*Features adult language and themes.*
“The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.”
– C.S. Lewis
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This is the second feature in our monthly series from self-help guru Kurt Sampson.
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Happiness is a strange and wonderful thing. We tend to think of it as a byproduct of our actions and circumstances. Perhaps we should look at it from the other direction? Why can’t happiness be the cause of good things happening in our lives? If you approach life with a happy demeanour it’s generally agreed that you will get more out of it. Unfortunately it isn’t as easy as getting up one morning and deciding that you’re going to be happy.
Your mental health works in similar principles to your physical health. If you don’t exercise your brain it won’t perform at the level you might want it to. Just like if you don’t train regularly you wouldn’t be able to run a marathon. Life is the biggest marathon of them all and we need to be mentally prepared for the challenges we might face.
Our brains control everything that defines who we are as people. Our opinions on issues, our prejudices, our emotions: happiness being one of them. All of these things, in part are formed by our past experiences. Our brains act as sponges for information all our lives. Without realising it we soak up everything we perceive, our brains process the information and use it constantly when we are faced with a decision, or when it must figure out how we feel about something.
Our whole life experience up to this point has been inputted and has a huge bearing on our happiness. The fact is your brain has learned to react to what happens in life on impulse. You need to exercise it, make it work so you can train it to accept new impulses.
If your default feelings, aren’t happy ones it’s because your brain, based on your past life experience thinks you should be feeling that way, because that’s the way you’ve always felt.
It’s time to shake things up.
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I hope you took time out last month to complete your life audit. Over the next 4 months we will analyse each life block and I will give you advice on how it can be improved.
This is the start of the path. I’m glad you’ve found it. Now the hard work begins and remember, be honest. If you aren’t honest with yourself, it’s only yourself you’re cheating.
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This is the foundation of your life. Your outlook on life will colour how you view and assess the other facets of your being. Happiness is a state of mind. You create your own sense of happiness.
Without knowing it, from birth, your brain has learned how it should work from the information it’s been given. That means it’s taken into account everything you’ve seen, heard, touched, smelled and tasted and given you back a set outlook on life. Now is the time to assess what that outlook is like.
Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Your life perspective will define how easy it is for you to find happiness. Generally optimists feel that they are in control of their own destiny, they control what happens to them rather than feeling like a victim of the world around them and the pressures it creates.
Try to listen to your inner-voice. How you talk to yourself about the things that happen to you. Your internal monologue is the litmus test of your self-esteem. Your inner voice will not lie to you if you listen closely.
If you decide you are a pessimist (and the chances are if you’re reading this you are) there’s no need to despair. You still have a chance to be happy. Pessimism and optimism are just ways of looking at the world. You just have to put the work in to train yourself to change. It’s just like losing weight or quitting smoking, it takes commitment and will power, but you can change yourself for the better.
If you view life as a challenge instead of a chore it is easier to stay on your path to happiness.
Exercises: Learn to give yourself positive self-talk. This means encouraging yourself in your everyday actions. You can do it internally or out loud, it doesn’t matter. Whenever you doubt something or feel sad give yourself a pep talk.
After a while that internal voice of yours can become your own private cheering section.
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Purpose & Meaning
Your outlook on life can be shaped by your beliefs.
Religion can provide a solid foundation for your life. It can give you a set of rules and a moral code to live by. Not only this but it instantly gives you a community and support structure. It is suggested that if you share beliefs with others around you life difficulties might be easier to cope with.
People fall back on their beliefs in time of need. Religion can be a massive comfort in hard times, and give you a sustainable sense of belonging and joy in the good times.
You don’t have to have specific religious beliefs to feel the benefits of having a life with meaning. The important thing is to form beliefs and find meaning in life according to how you interpret the world.
The main thing that is generally agreed is that people who have a belief, any belief in a higher power or principle, be it religious or otherwise find it easier to cope with their day to day lives.
You don’t have to find God, but you must find something in your life to build a belief structure upon. For example, it could be as simple as believing that the human race is inherently good. Or that, we as a race are a statistical anomaly and only exist in the briefest blink of an eye in the grand scheme of the universe, so it’s best to make the most of the time we are given.
