By Annabelle Clarke
I am often asked about what it takes to feel happy and whether yoga or mindfulness will help. This is a topic of huge interest to me, I find myself getting lost in books, podcasts and articles all about what it means to be happy. Firstly, I want to explain what I mean by happy and to do this I need to separate the difference between happiness and pleasure. Pleasure comes from external things, clothes, holidays, ice cream etc. Whereas, happiness is internal and it stays there quietly in all sorts of different situations and through all sorts of different emotions. I think what we're all striving for is happiness, and the problem is that we are trying to use pleasurable things to bring us happiness.
Here are four ways that can help build a genuine and lasting happiness.
In order to bring happiness into our lives, we need to become self-aware. Without this awareness, we have no idea what to work on and develop within ourselves. Self-awareness allows you to notice thought patterns and destructive trains of thought. It is through this awareness that you can identify and change core beliefs and habits.
For example, a few years ago I would have told you that success is money. Through travel, thought and meditation, I disagree with this thought now. My parameters of success have changed, and by changing these parameters, it has allowed me to feel more content with what I do and the way I choose to live my life.
On top of this, about a year ago I started writing down my first thought as I opened my eyes. I noticed that more often than not it was negative. As I became aware of this, I have been able to change my morning routine to create a positive start to the day.
ACTIVITY 1: Choose two things you give yourself a hard time about, and ask yourself why you beat yourself up about them. Is it a belief that you've been brought up assuming is correct? It is something about yourself you need to learn to love and accept or is it something you can work on and develop?
ACTIVITY 2: Stop yourself throughout the day and try and tune into the way you talk to yourself, are you cheering yourself on and boosting your self-esteem? Or are you telling yourself you won't be able to do it?
"There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance." John Lennon
Try not to run away from fear. When you start feeling sensations of fear like butterflies or restlessness, just sit with them. Don't bury them. The longer you sit with them, the more you will feel comfortable with them.
When you realise this, it becomes easier to face your fears and do things out of your comfort zone. When this becomes easier, you will stop being ruled by fear. You will be ruled by enjoyment, happiness and love, allowing yourself to follow what your heart truly wants.
When I quit my job and left for India, there could have been many fears that forced me to stay in England, but I accepted the fears, faced them and moved away. By doing this I learnt, grew and developed in a way I would have never been able to in England. It's not always easy, but rarely do people look back and say they wish they hadn't done it.
ACTIVITY: Write down a fear of yours and work your way back to the root of this fear. What are you actually worried about? It may be money, security or acceptance. Then sit with that fear and try to feel comfortable with it. Then ask yourself whether you want to live ruled by this fear or become ruled by the excitement of what you can achieve.
Kindness towards yourself and kindness towards others comes hand in hand. The nicer and more forgiving you are to you, then the easier it is to empathise with others.
So, start with you. Forgive and look after yourself; be your biggest fan. At the end of the day, you are the only person you will always be with, so why not get on with yourself. On top of this, the way you look at yourself is reflected in the way everyone else will look at you. Have you ever wondered why some people always get messed around and let down? Part of the reason is because they don't believe anything better will happen to them. Then the people they interact with can see that in their body language and the way they talk, and will often unknowingly treat them accordingly. Respect yourself enough to treat yourself well and give others parameters for how they can treat you.
Then be kind to others. Genuinely empathising can be hard as we have to ignore any prejudices or preconceptions and look at each person openly. If you find this hard, remind yourself that you don't know what someone else has been through that day, or what has caused them to act a certain way. So rather than getting angry with them, why not ask if they are okay, chat to them, laugh with them? We're all the same really, we all want to feel safe, be happy, be loved and have purpose. So treat people with that empathy and see how they react.
ACTIVITY: As you wake up, think of one thing you feel grateful for, and one thing you want to congratulate yourself for.
Dishonesty decreases happiness. It leads us to feel alone, disconnected and that our problems are insurmountable.
So allow yourself to be vulnerable, and open up. Talk to people from your heart and genuinely connect to them. This includes not using the words 'always' and 'never'. For example, "You never take the bins out" - lie. This exaggeration causes the other person to get on the defensive and will often lead them to retorting with something equally derogatory and rude. Try not to do this to people; speak honestly and openly.
ACTIVITY: Watch the way you speak, and when you find yourself wanting to lie/brush something off/ exaggerate then stop. Tell the truth and see what happens. I promise it's not as bad as you may think.
(P.S. If there are too many activities, don't beat yourself up. Choose one that resonates with you and try to take it on board.)
She discovered yoga while training to be a primary school teacher in an inner-city school in London. Being in a high-stress job made it difficult for her to switch off at the end of the day. Searching for something to help her unwind, she tentatively turned to yoga. She was encouraged by the immediate way it alleviated stress, brought balance to her life (and helped her sleep at night!). Her interest developed quickly into a passion. While working in India, yoga became an increasingly central part of her daily routine. She met a number of inspiring teachers who have shown her a way of life that promotes happiness, health and acceptance.