Secret Miracle Cure ?

What if I told you I have a secret something that can extend your life ?

Something that will make you feel better. Reduce your stress, your blood pressure, and improve your emotional stability, anxiety and impatience. It will probably also reduce your risk of depression.

Something that has been shown to reduce levels of bodily inflamation linked to heart disease, stroke, arthritis and diabetes, and that will actually increase the rate your body repairs itself. It also improves your resilience to colds !

Something that also amazingly improves your memory, sharpens your attention, makes you more alert and more creative, increases your willpower, regulates your appetite, improves sporting performance and willingness to take part in exercise. It also magically makes you a safer driver.

It also makes you happier !

Sounds unbelievable ?

It’s real, it exists, and is yours for free.

If you haven’t realised already, it’s sleep. Type ‘benefits of sleep’ into Google to see for yourself.

Sounds great, but the bad news is that we’re all sleeping less. It’s not because we magically don’t get tired anymore (despite self-medicating with caffeinated energy drinks), it’s because there’s so many other things to do – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

It wasn’t that long ago there was no breakfast TV and once the national anthem had finished around midnight, there was only a little white dot on the screen. Most shops were closed by six, or by lunchtime on Wednesdays, and virtually nowhere was open on Sunday.

If you’re 30 or younger you might find this hard to believe. Our lives are so different now – we can watch, work, shop, play and communicate 24/7 in endless different ways. This digital world is so enticing – why would we waste our lives sleeping ! Many of us have a tendency to sacrifice sleep for work, family or personal enjoyment such as late night surfing the internet, we think we’re maximising our time or productivity, but we’re probably doing the exact opposite.

There’s no getting away from it – if we want the happiest, healthiest life we can we need to ensure we get enough sleep.

Prioritising sleep and ensuring we get enough will likely do wonders for our concentration, mood and energy levels, and will make it easier for us to find the motivation, willpower and commitment to achieve everything else we want to do in life.

I’m as guilty as anyone.

Sleep has never been something I’ve been terribly good at – but improving my sleep is my mission for the new year.

My solution will be to build a habit of a regular bedtime, spend a little less time looking at screens, especially in the evening, and generally organising my routine to include more sleep. It will also involve finding the willpower to simply stop what I’m doing more often, and go to bed.

You might want to join me on my journey to more sleep – or if you’re there already feel free to tell the rest of us your secret ?

Photo by dannyelbrazil, via Flickr

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The Higgs Boson of Happiness

So after an attempt at a catchy title, where am I going with this ?

Lovers of good science (and good writing) will be pleased to know I’ve decided against attempting to suggest any tenuous similarity between ‘the Higgs Boson providing mass to particles’ and ‘happiness providing substance to life’.

I’m going instead to suggest the tenuous similarity between scientists searching to understand the Higgs and Happiness – doing experiments, gathering evidence, and now thinking they’ve pretty much found the answer to both.

Of course all good metaphors break down at some point, this one rather sooner than most – but it was fun while it lasted.

While the search for the Higgs Boson is a success for both inspired theoretical physics and skilled engineering, the research to understand the basis of happiness may have the potential to be far more understandable and useful to far more people, at least in the short term.

Our happiness is important. Happy people are healthier, have better immune systems, are more productive, are less aggressive, have better mental health, are more socially engaged and ultimately live longer.

WHAT IS HAPPINESS ?

While science has only recently begun considering happiness – philosophers, politicians and (not least) self-help gurus, have been pondering the question for a lot longer – everyone has a view:

Happiness is a way of travel, not a destination - Roy Goodman

Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony – Gandhi

Happiness is health and a short memory - Audrey Hepburn

Happiness comes not from wealth and splendor, but tranquility and occupation – Thomas Jefferson

There is no happiness in any place except what you bring yourself – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Happiness isn’t real unless shared – Christopher McCandles

WAYS TO BE HAPPIER

When it comes to how to be happy there is also no shortage of good advice available. Numerous books, websites and study programmes will suggest any number of the following are likely to increase your happiness:

Focus on the Present Moment

Be Grateful for What You Already Have

Foster a Sense of Optimism

Working Towards and Achieving Our Goals

Do What You Like – or at Least Like What You Do

Get More Physical Exercise

Force Yourself to Smile and Laugh More

Just ‘Choose to be Happy’

THE BEST WAY TO BE HAPPIER

All the above suggestions are probably good advice, and most of the time would stand a good chance of making you happier. But the thing about happiness, is that it’s ultimately subjective. We’re all complex mixtures of our genes, upbringing, experience and circumstances, and there’s simply no single definition of happiness, or secret to attaining it that will satisfy everyone, all of the time.

