Category Archives: Happy Habits & Tips

Habits and Tips to help you nurture your talent for living a happy life

14Jan/13

How Could I Forget the Most Important Happiness Habit?

The trouble with being a perfectionist is that can make you very insular and inward looking.  Perfectionists are usually concerned with how well they are performing in their lives and how they look to others.  Sometimes we get so obsessed with ourselves and how to be perfect that we forget the basic priorities in our lives.

Over the last few months I’ve forgotten to make time for my friends.   It’s a basic happiness habit that I am well aware of.  People who spend time with friends and family, nurturing and enjoying their most important relationships are happy. However,  I seem to have withdrawn myself from my friends recently…not intentionally as such… but in an attempt to focus on my family, I’ve neglected my connections to my most important friends.

Last week however I got back on track.

On Monday I spent the day with a good friend taking the kids out for inset day. It was raining but we still had a picnic in the park, complete with fresh air and mud, wet bottoms and flasks of tea.

On Tuesday my husband worked from home and we popped out for a quick lunch together to plan the year ahead.

On Wednesday I spoke to an inspiring group of business women who I have become friends with over the last year, and who, when I announced I would be writing a book this year, gave me the most amazing support and advice.

On Thursday I spoke to my best friend in Australia for the first time in about 3 months. We are planning a trip to see them next month.

On Friday I went out to the local pub with a group of girlfriends that I love, but don’t see enough (my fault!), where the laughter, banter and support nourished my soul.

And finally on Saturday, I spoke to some other friends who have just moved to Perth, and caught up with all their news.  We are planning to see them next month too.

For the rest of the weekend I had a spring in my step, joy in my heart, and a seemingly never-ending supply of patience.  In other words, I was happy.

It was an important lesson that has reminded me to make time to nurture my friendships this year.

11Jan/13

My 2013 Family Project

This year I am running a Family Project.*  I will be researching and creating ways to teach, model and coach my children about core values (kindness, respect, gratitude etc.) and life skills (setting meaningful goals, dealing with their emotions, taking responsibility etc.).  I am hoping that this will contribute to a more harmonious family life as well as setting my children up with the habits that will help them have a happy and successful life.

I know some of you may be thinking ‘Isn’t that what parents do anyway?’ And you’d be right. Most of us do.  Everyday we model and teach the values that are most important to us.  But I’ve found that in our busy lifestyle, I am not teaching my children about the most obvious things because I expect them to ‘know’ it already. Or sadly – and I’m sure I’m not alone in this – we say one thing and do another and our children get mixed messages.  How many times have you shouted at your children “Stop shouting! Show some respect!”  Another example: I was talking to my youngest son before Christmas about friendships and forgiveness. And I realised that this was the first time I’d ever mentioned it to him. He thought that when a friend was mean to him, that was the end of their friendship. He didn’t realise forgiveness was an option, and he took any friendship disputes very personally. Obviously we model forgiveness at home, and I say sorry a lot to my children (after one of my tantrums, or grumpy moods) but we’d never discussed the concept openly.

I also think that in my case, I am so busy looking after 3 children and establishing my own business, that teaching and focussing on the children gets over looked. It doesn’t seem urgent. We’ve got dinner to make, rooms to tidy, homework to do, clubs to go to, arguments to settle, emotions to deal with.  We can talk about forgiveness, or patience, or setting goals tomorrow, or when they are a bit older. But my eldest goes to secondary school in September – I’m running out of time to teach him everything I want to teach him to help him survive the harsh, cruel world of high school. ( I know, it will be great for him, but I’m also a bit scared.)  I’ve wanted to do this kind of parenting ever since I became a mum, but I’ve never made enough time for it. I’ve done bits and pieces here and there (family meetings, workbooks for the kids, my early attempt at a family project*) but I was never consistent enough.  This year, I am being brave and saying no to other things that have seemed more important.  I am saying no to some exciting plans for my business (they can wait til 2014) , I am saying no to taking the easy life (putting the telly on, not exercising, going to bed too late, putting it off til tomorrow), I am saying no to alcohol (in Jan only!) and saying no to my perfectionist need to be in control (as much as I can…). I am also saying no to acting like a child myself. It’s time I grew up and learned to control my own emotions and reactions like I’m expecting my children to.    These are very big no’s for me and I am sure to slip up time and time again. But this year I will keep focussed and keep going for the sake of my family.

