In 2012 the United Nations declared March 20th to be the International Day of Happiness - and coincidentally it is also the first day of Spring (which is definitely one reason to be happy!).
My mum printed off an article and gave it to me over the weekend about 10 key things that are important for our wellbeing, so I thought I would use it but adapt it to my own experiences.
1) Giving - do things for others
I can definitely see how this makes you happy. I am one of those people that can't wait for others to open presents that I have got them - on Christmas day I'm too excited to wait so shove their presents under their noses for them to open as soon as possible. But even just helping people in simple ways, such as doing the washing up or volunteering to walk somebody's dog, can create a positive mindset and make you feel good about yourself.
Challenge: This week, try and do something for someone every single day - buy someone a bunch of flowers, volunteer in the community, give a homeless person a pound, compliment someone - simple, yet effective.
2) Relating - connecting with people
This one is all about having close relationships with family and friends, who are often the core stability for our happiness. I know that a long conversation with someone I feel close to can do wonders for my mood, as can connecting with someone new.
Challenge: Make time for family and friends, and switch off from social media for a while - have a meet up without looking at your phone, plan fun things for the future, or just spend a few hours playing board games with your family.
3) Exercising - take care of your body
Begrudgingly, I have to admit that exercise is really important for your mental health, as is taking care of your body in other ways. I am not someone that enjoys exercise, but even just a walk in the park can increase your serotonin levels, which consequently improves your mood and happiness.
Challenge: If, like me, you are not too into exercise, try going for a walk as the weather is getting nicer, or even offer to walk someone's dog (www.borrowmydoggy.com is a great website for this). Make sure you get enough sleep too, and spend some time outside if you can.
4) Appreciating - notice the world around
I think this is one of the most important points - being mindful of the world around you. Too often we will walk through somewhere beautiful, heads down and looking at our mobile phones. Sometimes it can make you feel amazing just to stop and appreciate what is right in front of you - the smells, sights and sounds. This is the same when eating too - really appreciate the food that you are putting in your mouth (you will probably notice you eat less too!).
Challenge: Imagine you're a dog walking through the park - they notice everything around them, and are busy sniffing all the flowers to be worried about anything. Try sitting down outside for 5 minutes just listening, smelling and seeing - it really does make a difference to your wellbeing and makes you put things into perspective.
5) Trying out - keep learning new things
I love learning; it is one of the things in life I thrive from. I love how I am, and will be, constantly learning from medicine - whether it's on clinical placement or reading a textbook. Learning new things can boost your self-confidence and resilience, as well as keeping your mind active. You don't have to be studying a degree to learn new things, or even spend any money - the internet is a great resource. I taught myself how to use my DSLR camera on manual mode through YouTube and blogs. You could learn how to cook something new, how to apply amazing make-up, or even just how to use your laptop properly. Every little thing helps.
Challenge: Set yourself something new to learn by Christmas. It doesn't have to be anything huge, or anything expensive - even something small can give you a huge sense of accomplishment.
6) Direction - have goals to look forward to
Meaningful but realistic goals can make you feel good about, and look forward to, the future. One of the hardest things with my depression is that it can make it hard for me to see a future for myself, so setting small goals can help me to push through. My goals for this year are to pass my final exams, have a great summer, and enjoy 5th year. I also have smaller goals, like to spend more time with my friends and not feel bad about having fun or relaxing whenever I need it.
Challenge: Set 3-5 small goals for yourself to achieve this year, and write them down somewhere you can refer to them. One of these may be learning a new skill, as discussed in number 5! Goals can really help to focus your attention towards what you want in the future.
7) Resilience - find ways to bounce back
When I first read this, I thought that it was a skill that I was lacking in. However, I always seem to get through my periods of depression and bounce back to the old Hannah fairly quickly. I think this point is about responding positively during times of stress, so that the future still seems positive.
Challenge: If you are feeling upset or down about something, think about happier times. Think about what you want from the future. Write these down if you think that will help.
8) Emotion - take a positive approach
Positive emotions feel good, but also help us to perform better, increase resilience and improve our physical health. Gratitude, pride, happiness, contentment, inspiration - all positive emotions that human beings strive towards. These can all be achieved by focusing on the good aspects of any situation, much like the point above about resilience. Be mindful, congratulate yourself for achievements (however small), and take time out for yourself to do things that you enjoy.
Challenge: Take at least an hour out of each day to do something that you enjoy.
9) Acceptance - be comfortable with who you are
This is a very important point - I think to be truly happy and content, you need to accept yourself. I think all of the points above can help you put things into perspective and realise what is important in life - not looks, body shape, amount of money you have, or relationship status. Dwelling on your flaws makes it harder to be happy, but being kinder to ourselves can really help wellbeing. I think recently I have begun to accept myself more for who I am, all 5"7' of silliness, and I feel much happier with myself and the world around me.
Challenge: Every day, try to think of three positive things about yourself. Write them down. At the end of the week, you will have 21 good things - refer back to them if you need a boost. Also write any compliments down that people give you. It's so much harder to remember the compliments than the negative comments.
10) Meaning - be part of something bigger
Everyone has a different purpose in life, and this is your 'meaning'. This can come from your family, your job, your social life, travelling, giving something to society - anything. Just being connected to something bigger than yourself can make you feel happier and more in control. I think my meaning comes from my family and friends around me, and also from helping people through my career in medicine.
Challenge: Have a think about what you want to get out of life, and what you want to be remembered for. Set small goals to reach this achievement.
I hope you all enjoy this post - I know I found it interesting to write. I would love to know if any of you complete any of the challenges - I am going to try over the next week or so!
Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow.