“Happiness is a habit – cultivate it.” ~ Elbert Huber
Hong Kong’s a funny place. Some days the sky is so blue, the lush green of the peak so close and the sun so bright even the grottiest of old buildings shine. But sadly (and especially during winter) there is many a gloomy, polluted day where you can’t even see across Victoria Harbour. And when it’s like that, it’s hard not to feel a little grey yourself.
Chinese New Year was like that for me. I’m generally a pretty happy person, but with a few days of bad weather, too many happy snaps of friends in Boracay or on the slopes in Niseko, stomach flu and a broken heart, I was feeling all different possible gradients of miserable.
But while I’m not good at a lot of things (especially maths), one thing I am good at is shrugging off the blues and turningthatfrownupsidedown. A week on, the smile is back and I’ve got my mojo back. Hurrah!!
Here’s the thing: Happiness doesn’t just knock you on the head one day, it can’t be relied on from relationships and it certainly isn’t found at the bottom of a bottle of wine. Happiness is a habit, is something that comes from within us, and it’s something I believe we all can cultivate with a bit of work.
While I’m no guru, these are just some things I do / keep in mind when finding some happiness in my every day, especially in grey, sometimes lonely places like Hong Kong.
1. Develop internal double glazing
While there are external factors that may contribute to us being less than spritely – crap weather, being overworked, family commitments, sh*tty relationships, money etc etc – I believe we can create a space, internally, where we have control over how we react to things.
What the hell am I on about?
I like to think of that space in terms of a window. Between our inside world (our values, opinions and expectations on the way things “should be” and how people “should act”) and outside world imagine there is a window with a pane of glass. We see things on the outside and, with no filter but this thin pane of glass, we suddenly react according to our inside world.
But if we get in the handy man and install some double-glazing – another layer of glass with some space in between to filter out the noise – we are suddenly equipped with some space where we can make some choice about how we react to things we see and experience. Our negative feelings no longer just happen to us – “he made me feel like this”, “and then they said that and I was like WTF?! A$$hole!” – we have a choice about how we react to it.
Who’s the handy man with this magical internal double glazing? That’s the trick I guess – you’ve got to find it. But for me, I find it in the mountains, in yoga practice, listening to beautiful classical music (I know that might seem a bit lame but it really is soul building stuff, as opposed to dreary music about endless heartbreak after heartbreak), in my long runs, meditating – any place where there is some stillness.
And each day I need to work on it, make it stronger, refine it. When the glass shatters (and sometimes it does) I build it back up.
My point is, you must exercise some control about your life and how you feel within your life, otherwise life will just happen to you. And if you just bumble along like that, jostled around by life, with all the crap that goes on in this world you will more than likely end up a miserable mop of a person.
2. Find a silver lining: sometimes not getting what you want is a stroke of good luck
Every single time I’ve missed out in things or life or something didn’t go my way, some way down the track I’ve looked back and realised it was for the better. If you need some convincing on the topic, check out Amy Purdy.
As trite as it sounds, life truly is what you make of it. So stop wasting your energy on what didn’t happen and start directing that energy towards what can happen with a little compromise, heart and soul.
3. Change. “When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
You know the saying “flogging a dead horse”. If you think about it, it’s a pretty horrible image: persisting with beating the life out of something when it no longer has any life left to give.
Sometimes life is like that, and no amount of positive thinking will get you through. You simply have to change the situation.
This is probably a really bad example, but I have a favourite spot on my street to get a taxi. Every morning I walk out of my house and millions of taxi drive past. But some days I get no taxi love. Or someone steals my cab right in front of me. But instead of getting angry, I recite my little mantra and walk on. For things to change, I’ve gotta change. And hey presto, before I know it, there comes a taxi.
Find a solution. Don’t wallow in self-pity. Walk on.
4. Appreciate what you’ve got
You’ve heard it before right. “Be thankful for what you’ve got”. When you’re feeling crap, it’s pretty hard to be thankful really, isn’t it?
But how about just starting with a simple thank you? Spend a morning just saying “thanks” to anyone and everyone – the doorman, the coffee barista, the taxi driver. Start by cultivating a general feeling of appreciation (as opposed to animosity). Try it. And from there start working on a list of other things to be thankful for – friends, family, education, travel, whatever it is. Read it every day. Remember it every day.
Be thankful for what you do have and stop focusing on what you don’t.
5. Eliminate the happiness suckers
I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: GET RID OF PEOPLE WHO MAKE YOU MISERABLE. Surround yourself with happy, positive people who share your values and goals – friends that have the same happy approach as you and will encourage you to achieve your dreams. They will help you to feel good about yourself.
The rest of them just aren’t worth your time.
6. Exercise. Eat well. And sleep.
“Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands.”
Ok, so I know that this is a tacky quote from Elle Woods in Legally Blonde but there’s definitely truth to it. Fit people are happy. A strong body creates a strong, resilient mind. Plus, exercise also gives us an outlet for our frustrations and some time to mull over things and gain some perspective. Looking after your body and eating well (and drinking less) definitely also helps to cultivate an internal environment where you can be much happier.
More importantly, perhaps, is sleep. It’s the one thing we don’t get enough of in this town and it’s so vital for our mental and physical wellbeing. I’m a firm believer that most things, particularly the blues, can be solved with a bit of shut-eye.
When you’re feeling low, the last thing you feel like doing is laughing or cracking a smile. But there are countless studies and research that show laughter makes us feel better, increases our immunity and triggers a release of endorphins.
I’m a firm believer of the saying “fake it til you make it”. Force yourself to smile and laugh even when you don’t feel like it. Grab a friend, grab a stupid movie or spend an hour on YouTube watching people doing ridiculous things and make yourself laugh. It’s bound to spread to your mood eventually if you keep at it.
8. Take responsibility for your happiness
At the end of the day, know that only you can really make you happy. Take responsibility for your happiness and work on it, just as you would your job, your relationships or your sporting goals. The more you incorporate daily habits of cultivating happiness into your daily lifestyle – the happier you will be. Promise.