Ask The Expert

Joyous January: Happiness hacks for every day of the month

Andy Cope PhD is said to be the UK’s first Dr of Happiness. Together with comedian Gavin Oattes, they have come up with 31 fun ideas and tips to stave off the ‘January Blues’. Gavin and Andy claim there is zero science behind the idea of ‘Blue Monday’ and rather than focus on all the reasons to be miserable on that day, we need to switch our thinking. These tips may sound like a bit of fun but they are apparently backed up by serious science from Andy’s PhD in positive psychology. Here’s what Adam has to say…

Blue Monday is a name given to a day in January (typically the third Monday of the month) claimed to be the most depressing day of the year. Blue Monday comes around you’re going to go into work and you’re going to meet those people who will actually say things like “aww it’s Blue Monday, I feel really down”. You’ll know these people, they use things like this as an excuse to just be miserable and critical.

But you cannot calculate feelings of depression based on a date. There is zero science, absolutely zero science out there to back the idea of Blue Monday. So let’s spin this around. Let’s focus on all the ways we can celebrate Mondays (and every other day):

1. Calculate your happiness

According to the esteemed researchers at the University of London’s Institute of Education, here are some monetary values of happiness:

  • Seeing friends and relatives is equivalent to a pay rise of £64k a year
  • Having nice neighbours is worth £37k a year
  • Excellent health is estimated to be worth £300k a year to you

Hopefully you can tick some of the boxes above, in which case, please do your sums. If you can tick them all then you can kick off 2019 £401,000 richer. That should put a spring in your step.

2. Sleep on it

People cram so much into life that something has to give and, often, that ‘something’ is sleep. Continuing the money theme, a University of Warwick study found that improving your sleep quality leads to levels of mental and physical health comparable to those of somebody who’s won a jackpot of around £200,000. If getting more sleep is equivalent to a lottery win, treat yourself and your family to a guaranteed winning ticket.

3. Quit your ‘wait problem’

Too many people are putting happiness in the wrong time zone: I’ll be happy at Easter, I’ll be happy in the summer, I’ll be happy when I retire…

The result is you have a massive ‘wait problem’. Getting stuck in the rut of wishing your life away is a terrible waste of your days. In fact, it makes no sense at all. So wake up to the fact that January and August are equal. They both represent a 12th of your life.

4. Stop, look and listen

As you  hurtle through life it’s sometimes pertinent to use the rules of the green cross code and stop, look & listen. Mindfulness is simply being aware of being aware. Slow down a teensie bit and notice the ‘beautiful ordinary’ – the sunrise, raindrops, dewy cobwebs, misty mornings, smiling children, stars…. happiness is available, on tap, once you learn that’s it’s right here, right now.

5. Plenty of the F-word

FAILURE! Dirty, rotten, foul-mouthed, despicable failure. Every winner has failed in epic proportions. If you want to shine, you will have to accept abject failure. Repeatedly. With tears at times. With jeers at others. So failure, yes. But stay in the game. The truth is simple; if you’re unwilling to fail, you’re unwilling to succeed.

6. Upgrade your clothes

Stop saving your special clothes for a special occasion and wake up to the fact that life is the ultimate special occasion.

7. Be a hugger

The average hug lasts 2.1 seconds but for the love to transfer a hug needs to last 7 seconds or longer (be warned, counting out loud spoils the effect).

8. Count your blessings

If you ever have trouble sleeping, instead of counting sheep, try counting your blessings. In your mind, run through what you’re grateful for, starting with A and finishing with Z. ‘Aunty Barbara, she’s lovely. Beef stew, that’s delicious. Coffee, strong and black…’

9. Enjoy your plot twists

You are the author of your life’s story. So when something doesn’t go according to plan it’s not a nightmare, crisis, challenge or problem, it’s merely a plot twist. Plot twists are inevitable. They’re there to make things more interesting. Notice your plot twists and shout them out. WooHoo! They exist because you’re alive.

10. Celebrate stuff that didn’t happen

Have you ever asked yourself, what hasn’t happened that I didn’t want that I haven’t celebrated? The opposite of savouring good experiences is to notice the many things that could have gone badly but didn’t. Have a go, it’s fabulous fun. In fact, it’s one of those mental muscles that gets stronger the more you exercise it. To get you warmed up, here are some starters…the accident you didn’t have, the power cut that never happened, the headache you didn’t suffer, the supermarket queue that wasn’t there, the lack of red traffic lights on the way home, the train that wasn’t delayed… Now continue to write your own list of bad stuff that hasn’t happened that you haven’t celebrated.

11. Less anti-social media

No explanation required, other than to remind you that in terms of happiness, one true flesh & blood friend will bring you more happiness than 1000 Facebook ones. Cut your social media by 50% and spend time with real family and friends instead.

12. ‘Experience’ 2019

The general rule is that happiness comes from doing stuff rather than accumulating stuff. You’ll realise that the top 10 happiest moments of your life are ‘experiences’ rather than ‘products’. In 2019, set your stall out to have more experiences.