Whatever you can find to believe in you must form your opinion and embrace it.
Exercises: Be honest with yourself. What do you believe in? We all believe in something. Something we turn to and think about in difficult times to comfort us. Something we celebrate and recognise in the good times.
Whatever your ‘higher power’ is recognise it and keep it fixed firmly in your mind everyday. It is your comfort and your hope.
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There are countless songs, poems and movies that extol the importance of love in your life.
Humans are social creatures, we aren’t meant to be alone. We are supposed to pair up and make intimate relationships. Love is a precious and fragile thing, most people would agree that love and sex are two of the most important aspects of their lives.
Love and happiness are synonymous with one another. They are the perfect partnership. One cannot exist without the other, they are symbiotic states of being. It is difficult to tell if one causes the other or vice-versa. It’s a chicken and egg conundrum.
This month above any other is a good time to remind you all of the importance of love. Soon enough Valentine’s day will be upon us. This day each year has been increasingly attacked by cynical observers. It is derided as a ‘commercial holiday,’ an excuse for companies to make money.
Personally, I believe that if you have someone in your life that you love truly, you don’t need a specific day as an excuse to show them how much you love them. Love is to be celebrated all year round, because it is a precious thing to have, and something we should all be desperate to keep hold of.
Studies have shown that marriage can actually lengthen your lifespan. Being in a committed, loving relationship on average can extend the life of a man by 7 years and the life of a woman by 4 years. To quote Huey Lewis & the News, ‘That’s the power of love!’
Of course there are negatives to balance all positives. Do you suffer with bad relationships? Are you unable to sustain a relationship? Maybe you are stuck in a relationship and feel trapped?
Sex alone can create more unhappiness than joy. Loveless sexual relationships, one night stands and frustration at lack of sex can cause deep depression.
This is the most complex block in your life. The extremes of feeling are wide apart and can easily affect other aspects of your life. It is easy to say, if you can find happiness in your love life, the other aspects should be better.
Exercises: Find someone to love. It’s easier said than done, but it is a clear and certain path to happiness. A relationship may not last forever, but being part of something bigger than yourself and feeling love for another person is an everlasting sensation.
Of course loving relationships come in all shapes and sizes. You can love your friends and your family. Love is the bond that connects you to other people.
If you find it difficult to form relationships there are many places to look for advice. Articles in this very magazine may help you (Pg 54).
The only advice I can give, is make sure you are emotionally available for love. Don’t shut yourself away, or hide from society. Love exists all around us and it will find you if you are open to it.
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The three topics I have highlighted this month form the foundation of each of our lives. These are the big issues that support us. If you can find happiness in these three facets of your existence, the path further on will be immeasurably easier.
As I said last month, the first steps on the path to happiness are the hardest. It is those that persist and fight along the rough, well-trodden beginning that will discover the smooth route that lies ahead.
I’ll be waiting for you at the next section of the path. I hope you have the strength to meet me there next month.
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Top 3 happiness tips for February
1. Love and Happiness, Happiness and Love.
If you are lucky enough to have someone in your life that you love make sure you show them. Kiss and cuddle often. Tell them you love them everyday. Buy one another gifts for no reason at all.
If you don’t have anyone in your life at the moment, be sure you show the people around you that you care. There are different scales of love. You can love a friend like you love a sibling. Make sure they know.
Take time to contemplate your beliefs. Perhaps it would help to visit a priest or minister and discuss your feelings. If you aren’t religious meet up with like minded people and chat about what they have in life to support them emotionally and spiritually.
No matter what, find something to believe in. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it means something to you and the way you live your life.
3. Feel good about yourself.
To raise your self-esteem do something to make you feel good about yourself. Perhaps you could give yourself a treat. Have your hair done, buy some new clothes or just give yourself some time to relax and think.
You-time is time set aside to give yourself a lift. If you don’t feel good about yourself, why should anyone else?
Many thanks for reading. If you have any feedback or thoughts, feel free to comment below.