The psychology of being happy: 7 things I learned last year

For me, 2015 was a pretty grim year. It was fraught with bereavement, redundancy and family illness. To put it mildly, 2015, will not go down as one of the best years of my adult life.

However, someone very wise once told me, (to be honest, I think he learned it from someone even wiser…) “no experience is wasted; everything teaches you something.”

OK, if that’s the case, what did I learn about how to be happy during one of the saddest of years?

I learned:

1. That resilience is hugely important. Psychologists describe resilience as the ability to adapt to stress and adversity and to bounce back. I believe this is one of the most important traits we can develop in ourselves and our children.

Those individuals who demonstrate high levels of resilience generally share some common traits. They tend to be optimistic, have a positive attitude, the ability to regulate emotions and the tendency to view failure as a form of feedback. I certainly struggled with some of these – it’s not always easy to be optimistic when it feels like life is kicking you while you’re already down! However, give it your best shot.

Doing Outplacement sessions with those who have been made redundant has shown me how different people’s attitudes can be in similar situations. People who have positive attitudes can make such a difference to short and longer-term outcomes.

2. Not to compare myself to others. There will always be someone taller, prettier, smarter, funnier (yes, really!), thinner, richer, or happier. Be you – the best version of yourself you can manage.

3. To surround myself with people I love, those who love me back and those who have my best interests at heart.

4. To take time to be sad, mad and hurt and did my best to lick my wounds…then tried to move forward even if I could only take tiny steps.

5. To treat myself with kindness; I don’t have to be perfect (to be fair, there was never any chance of that anyway). Stumbling and falling is part of what it means to be human. What’s important is not that you fall down but how long you lie on the ground before you get back up. Just like the old Chinese proverb: “Get knocked down 6 times. Get back up 7 times.”

6. That laughter, even in blackest moments, can be therapeutic. I tried to find lightness and people with whom I could laugh. It’s OK to laugh, in fact it’s desirable for your emotional well-being to allow yourself time out from despair or grief occasionally. It doesn’t mean you don’t care.

7. I learned that Leo Tolstoy wrote something way shorter than War and Peace…“ if you want to be happy, be”. Good work Leo.

Julie McDonald
Director of People Solutions

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