The most important thing about parenting for me (after keeping them safe and well-fed) is to equip my children with knowledge, skills, practice and habits that will enable them to accept and deal with their and other people’s emotions in a mature way.  It is a hugely important idea to me.  It’s time I stopped thinking about it and just did it.

*Those of you with good memories will know that I started my family project in the summer of 2011, but it fizzled out so I’m resurrecting it again, and focussing on it for the whole of 2013.

FireworksFamilies

08Jan/13

Just One New Year’s Resolution

I have a history of making long lists of New Year’s Resolutions which have varying degrees of success and duration but which mainly get repeated year after year (because I never keep to them).  This year I am just making one new New Year’s Resolution:  To meditate.

I am not even going to make it completely SMART.  It won’t be specific, or measurable.  It will be action-based, and realistic, but not time-based.* My resolution is to meditate regularly by having an intention to meditate everyday.  If I plan to do it everyday, but accept that this won’t always happen, I will probably end up doing it 3 or 4 times a week.   So far – it’s the 8th Jan – I have meditated for 20 minutes every morning, so let’s hope I can keep it up.

There are many scientifically proven benefits of mindfulness and meditation, but as my teacher, Ed Halliwell, says in this Guardian article , it can also be an incredibly powerful spiritual path that cannot be measured by science alone. For me personally, mindfulness and meditation has changed my life.  Instead of being ruled and battered by the powerful ups and downs of my emotions, I am now learning to interact with these same emotions in a more mature, calm and mindful way.  Not only do I feel happier, but my children are happier and I am much more productive and efficient at home and work.   Ed runs 8 week beginner courses in Sussex for those of you who may be interested.

Another good place to start, if you are interested in mindfulness and/or meditation, is headspace where you can try out their Take10 ten day beginners course for free. I also recommend downloading their app because it has some amazing short simple videos explaining the concept of mindfulness and how it can help you.

I wish you luck with your New Year’s resolutions, and I’d love to hear if any of you are planning on including mindfulness or meditation amongst them.

All the best,

Thea

*If I were SMARTer, I would choose 3 times a week, for 20 minutes at 9am,  because this is realistic. But sadly in reality, choosing which days I meditate allows me to sidestep my commitments and in the end I would probably only do it once or twice a week, and eventually lapse. I have learnt that building daily habits is more effective for me than weekly scheduling. I need to know that everyday I have to meditate, otherwise I talk myself out of it.

10Dec/12

Love Me When I Least Deserve It

Recently I have been talking with my kids about the need to show each other more love, not less, when one of us is tired, or grumpy or ‘misbehaving’.  I know this is counter-intuitive because our main instinct is to punish or cold-shoulder someone who is being rude or mean.  But, as we say in our family, when someone is behaving badly, there is a large chance that this is because ‘their heart is feeling bad’.

When our ‘hearts are feeling good’ – i.e. we are happy with ourselves, proud of our actions, feeling loved and a have a powerful sense of belonging and purpose – we find it easy to be kind, loving, happy and competent.  So therefore, even though we might not think that someone ‘deserves’ to be loved when they are acting badly, this is really when they need our love the most.  They need their heart to be repaired, or recharged, or just soothed, so they can recover their equilibrium and be themselves again.

While this all makes perfect sense to me, it is something that I find really difficult to practice.  I am, I have realised, somewhat grudgingly, someone who finds it hard to hide their emotions. I wear my heart on my sleeve, as they say, especially within the safe confines of my family. Therefore, my family knows exactly what mood I am in, at any particular time of the day, and often the reason behind it.  This is better than hiding everything, but I would prefer to reach the middle ground of being able to control some of my negative emotions when it would help those around me if I did.