13. Get snuggly

Brits like to moan about our weather. It’s a bit of a hobby of ours. So because our weather’s a bit dodgy, we holiday in Greece and one of the Costas. The world happiness league tables mean we might be missing a trick? The UK is languishing at 17th in the international league table of happiness while the top 5 – Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Canada & Switzerland – have all got weather that’s worse than ours. The secret to happiness seems to be in embracing the snuggles. Here’s a raft of new words for you; do you notice a theme:

  • Mysa. [Swedish] To be engaged in a pleasant or comfortable activity; to be content or comfortable; to get cosy; to snuggle up.
  • Peiskos. [Norwegian] Lit. Fireplace coziness, sitting in front of a crackling fireplace enjoying the warmth.
  • Hygge. [Danish] Enjoying life’s simple pleasures. Coziness. Snuggliness.

All the above are more than words, they’re philosophies. Mysa, Peiskos, Hygge: learn from the happy Scandis. Snuggle into the snuggly moments.

14. Distinguish yourself by being kind

Why? Because the science of positive psychology tells us what we already knew, that the quickest way to make yourself feel good is to do a good deed for someone else. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. It can be as simple as letting someone out in the traffic or buying flowers for the bus driver. If you get it right, the feel-good factor reverberates with the giver and receiver.

Comedian Gavin Oattes worked with Dr Andy Cope on his new book based on principles from his PhD in positive psychology

 

15. Quit ‘musterbating’

Your brains are very good at turning things you’d like to have into things you think you MUST have. Hence you are ‘musterbating’ like mad. It’s exhausting trying to keep up with the Jones’s. Start being grateful for what you already have.

16. Write a gratitude letter

Think of someone who has really helped you (eg, given you time or supported you). Write them a letter, from the heart, that says how wonderful they are and what they mean to you. You might even take it one step further and read it to them

17. Q&A upgrade

Instead of asking your partner/kids ‘how was your day?’ change the words and ask (with enthusiasm), ‘what was the highlight of your day?’ Then listen with genuine enthusiasm.

18. ‘New Monday’

When the tabloid media and your work colleagues are dragging on about ‘Blue Monday’ (Jan 21st, apparently the most depressing day of the year) dare to be different. Celebrate it as ‘Brew Monday’ (make everyone a cuppa), ‘Fondue Monday’ (bring some cheese in) or even ‘Stew Monday’ (bring your crock pot in).

19. Stop being a miserable Brit

Reduce your moaning (as a Brit, it’s almost impossible to stop completely) and always remind yourself, it’s a 1st world problem.

20. Watch out for the 90/10 principle

This states that 10% of your happiness depends on things that happen to you while a whopping 90% depends on how you react to these events. Make a conscious choice to be positive.

21. Stop having a ‘near life experience’

When setbacks occur, ask yourself, where is this issue on a scale of 1 – 10 (where 10 is death). If it is death, you are allowed to feel down. Anything else, get over it.

22. Play

As you grow up, you can get weighed down with responsibilities and life can lose its lustre. Stop seeing yourself as a ‘responsible adult’ and start being an ‘inspirational adult’. Rewind to when you were 6, a time when everything was new and exciting. Start jumping in puddles and playing on the swings.

23. Growth mindset

Praise your children for effort rather than ability. So, for example, if they get a good grade in maths don’t say ‘Genius, you are the next Einstein.’ Do say, ‘Brilliant! That shows what you can achieve with hard work.’

24. Practice the 4-minute rule

…that is, be your best self for the first 4 minutes of arriving at work, being in a meeting, getting home, etc. Your brilliance is infectious.

25. Copy Yoda

Lose the word ‘try’. Instead of setting a resolution of ‘I’m going to try and lose some weight’ or ‘I’m going to try and get a bit fitter’, go with ‘I’m going to lose some weight’ or ‘I’m going to get fitter’. Yoda was spot on when he said, ‘Do or do not, there is no ‘try’.’

26. Create a ripple

Appreciate that your happiness is bigger than you. It has a ripple effect and [positively] infects people 3 degrees removed from you. Your happiness is therefore your gift to the world.

27. Storytime for lads & dads

Dads, the biggest single factor in your son being an avid reader is for him to see his dad reading. So read! Often! It broadens your mind and changes your boy’s future.

28. Reframe situations

For example, a leaking gutter means you have a house; paying tax means you have some income; your teenage son spending hours on his X-Box means he’s not wandering the streets, etc.

29. Don’t be so SMART

If you want to be like everyone else, set yourself some SMART objectives – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound. Supersize and set yourself a HUGG (huge unbelievably great goal); this is something massive that inspires you (eg, to write your novel, to run a marathon, to be the best parent in the world, etc). Go make it happen!

30. Give up!

Achieving your huge unbelievably great goal is about starting to do new things, but it’s equally about giving up bad habits. Ask yourself, what am I willing to give up to achieve my dreams? Maybe cut your procrastination, less TV, cut Facebook from your life, no more junk food…

31. Puppy love

If all else fails in your ‘how to have a happy 2019’… be the kind of person your dog thinks you are.

SHINE rediscovering your energy, happiness and purpose by Dr Andy Cope and Gavin Oattes is published by Capstone and available now on Amazon £10.99

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