How To Be Happier
Estimated Read Time: 6 minutes
This week I turn 30 years of age. THIRTY YEARS OF AGE – this crept up out of nowhere. It only feels like yesterday I was at university pre-drinking on Tesco’s homebrand gin and living off burnt toast, tinned spaghetti and oven chips!
With this milestone in mind, I thought I’d mix things up in this blog post and give you… an insight into happiness!
So, you may ask… what right, do I, a personal trainer and nutritionist, have to be advising you on happiness?
Well, the reason most people come to me is to search for it in the form of improving their body shape. I am, however, quick to remind them that they are looking for happiness in the wrong place. After all, there are sad people with lean, well-defined body shapes. And on the contrary, there are people who have never set foot in a gym who are happy and content. Don’t get me wrong, your body shape can play a part in your happiness, but there are far bigger contributors to it within your life.
Happiness predominantly comes, not from how you look, but from within. A deep level of inner self-assurance and contentment in your day to day life. I have come to realise this personally as I have aged. I am fascinated by how we humans work; both physically and mentally. Over the past few years, through intentional reading and working with my clients on a deeper level, I have gained great insight into how our minds work. To the point where my style of coaching now transcends just exercise and nutrition.
I am going to quickly fire off a few pointers that I hope can guide you to a happier, more content place within your own life…
Our Modern Environment
Firstly, it is important to remind you that as a modern human you live in a time where the hard-wired, instinctual parts of your brain, that have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, are functioning in an environment for which they were not really designed for.
The primitive, survival part of your brain is designed for roaming outdoors around the savanna, hunting and gathering food where available. It is built to be part of a small, intimate tribe of people. Its only purpose is survival, in the form of food, shelter and safety. equipped to live a simple life, lived in the moment.
As a species, however, we have altered our environment so quickly that our biology hasn’t been able to keep up. The purposes that we are designed to live for have been taken away from us. We don’t have to hunt for food anymore, we have guaranteed shelter in the form of houses, and we have security in the form of law. We don’t even have to move much anymore – we have cars for that!
Most of us now spend the majority of our lives under roofs, doing something we don’t enjoy – work. We live in overcrowded societies of people we do not know. Paradoxically we are more isolated than ever because of social media. We are losing the ability to connect with each other face to face (human bonding is essential for the well-being of our brains). We set our life goals based on those of the ‘celebrities’ we follow on Instagram. We scroll through our news feeds feeling pressured to look and act a certain way.
We now have permanent worries in the form of mortgages, bills, pensions, job security etc. Whereas our hunter-gather ancestors lived in what scientists call an ‘immediate return environment’. They lived in the moment and had no real long-term worries. As long as they were fed, safe and sheltered for the day, they were happy.
This has left us with what the famous psychologist Viktor Frankel coined an ‘existential vacuum’. Basically the idea that our unhappiness has spawned from a lack of true, deep purpose. We now get caught in an incessant game of cat and mouse when it comes to seeking happiness. This lack of purpose leads us to find short-lived ‘happiness hits’ in the form of materialist items. Such as expensive clothes, cars, houses, meals out etc.
We get caught in a perpetual downward spiral of needing to work more in the job we don’t really like doing, to fund our ever-growing desire for those fleeting ‘happiness hits’.
Your brains fundamental purpose is to make you do things that ensure you are fed, sheltered and passing on your gene pool. To make sure you act on these primitive desires it pumps happy hormones like dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin around your head. Without these neurochemicals you would have no drive to do anything.
However, in the world you find yourself living in today, these have been hijacked by modern, exaggerated stimuluses in the form of processed foods, alcohol, drugs, gambling, materialistic trends etc. All these things offer you fleeting, but addictive hits of happy hormones that briefly relieve you of your sadness.
So, how can you go about increasing your long-term happiness?
1. Realise, past the point of financial security (food in your stomach, a roof over your head, clothes on your back), more money does NOT make you happier. Search ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’ to learn more about this.
2. Spend less time on social media. It’s so easy to get lost in the black hole that is your smartphone. Too much screen scrolling can make you unhappier, and less productive. I recommend unfollowing anyone who makes you feel pressured to look a certain way. Predominantly follow people who are real, knowledgeable, and enhance your life!
3. Get outdoors more. Why do you think humans ‘yearn for the great outdoors’? Because that’s where we’re meant to be, that’s where we have evolved. Ideally do this with friends, in a place where there’s poor phone signal!
4. Be productive and intentional in your personal growth. What do you actually want to do with your life? work towards it consistently year after year. Commit time to read each day – this has honestly changed my outlook on life for the better.
5. Stop looking for permanent happiness. This one sounds contradictory, but hear me out. You are never going to feel one emotion, all the time. Happy moments come and go, as do sad moments. Many carry sadness even in happy moments because they are too busy worrying about them coming to an end. Accepting all emotions as they come can make you content with your own feelings. This is a Buddhist way of teaching that has increased my happiness no-end!
6. Adjust your outlook. Many base the success of their own life on that of what they see online – rich people ‘living their best lives’. The number of celebrities that have mental health issues should remind you that happiness is not based on money and status. Taking a more positive outlook on how your life will increase your happiness.
7. Do things in your life that give you purpose. I studied quantity surveying at university, because back then I thought, like most, that a well-paid job would make me happy. I quickly realised that would not be the case. I am now in a position where I help improve people’s lives every day. My happiness is driven by a strong sense of purpose. Doing something that involves helping others is a good place to start. Even if it’s outside of your normal 9-5 job in the form of charity/community work etc.
8. Be a good person. Understand that everyone, on some level, is struggling. Approach all with compassion and kindness. There is science behind this – kindness releases happy hormones within the brain. Not just in the person receiving the kind act, but also in the person doing it. It even does to the people observing the kind act – everyone’s a happy winner!
9. Surround yourself with positive people. Studies have repeatedly shown that those you regularly come into contact with directly affect who you become. Surround yourself with people who are happy, openly emotional, and have a growth mindset. If that means shedding ‘friends’ who make you feel pressured, unhappy and out of place, then so be it.
10. Finally, be true to yourself and your own feelings. What gives one person a sense of purpose, what makes another happy, may be different to you. You are a 1 in 7.8 billion individual – be you.
You live in a highly complex world, far beyond that for which your biology was designed for. You have had most of your primitive, survival purposes taken away from you. You are a byproduct of the modern, money-driven, materialistic world you have been brought up in.
Alarm bells ring when you realise, that as modern humans, we have more food, technology and entertainment at our disposal than ever before. Yet, as a species, we are getting more and more unhappy with every passing decade.
So happiness you want? then simplify your life, change your outlook, get outdoors with friends and be true to yourself.
By all means, still buy nice clothes, still eat at the fancy restaurants, still buy a nice car; just realise the happiness gained from these things are fleeting. Spending less money on these things will allow you to spend less time working. This will allow you to focus on your passions, your self-growth, your purpose in life etc. Even better, find a job that you can look forward to getting up and going to each morning.
Your happiness must come from within, don’t look for it externally. The beauty of our species lies in our individuality – don’t copy what the masses are doing, if anything, do the exact opposite.
Realise that these changes don’t occur overnight. Like any habit, you must keep working on them month after month -eventually you will become a more consistently happier person. O, and finally, eat well, get your eight hours sleep, stay hydrated and move more – couldn’t end without saying that could I!
As always, please share this if you found it of benefit!
I wish you happiness,
Sam Jones Fitness