How to be Happy
I sometimes talk about Oxytocin in the class and the various activities we can engage with to produce it. Known as the love hormone or cuddle chemical it is quite self suggestive for how it is primarily produced – touch, loving contact, sex, and a deep feeling of connection to another. It can also come from self touch, giving yourself a massage to have a sense of loving contact, given that we don’t always have others around who will give us a hug! I was thinking about this during the week as I have to apply a moisturiser after showering due to dermatitis. I can easily see this as a task to be got through before I can on with the day. But instead, this week I’ve seen it as an opportunity to slow down and give some affection to my body, having a sense of care as I apply it and enjoying the experience as a five minute massage rather than a chore. What parts of your day do you rush through that might be more nourishing? Could your morning shower be a time to slow down and enjoy the touch of water and feel of applying the soap? Could you take longer to enjoy your first cup of tea or coffee rather than gulp it down and get on with work?
How might you nourish yourself through becoming more present in the everyday activities you already perform?
Enjoy the everyday: Perhaps your walk to to work could become a time for quiet reflection. I goto a school twice a week to volunteer as a reading assistant. I have two routes to go from the station to the school. One is slightly longer and goes through Battersea park, whilst the other is along a main road. In the morning I need to get to the school directly so walk along the road, but after the session I have a choice. Its been interesting to see how often my mind is in busy mode wanting to get straight home to get on with a task. But taking the extra ten minutes to walk through the park has such an impact on my sense of well-being and happiness it is worth being ten minutes latter home! One person I know found he could enjoy hanging his washing out on the line rather than see it as a chore…and in doing so nourished himself through being more open to his senses – the smell of fresh laundry, the feel of the sun on his skin, the sound of birds singing….
This principe of how we view our time is outlined in a story I read: a Buddhist teacher was collected by his disciple at an airport. The disciple asked if he wanted to go the fast or scenic route home. The teacher replied “fast”. On arriving at the home where they were staying the dispel rushed in to get on with arrangements. The teacher stopped him and asked “what are we going to do to enjoy the time we just saved?” How much of our life is spent hurrying taking the fast route, but never stopping to enjoy the time we have saved!!
Kindness Diary: Kindness has been found to be an excellent way of boosting oxytocin and a sense of well-being. In one study a group of women were asked to write down every act of kindness they performed each day for a week. But the end of the week their answers to a stress test showed they were 50% less stressed than at the start of the week. You don’t need to deliberately think of kind acts to perform, but simply bring conscious awareness to the kind acts you are already performing but overlook.
Gratitude diary: write down one or more things you feel grateful for from the day. It can be very simple things, but noting them starts to orientate the mind to a sense of being nourished rather than a sense of lack.
Find exercise you enjoy: Exercise releases endorphins….but only if you have enjoyed it and felt it was effective. Grinding out a few laps of the park or dragging yourself to the gym won’t release endorphins. But doing it because you enjoy it or finding an activity you enjoy will.
Volunteer: I’m volunteering twice a week as a reading assistant in a school. I work with the same three children over one year, seeing them each for 1/2 an hour twice a week. It’s a delight to see how they are engaging with the reading and enjoying the time we spend together. And I am feeling happier as a result. Volunteering has been found to boost well-being and happiness. We are social beings and there is something powerful in knowing you are doing something for the well being of the community of which you are a part, doing it from your heart rather than for any financial benefit.
Meditate: the Loving Kindness practice will have an impact on your sense of well being if done regularly. The mind does not distinguish between what is happening and thoughts of an event. Sitting and wishing a friend well and feeling happy for them will be as if you are with them and enjoying their company. The heart will feel warm and beneficial hormones will be produced in the brain associated with feelings of happiness and love. Whilst the mindfulness practice will help the body to regulate itself and switch off the stress mode of fight/flight or freeze and go into the relaxation response. The relaxation response is a highly beneficial state, where the body can rest, repair and rejuvenate. All it takes is ten minutes a day to start to have the life enhancing benefits of a daily meditation practice.
What’s yours? As well as these you may have other activities that nourish you and make you happy – a hobby, reading, gardening, mountain climbing, telephoning a friend, painting…..what activities can you think of that you might incorporate more into your life to bring a greater sense of well being and joy? How would you like to start your year?