This personality trait of mine makes it quite difficult for me to control my irritation, anger, frustration and resentment at other family members’ rudeness, anger and tantrums. (I know this is a double standard, but I’m working on it!)  Nearly 11 years of parenting has shown me that shaming, punishment and anger in response to a child’s ‘misbehaviour’ is ineffective not just in the long-term but the short-term too.  It just doesn’t work, not to mention the harm that it can cause. So I have to use this experience and evidence to remind myself to go the other way.  Sometimes (when my heart is feeling good) I can offer real love at those moments when my children need it, even though they often don’t accept it.  At other times (when I’m low on energy and resilience, AKA ‘my heart is feeling bad’) I have to force myself to offer words of forgiveness and love through gritted teeth.  I have been known to cuddle an angry child who is trying to calm down while simultaneously making angry faces that they can’t see just because I can’t control my own anger. I know! It’s really immature of me, but at least I’m going in the right direction.

So when I was Christmas shopping last week in Horsham and saw this (above), I had to buy it as an early present for my family.  It is now up in our kitchen to remind us all that this is what we are aiming for. We won’t ever be able to do this all the time, but by having it as one of the guiding principles of our family life, I am hoping we will learn to tolerate and help each other when we need it the most.

04Dec/12

What We Love About You

As I mentioned in my last post, my youngest son frequently thinks that the rest of the family hate him.  Somehow he has come to believe that whenever someone is mean to him, tells him off or even disagrees with him, then that must mean they hate him. And not just hate him in that moment, but pretty much forever.

To combat this I talked to my eldest children (aged 8 and 1o) about showing more love to Zach, especially when he is being grumpy and mean, and to spend the next 4 to 6 weeks trying to change this belief of his.  My daughter suggested we make a poster for him telling him how much we love him and making him feel more part of the family.  So we did, and below is our creation. It has lots of photos of Zach with us and some of his friends, and a letter from each of us telling him what we love about him.

It was a lovely moment when Harvey and Jasmine presented Zach with his poster, going through all the letters and photos and explaining what we had done.  The look of pride and amazement on his face was wonderful to see.  It really touched him.

The next morning he came into my bed at about 6.40 asking to go downstairs. When I asked him why, he said he wanted to go and look at his poster.  So I got up with him and we spent a good ten minutes looking at the poster, reading the letters and choosing our favourite photos.  It was clear how much this meant to him, and how much better it made him feel.  Later that day we put it in a picture frame and put it on his bedroom wall.  He is very happy with it, and maybe one step closer to believing we love him all the time, no matter what, with no conditions attached.

05Jul/12

Why Happiness is a Necessity for Mums

As a happiness coach, I’m passionate about the many benefits of being happy.

More and more research is showing that being happy leads to people being more creative, more resilient and more successful. Happy people perform better, have better social lives, longer marriages and are healthier too.

So why do so many people – especially mums – think that their personal happiness is not important?

I think this is because firstly our society doesn’t put a high value on happiness – prefering to measure success in terms of career, money, celebrity and power. Secondly, mums are used to sacrificing a lot for their children – sleep, time, social lives, careers, flexibility….the list goes on – so sacrificing their own happiness becomes accepted as just what mums do.  We tend to think of  actively seeking happiness as being an indulgence.

But things are slowly changing.  A new area of psychology- Positive Psychology  – is now looking at what makes people happy rather than how to stop people feeling ill & depressed.  What researchers have found over the last 20 years has been amazing. Not only is happiness evolutionarily necessary (it helped our ancesters invent new tools, be creative and develop more physical and mental resilience) but the key things that contribute to happiness are the simple, everyday things that are accessible to all of us.  You’ll be glad to know that money, celebrity and power are nowhere on the list.

Being a happy mum helps us to nurture happier children who have a better start in life, and develop a mindset and set of skills that help them throughout their lives.  So being a happy mum is not an indulgence, it is a necessity if you want your children to have a happy and successful life.   That’s all a mum really wants for her children isn’t it?

