The reason for recent popularity is perhaps due to numerous medical and psychology studies into the practice which has shown benefits for those suffering with mental ailments including stress, anxiety, depression and medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and chronic pain. By practicing mindfulness on a regular basis, you can improve your stress levels (mindfulness has shown to decrease the levels of the stress hormone cortisol), improve attention span, memory, mental reliance and much more as it has even proven to change the actual structure of your brain.

Mindfulness example: Mindful eating

By far this is one of my favourite mindfulness exercises and this is to eat a chocolate mindfully! Pick your favourite bar of chocolate and aim is to savour it and eat it mindfully as you can. Look very closely at the wrapper in your hand as you open it; smell the chocolate; feel the texture of the chocolate in your hand; feel the texture as it melts; take a small bite and savour it in your mouth; try and taste all the subtle notes of the chocolate from the sweetness to the slight bitterness of the chocolate. The more time you take to eat the chocolate, the better.

Of course, one of the most popular methods of practicing mindfulness is mindful-meditation and there are loads of good books, websites, blogs,  and even mediation apps that take you through this practice. Some of my favourite are:

  • BOOK: Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world – by Prof Mark Williams (Author) and Dr Danny Penman (Author)
  • APP: Headspace Meditation App

Having read about mindfulness and meditation about 10 years or so ago, I have only been getting to grips with mindfulness in the last few years. One of the reasons for my slow uptake is the fact that even though mindfulness is the easiest concept to understand, it is the hardest concept to put in practice, but like anything in life, it becomes easier with practice and the more you practice the better you will become to paying attention to your life. After all practice makes ‘profound changes’! (see previous post!)

“You learn something every day if you pay attention” Ray LeBlond

Practice makes Perfect…Should I say practice makes profound changes….

Since I have started writing this blog, I have noticed quite profound changes in my life. Yet if you ask those around me what has changed for me, well, answer is likely to be Nothing! At least nothing physically profound anyway. My changes have been more internal, I am happier and more than that I know that being happy inside comes first, and external happiness such as wealth, relationships, successes are BY-PRODUCTS of my inner happiness!

So what has bought about this change for me? For a start, there is the concept of practicing what you preach! By writing down these positive psychology and law of attraction principles, I am putting more of the theories into practice than I have done so. In the past, all the self-help theories and ideas I have read has remained as theories and ideas in MY HEAD!

The thing about self-help and all of those self-improvement theories is that the most effective ones are the most simplest and often nothing new, just a bit of a common sense! In most cases, its something we were aware of, but being put to us in a slightly different context. For example, I always knew having a positive attitude equates to being more happier (pre-LOA belief!) and I think most of you guys would agree with that. Yet, knowing the theory does not mean that we always carry a positive attitude with us, in most cases, we park the theory somewhere in the back of our mind and just get on with it! Fall back to our fail-safe attitude, our set-point, whatever that may be.

So how does a theory or an idea become part of our lives? especially when we are talking about workings of the mind,  I really think a lot is to do with putting theory into practice and by practicing often, it becomes habitual, part of a routine. Classic example for me is the theory of mindfulness. I have been aware of people taking about mindfulness for a long time now, from psychology to spirituality, mindfulness seems to be everywhere. I still remember reading Paul McKenna’s ‘I can make you thin’ where he talks about mindful eating (and how that will make you thin!) and here we are 10 years down line, I still haven’t mastered mindful eating. Actually I think my mind is in a place where I see food, I sense a 5 minute timer where I need to scoffle down my food or I will die of starvation! ( okay slight exaggeration, but you get my point)

Mindfulness is probably the one of the most easiest theory to understand, it is simply being mindful or paying attention to your mind, yet it is one of the most difficult theory to put into practice! Try sitting quietly for 5 minutes and paying attention to thoughts and feelings, without judgement and accepting whatever sensation that comes to you. Chances are, unless of course, you are a master meditator, your attention will waver after the first 2 minutes. Afterall, according to Buddha, we all have monkey minds, untamed and running around wildly.

As time goes by and I do practice mindfulness more and more, it does get easier, I have my ‘off’ moments, but overall it is much easier than when I started. For me, rather than practice makes perfect, its more of a practice makes changes, SLOWLY. I think I am far from perfect  in terms of getting to grips with mindfulness, but I am better! Over the months, I have  come to pay  better attention to  what thoughts  my monkey mind is running away with! And this in turn has helped me to be a happier person and making law of attraction work in my favor by attracting the things I want.

In the ether of internet and social media and even in books, the law of attraction is sold as a magic formula, to fix everything in your life, almost in an instant, just by understanding the ‘secret’.  The reality is that understanding and believing in law of attraction is one thing, but controlling your mind is the real ‘secret’ and from my experience, controlling your mind comes with practice and changing your habits! And yes, I do believe in the magic of law of attraction, but it is a magic that only works when the main magician is working, your mind!

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Practical Mind Tools: Create Box

I am a great believer in writing down your goals, whether they are career related or personal goals. By putting it in writing or representing it in other visual formats will help to clarify what you want in life and ultimately help you to achieve your goals. One of the tools I have used in recent years is a goal ‘Create Box’; a box which contains all my goals and visions for the future. I also have a gratitude stone in my box as part of my goal attainment and training my mind to practice gratitude.

So what is a create box? It’s a technique that I picked up from Susie Pearl’s ‘Instructions for Happiness and success’ book and it is a very simple idea; a bit like having a vision board in a box! Get a nice looking box (a gift box, small storage box etc.) and put your goals, wishes and visions in it so that you have everything you want in a box. Idea is that you regularly pick up the box and go through the contents on a weekly, monthly, whenever-you feel-like-it basis and remind yourself of the goals therefore keeping your thoughts focused on them. The point here is that when you do go through the items, visualise and feel as though you have already attained these goals so that in a ‘thought becomes things’ universe you will attract them into your life. Health warning here is that don’t think about NOT having the goal yet, as this would lead to the opposite effect of NOT attaining the goal!

Susie also suggests writing a label on the top that you read out every time before you open it and after you close it so that you asking the universe what you want. i.e.

 “Whatever is contained in this box I have already created in my mind and welcome into my life now. Everything in this box is already present. I receive all of this with abundance and flow. All for the best. Thank you. It’s done. Show me.”

My simpler version of the label as follows:

“Whatever is contained in this box I have already created in my mind and I welcome it into my life. Thank you and I am grateful for everything I have in my life”.

I am very much of visual person and truly believe pictures can speak a thousand words so my box contains a lot of magazine clippings, pictures, printouts of things that I really want in my life. For example, I have pictures of my ideal house, holidays, lifestyle and even my ideal job. It doesn’t have to exactly what you want, but a representation of what you want and something that resonates with you. For me, I always wanted to have an influential role in an animal charity or an animal related organisation, so I have a picture of Michaela Strachan (UK TV presenter who does a lot of animal shows) from a magazine article with the title “Women of Influence” above it. For me this is the perfect vision when it comes to my career goals, working with animals and having an influential role!

Along with this, I do have written goals and even memorabilia to remember good times like spending time with my husband, in form of souvenirs from a holiday or a photo of us having a good time, so that I am reminded of the good times we had and the good times we will have going forward. My gratitude stone (a stone I picked up on a beach in Maldives) is a stone which every time I pick up, I think of all the things I am grateful for in my life from my job to the people in my life and special events in my life (including my holiday to Maldives!).

You don’t have to be an avid believer in law of attraction to try this out; actually some of the tools and techniques I have come across as part of the law of attraction movement has been somewhat simple, practical and nothing new, and has been part of self-improvement techniques in one form or another.