Category Archives: Positive Psychology

16May/11

Health and Fitness Week

I think I need new trainers.

A couple of weeks ago – after the Easter choc-fest – my husband and I started a healthy eating and fitness drive. We’d both picked up some bad snacking habits, were too used to big portions at our evening meal and not doing much exercise. We’re both busy – he works long hours in London, while I work long hours juggling house, family and my own work. Healthy eating and exercise keep getting pushed down the priority list, so now, we decided, was the time to focus on them for a few weeks to kickstart a healthier lifestyle and to establish some better eating and fitness habits.

In 12 days I lost 5lbs and my husband lost…well we don’t know yet because the scales ran out of battery. He  has lost some, and knowing him (he’s strict with what he eats when he’s decided to) he’ll lose more than me.  So what did we do and how did we do it?  Every day this week I will discuss one of the tactics we used to change the way we eat and get fit.

First though, why are we doing it?  Because like everyone we know the benefits of healthy eating and regular exercise but don’t practice what we believe. We wanted to start living with more integrity as well as more energy and vitality and less toxins and weight.  But also, exercise is often cited by positive psychologists as one of the key daily habits that happy people commit to. And who doesn’t want to be happy?

So for us, making exercise a priority and a regular habit is what we were aiming for, while also being more mindful about what we put into our mouths. We had got used to not doing it, and wanted to get used to doing it.

14Apr/11

Circumstances vs Habits

In my earlier post I talked about how 40% of our happiness is derived from our daily habits – how we think and act each day.  Which means that only 10% is based on our circumstances (the other 50% is genetically inherited).  I am excited that this is the case because it means I can control a large part of how happy I feel with the choices I make every day.  But to be honest I still find myself trying to change my circumstances because I think it will make me happier.

For example, my husband works long hours and doesn’t see the kids much in the week.  He leaves before they get up, and often comes home when they are asleep.  I try to support him in this but find it difficult because I fundamentally think it is a crazy way to live. So if I’m having a bad day, I huff and puff and feel resentful and try to come up with grand schemes (lets move to Dorset, lets downsize, lets live in a caravan) to change the situation.  But the research implies that I would be better off concentrating on how I think and behave each day rather than blaming the situation for the problem. Maybe how I think is the problem.

If I started to focus more on how lucky I am to have a husband who is very involved with the children and supportive when he is around, and how lucky I am to have a lovely house full of character and charm and a garden the children love playing in (paid for by my hard-working husband), then maybe I would feel luckier and happier.

If I set aside more time to do exercise, yoga or meditation would I be able to cope with the stressful times more easily, and create fewer opportunities for resentment and frustration to creep in?

If my husband and I sat down and worked out a 3-5 year plan would I be able to live more easily with the sacrifices we make now because I know that we are working towards a better future?

If I spent more time with and strengthened the bonds with my friends, family and community would I feel more fulfilled?

Happy people make the most of their situation. They get on with life despite the stresses and disappointments that get thrown at them.  They don’t bail out whenever they think the grass is greener.

Maybe changing how I think will help me live a happier life until we work out a way to balance our lifestyle. And then one day when we buy our dream house by the sea, I will have the happy habits in place to truly appreciate it.

07Apr/11

What Really Makes us Happy?

What makes you happy?

I imagine everybody has asked themselves the question: What will make me happy?

If you have, how do you answer?

Money? Time with your family?  Chocolate? A new handbag? A meaningful job?  A husband? A sunny day?  Keeping in touch with friends regularly?

I seem to ask this question of myself quite a lot, and I don’t always know the answer. (Which is probably why I am now a happiness coach, because people tend to become experts in what they struggle with.)  So over the last couple of years I have read many books and research coming from the relatively new area of Positive Psychology. This is the study of happy people, and what makes people happier.  One of the most interesting theories that I’ve come across is one from  Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky and her colleagues.  She discovered through her research that our happiness is made up of:

  • 50% genetics – we inherit a happiness ‘set point’ from our parents, which doesn’t change much throughout our lives.
  • 10% circumstances – whether we are rich or poor, what city or house we live in, how healthy we are, how beautiful or plain, married or divorced.
  • 40% intentional activity – our daily behaviour, how we think and act each day.

While this does sound a bit gloomy (that we can’t change 50% of our happiness level)  it is also great news because it means that we can potentially increase our happiness by up to 40% by copying the daily behaviour of happy people.

7 Happy Habits

So what habits do happy people have in their lives? Below I have listed seven of the happy habits that researchers have identified.

  • They are social.  Happy people spend a lot of time with their families and friends, nurturing and enjoying those relationships.
  •  They practice gratitude on a daily or weekly basis.
  • They prioritise exercise on a daily or weekly basis.
  • They are mindful, live in the present and savour life’s pleasures.
  • They have an optimistic outlook on life, and think in an optimistic way when things go wrong.
  • They are kind and regularly offer help to people they know and meet.
  • They are committed to life long goals, for example, teaching strong values to their children, building cabinets or reducing crime.

Maybe you could pick one of these habits and think about ways of introducing some intentional activity into your life to give your happiness a boost.

31Mar/11

Zumba Zumba Zumba!

I’m on a zumba high!  I’ve just been to my second class and it was even more fantastic than the first. I am definitely a convert, and may soon become addicted.  Zumba is the latest exercise craze that is sweeping the nation, and if you haven’t experienced it, it’s basically a bunch of enthusiastic women (in my class) dancing to Brazilian, hip hop, and dance music in varying degrees of rythem and competence. It’s high energy, sensual and challenging enough to keep you concentrating and in the flow.

I’ll admit now that I’m not a dancer.  I’m too self-conscious to completely let go and really feel the music.  But since watching Strictly Come Dancing for the first time last year, I’m itching to give dancing a proper try.  OK, Zumba isn’t ‘proper’ dancing but it is definitely closer to it than a step aerobics class. Maybe if I go to enough classes I might learn to let my body go a bit more, and for it to feel more natural to me.  I wasn’t really aware of the standard of the rest of the women (I was concentrating too hard on the instructor’s feet) but I was welcomed and didn’t feel out of place so I assume it’s a mix of abilities.  The women next to me definitely had the latin groove going on, and I know I will never be as good as her, but it was so much fun I don’t care!

And the added bonus is that it has killed many happiness birds with one stone. Not only have I exercised, got really in the flow, been social, and tried a new experience, but I have enjoyed very positive emotions while doing it.  Five scientifically proven ways to improve your happiness in one 45 minute session.  What’s not to like?