20Sep/11

Happy People are Good at Relationships

In her book ‘The How of Happiness’, Sonja Lyubomirsky talks about the importance of relationships to happiness. 

“In order to become happier, we must learn to imitate the habits of very happy people. Happy people are exceptionally good at their friendships, family and intimate relationships. The happier a person is – the more likely he or she is to have a large circle of friends or companions, a romantic partner and ample social support. The happier a person, the more likely she is to be married and to have a fulfilling and long-lasting marriage. The happier the person, the more likely she is to be satisfied with her family life and social activities, to consider her partner her ‘great love’, and to receive emotional and tangible support from friends, supervisors and co-workers.”

So, how much time, effort and energy do you give to the most important relationships in your life?  I’m sure all our answers would be different to that question but I imagine that most of us would probably say we want to spend more time, effort and energy nurturing our relationships, rather than less.

Part of the problem, I think, is that relationships are not concrete, with definite levels of achievement. We might say that our most precious goals are to do with creating strong relationships, but how do we actually define that, how do we measure it, and how do we focus on this ambiguity when there are so many other more measurable and material goals that demand our attention?

When I am completely honest, all of my top three goals in life are to do with creating, nurturing and sustaining relationships. I want to have a long, strong and happy marraige. I want to nurture my children into confident, healthy, kind and happy adults, and I want to have helped many women in their lives and relationships throughout my career.  With the first two goals,  I’ll have to wait many years to see if I’ve ‘done’ it right.   I won’t get paid for it, I won’t have many concrete measurements of whether I’m doing it right along the way, and I won’t have a lot of help or training either.  With the latter,  others will be able to judge how ‘successful’ I am by how much money I make, how many women I help, whether I write a book, if my blog is popular etc.  There is often immediate feedback on how well we are doing in this area. We also have easier steps along the way to focus on, we can make strategic career plans, incorporating intermediate goals and milestones.  How easy is it to create a project plan of nurturing confident children?  It’s not a simple process with a beginning and an end, unlike say, becoming an expert in a certain area and writing a book about it. I’m not saying becoming an expert, or succeeding in your chosen field is easy, but there is usually a recognised process to follow. Parenting and relationships are not like that. It’s more messy and confusing and challenging, and contradictory and personal and I’m not surprised we get distracted by more ‘simple’ and quantifyable goals.

However, the thing with happy people is that they don’t get so easily distracted by other goals (they still have them and are often very busy and successful). Instead they consistently prioritise relationships and prioritise time for their most important relationships. They see spending time with loved ones, friends, family as a goal in itself. They are kind within these relationships, they are grateful of these relationships and they are mindful and patient with these relationships. 

Some of us are naturally good at nurturing and prioritising relationships, while some of us need to work harder at it.  Either way, if  you do something often enough, it becomes a habit, and people who have daily habits that make them happy (like prioritising relationships), are indeed happier than those who sacrifice daily happiness habits on the alter of long term goals.  

I’ll leave you with another quote from Sonja Lyubomirsky:

“The causal relationship between social relationships and happiness is clearly bidirectional. This means that romantic partners and friends make people happy, but it also means that happy people are more likely to acquire lovers and friends.  This conclusion, which my colleagues and I have put forth on the basis of numerous studies, is actually rather optimistic. It implies that if you begin today to improve and cultivate your relationships, you reap the gift of positive emotions. In turn, the enhanced feelings of happiness will help you attract more and higher-quality relationships, which will make you even happier, and so on, in a continuous positive feedback loop. In other words, by applying this happiness-increasing strategy, you will embark on what psychologists call and ‘upward-spiral’.”

27Jun/11

Do you value yourself enough?

People with a talent for living give their physical and mental health a high priority. They exercise, meditate, go to yoga, pilates or dance class, play sports. They take time to recharge their body and nourish their soul.

When I visualise my ideal life, I am one of those people. I would go for a jog on a Monday, maybe join friends at  Zumba class on Wednesday and do training in the park on Fridays.  I would make time for ten minutes yoga 3 times a week, and even fit in some mindful meditation. And of course my diet would include double the fruit and veg and a quarter of the chocolate. Not to mention a cut in wine intake. I would stimulate my mind with much time spent on hobbies, meeting friends and reading.

