Irrespective of whether you believe your life on this planet is a one-time thing, that Earth is merely the waiting room for eternal paradise or, actually, you’ve been reincarnated as an iguana before, and chances are you will again, ask yourself: are you happy?
Are you, though?
Punching out quarterly reports in an office for low pay is one thing, but what about everything else? As a kid, did you actually think you’d spend your precious downtime on week-long TV show binges, rearranging the cutlery drawer or meticulously totting up your expenditure in Excel? Don’t be mistaken to think this is about money (or a lack thereof); this is about enjoyment. And, well, we’re really starting to worry about you.
In a recent Art Fund study, more than half (53 per cent) of respondents admitted to feeling some level of anxiety, a quarter (27 per cent) said they felt guilty if they dared take time out for themselves, and three out of five (57 per cent) didn’t “make conscious choices to give life meaning”. This is desperately depressing. Are these people miserably shuffling towards the grave, with no plan, no hope even, of having enjoyed a single bit of it? Worse: are you one them?
Below we have collated a rundown of simple, actionable – and for the most part, free – tricks to jumpstart your joie de vivre.
Step Away From The Smartphone
Look, modern mobile phones are objectively brilliant. If you’d told us 20 years ago that we’d have better technology in our pocket than what flew rockets to the moon in the ’60s – capable of delivering up-to-the-second news, mapping our destination or ordering food, goods or cabs at the touch of an LED screen – we’d have strongly advised you see a doctor; and so you won’t find us advocating you chuck your iPhone off a bridge, and fully embrace the nomadic lifestyle. We will absolutely point out, however, that for all that shiny stuff, your smartphone doesn’t make you happy.
“The effect that smartphones can have on our happiness and productivity are well-documented,” says Maths Mathisen, CEO of Hold – a productivity app that rewards you for ignoring your phone during downtime. “Research by the University of Maryland found that excessive phone use can make us more selfish, while a study by Murdoch University in Perth found that late-night texting reduced quality of sleep.”
Mathisen, as you might expect, advocates downloading Hold – a nifty solution that rewards your phone-free time with points, redeemable for coffees, cinema tickets, charity donations and more – however the wider point is about being present. Just think, did your friend travel all the way across the city during rush hour to watch you gawp at your phone and give them, at best, a quarter of your attention? No. Embrace actual facetime, and stow your phone away a while.
Get In The Garden
Whether a shrewd harvesting move, or simply a feat of mental escapology to run away from the churn of depressing, backstop-based headlines, gardening – or ‘plant parenthood’, if you will – is increasingly becoming a trend among millennials.
“Gardening is widely documented as an invaluable method in supporting positive mental wellbeing,” claims Andy Baxter, gardening expert and MD at Internet Gardener. “It gets you outdoors, keeps your mind focused and provides an opportunity to release any frustrations or creativity you may have pent up. By creating your own space you are allowing your mind to relax, and let your thoughts get lost in blossoming flowers and the flow of your zen garden.”
Delivering increased serotonin, dopamine and a sense of nurturing, horticultural therapy might just hold the key to happiness, as well as bringing you back down to Earth.
Do Some Micro Learning
Knowledge is power? No. (Well, yes, but also…) Knowledge is happiness. Ignore the stress of crippling student loan debt for a second, and the overwhelming majority of those that have studied at university will champion their time spent as an undergraduate as the happiest of their life.
Some are so enamoured that they go on to study a masters or doctorate. Ok, so some of this pleasure is likely derived from the booze-drenched solidarity among likeminded peers, however studies show a correlation between the pursuit of learning and that of happiness.
And wait, before you even think about trotting out the same ‘I don’t have time to learn new things, I’m an adult with responsibilities and bills to pay’ spiel, we bet that you have 15 minutes. “Becoming happier obviously takes time, but not as much time as you think,” says Thomas Anderson – head of English content at Blinkist, an innovative platform for ‘micro-learning’. “The app creates 15-minute summaries of leading non-fiction texts, which means that you no longer need to worry about finding the time to pursue your interests, or improving the various areas of your intellectual life.
“Lastly, whenever you feel stressed, overwhelmed or unhappy, a 15-minute knowledge break is all you will need to improve your mood.”
Regardless of whether you can squeeze in 15 or 450 minutes each day – and who cares if it’s an app, newspaper, documentary or Wikipedia rabbit hole – a commitment to expanding your mind will deliver no shortage of pleasure. And, lest we forget, it’ll also supply you with ammo for smug, pub-based lectures to your friends. They’ll love that.
Eat Oily Fish
On its own, eating salmon is probably not a smelly shortcut to personal enlightenment and perpetual joy. Yet fish like salmon, trout, mackerel and herring are teeming with omega-3 fatty acids, which can help stave off depression.
NHS guidelines suggest two portions of fish per week, including one serving of oily fish. But should you not be keen on ocean meat – and/or don’t have the time or budget to warrant a bi-weekly pilgrimage to the fishmonger – you could do far worse than taking a daily omega-3 supplement.
“Many [people] don’t eat enough oily fish, a key source of the fatty acid, and thus increase their chances of an omega-3 deficiency,” says Professor Bjarne Østerud, a biochemistat OG Health + Wellbeing. “This is of particular concern as the fatty acid contributes to healthy heart and brain function, as well as contributing to improving joint health.”
Improve Your Breathing
Wim Hof – the Dutch adventurer and ‘Iceman’ that cheated science by successfully using his breath to commandeer his nervous system – has turned the humble act of inhalation into a health craze. And, more than a mere fad, proven results from the ‘Wim Hof Method’ include lower stress, better sleep, boosted focus and improved sports performance and recovery.
Workshops now run all over the world, you can DIY with the Wim Hot Method app, for what might be the next big evolution of sucking in oxygen as an exercise, you could get into Transformational Breath instead.
It is, according to Stuart Sandeman – founder of Breathpod, “A pioneering method with proven health benefits helping to manage the stresses, strains and anxieties of everyday life, enabling you to optimise physical, mental and emotional health and reach your full potential.” Avowed Breathpod clients include Nike, Google, Calvin Klein and J.P. Morgan, with the technique pledging to recalibrate the 20,000 breaths you take each day into something that floods your system with energy, focus and calm.