Monday, August 24, 2009

Cultivating happiness takes deliberate attention

I came across a wonderful article in the Daily Telegraph today. It was about creating a happy life, and it is so sane, so easy, so down to earth that I thought I would copy it here. This is the end of a 6 week series of articles, and I recommend that you look them up. The URL to the original article is

Experience changes the brain. And by consciously choosing our experiences, we can have some control over the way the brain grows. If you work on your happiness, you can have a different brain, and be a different person. As a parting gift in the final week of this column, here are ten suggestions to try and incorporate into your life.

• At bedtime, let yourself go to sleep thinking about three things to be grateful for, things that made you happy, or simply the best memories of the day. As you do this, pay attention to the feelings in your body: the smiling reflex, a warmness in your heart, the flow of tension out of your neck and shoulders. Whenever you feel good, let your body express it.

• Happiness is smaller than you think. Cultivate small pleasures. Learn to cook. Eat well. Cook for friends. Expose yourself to awe and beauty. Get out in nature, and pay attention. Watch less television. Play more. Get a dog. Get more touching into your life.

• Work on wanting what you have. Look around you and try to appreciate your most overlooked but vital possessions: indoor plumbing, central heating, a cooker and refrigerator, a vehicle that will take you six hundred miles in a day, in comfort, on paved roads, an orchestra you can carry in your pocket. Savour them.

• Extroverts have more fun. Pretend you're an extrovert. Even introverts have more fun when they're pretending to be extroverts.

• Don't wait until you're motivated. Take a step, and motivation will follow. Doing something is the single best way to change how you feel.

• Watch out for the hedonic paradox. By worrying too much about whether you're happy, you can make yourself more miserable. Don't expect to be happy all the time.

• Try to make your work flow. Find challenges. Improve the atmosphere. Make it meaningful, playful. Make it bring joy to others.

• Assume that karma is real: what you give, you get back. If you treat people well, you'll be treated well. If you spread happiness, you'll reap happiness. If you are generous, you'll be rewarded with generosity. Practice loving, compassion, and extraversion.

• Organise yourself. Happy people feel in control of their lives. Don't allow yourself to be a victim of inefficacy and clutter. Accept the fact that there is just too damn much to do nowadays, so give up on being perfect. Take another hour. Start in one corner, and move on only as you finish. Don't stop until the hour is up.

• And remember that happiness is not our normal state of mind. We were bred to be tense and restless. Cultivating happiness takes deliberate attention.

Happiness: The Thinking Person's Guide by Richard O'Connor (Vermilion) is available from Telegraph Books for £8.99 + 99p P&P. To order your copy, call 0844 871 1515 or visit Copyright © Richard O'Connor, MSW, PhD

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