My reality is usually quite different.  While I recently had some success introducing exercise and healthier eating into my life, going on holiday has set that back a bit. Generally when it comes down to each decision I take throughout the day, I often overrule my ideal self.  Instead, I seem to value spending time working, checking emails, or getting the house clean, over things that will really make me feel happier. I know that they will make me happier and healthier, yet I don’t do them.  And I know from speaking to friends and clients that I’m not the only one who does this. Why is this?

Here are a few possible reasons:

  • We don’t value ourselves – and our physical and mental health – enough.
  • We don’t focus enough – ie we get distracted, we go for instant gratification over hard work, or long-term goals.
  • We find it difficult to change habits, especially ingrained thinking patterns.
  • We are scared – we don’t want to fail, make mistakes or make a fool of our selves.
  • We are too busy trying to prove we are someone else rather than allowing ourselves to be who we are.
  • We don’t realise (or we forget) that many of the goals we aim for will not solve all our problems and make us instantly happy.
  • We worry about what other people will think of our lifestyle.

I am sure there are many other reasons, like laziness, unexpected events, being human, even being spontaneous, that distract us from our idealised life.  Maybe a big one is expecting that an ideal life is possible anyway.  I know personally, and I hate to admit this, that one of the biggest reasons that I don’t give enough time to my mental and physical wellbeing is that I’m constantly trying to ‘prove’ myself in other ways to everyone – including myself. So this means I am chasing achievements rather than valuing myself enough as I am.  Sounds crazy written down in black and white, but there it is.

21Jun/11

If only I could just reboot…

I seem to have arrived home from my family holiday with my energy, motivation and patience levels at rock bottom. I can only see the mess, clutter and jobs to do around my house, my children are constantly annoying me and can’t do anything right, all I want to do is sleep or read a book, my work feels overwhelming, I want to hide away from the world, and my computer problems make me lose the will to live.

Basically, I’m not a very nice person at the moment. I have turned into a snappy, irritable mum who resents her children, because she’s tired, frustrated and angry.  Considering that I thought my life was running along pretty well before I left, and I’m fairly sure I used to be an upstanding, conscientious considerate member of the human race,  I’m a bit surprised and disappointed by this turn of events. And it’s lasted a whole week now, so I can’t blame it on jet lag or the holiday blues anymore.

So, what to do?  I wish I had a reset button which I could press to take me back to how I was feeling before my holiday.  The daily habits that I had in place then were obviously working pretty well, but I seem to have lost them all now. If only I could reboot myself like a broken computer, maybe the glitches in my life would mysteriously disappear. But alas, I am not a machine, I am a human being and it’s all a bit more complicated.

As a human I will need to reset myself another way.  I need to recharge my body with more sleep, less alcohol (I’m still in holiday Gin and Tonic mode), healthier food and exercise. And I will need to nourish myself by taking some time for me (for pleasure not work) to counteract the constant demands made by the children. And I’ll need to just get on and deal with it. I keep telling my kids to stop complaining and be grateful for having such a wonderful life.  Now I need to take that advice and practice it myself.

03Jun/11

Savour the memories

A couple of weeks ago I came across the Mother’s Day Card that my 9 year old son gave me in March.  It had been in a pile of other cards and drawing that the children had done, so I rescued it and placed it on the window sill.  Every night I look at it when I go to bed and it makes me smile.  As my son would say, ‘It makes my heart feel good.’

Research has shown that people who savour the good things in their lives feel happier than those who don’t.  And the good news is, we can savour a single experience in three different ways.  Firstly we look forward to it, then we experience it (make sure you are present in the moment if you want to savour your experience as it happens) and thirdly, we have our memories to look back on.

What are you going to savour today?

And for the mums and dads out there: check this website out for a novel way to savour your golden memories. Don’t they look gorgeous?  http://www.keepsakecritters.co.uk