After all if it was that easy we would have ‘nailed it’ as a species long ago.

But the latest scientific research indicates there is something we can do.

And it fortunately accords with our personal experience and common sense – which all seem to agree that there’s one thing above all others that makes us happy:

Spending time with, and doing things for, people we like.

There’s no question that the greatest levels of happiness are associated with spending time with people we like – note that this may well be our family, but not always . . . it turns our some of us actually find this more stressful than being by ourselves !

The Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman says: “it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that happiness is the experience of spending time in the company of people we love and who love us”.

It’s a finding that hardly seems like rocket science, after all if we think back to when we ourselves were happiest, we were probably with someone else.

But it is something we perhaps don’t act upon enough.

Many of us spend more and more time virtually with our screens and technology than in the company of our real friends. Also numerous surveys show as we become more time pressured as we get older we loose touch with our friends. A lot of people aspire to moving to remote, isolated large houses should they become wealthy – detaching themselves from friends and associates in the process !

Discovering the ‘fundamental happiness particle’ might not be as impressive as discovering the Higgs Boson . . . but for most of us, if it results in a few more evenings spent together with friends, then it might ultimately be more meaningful.

 

Photo by Gnomet, via Flickr

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Guerrilla Knitting

A lot of people are familiar with the idea of guerilla gardening – simply taking over an area of unused or unloved public open land and growing vegetables or flowers.

Guerrilla knitting (or yarn bombing) is similar, in the sense that those involved don’t first seek permission or approval, but rather than growing things, they use knitting to bring fun, humour and texture to the street.

Wander through Google’s image search to get the idea: guerrilla knitting, yarnstorming, yarn bombing.

In the words of the London Graffitti Knitting Collective, Knit the City:

“Unleashing our squishy art on the world, makes us and others happy, and brings something to life that wasn’t there before. There’s a bubbling love of being alive behind our street art. Stoney-faced and outraged art has it’s place, but life is also beautiful, enchanting, heart-squeezingly graceful and all kinds of weird. Consider it a stitched shove that whispers “Wake up! The world is a mad and marvelous place and we all get to live in it”"

Beautifiying the urban environment with knitted sunshine . . . just for fun :o

 

Photo from dandeluca via Flickr

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Tough Day at the Office ?

We all do it sometimes don’t we.

Moaning about our job, how hard we’re working, how busy we are, how bad our boss is, how hopeless our colleagues, how useless the organisation and especially how bad our pay.

Not many jobs are perfect, it seems, and it can often be tempting to let what’s wrong dominate our thinking. After all, it’s not as if we’re working for the fun of it, we’d much rather be at home relaxing, spending time with family and friends, pursuing hobbies or other activities.

Work is all too often something we begrudgingly do in exchange for the money we need to live our lives.

Of course we don’t moan all the time, and more than ever we do realise that we’re really lucky to have a job at all. But perhaps we could spend a little more time considering exactly just how lucky we are.

It’s natural to compare our lives with those around us – work colleagues, friends, family, and increasingly TV and media celebrities, about whose lives we are increasingly familiar.

Our tendency to compare and measure ourselves against our immediate peer group, is of course normal, but not always healthy. It can easily result in a sort of ‘bubble consciousness’ – being out of touch with the rest of society. It’s partly responsible for vastly inflated board room salaries, as CEOs compare their package against that of their chums at the Institute of Directors, and for dodgy politicians who submit ‘questionable’ expenses claims because ‘everyone else seems to be at it’

Of course it also applies to the lack of aspiration and drive that can infect our worst housing estates and schools, or the societies increasing levels of material greed, as we increasingly measure our lives in terms of ‘stuff owned’.

Perhaps if we were more familiar with the bigger picture, more aware of the lives of the billions less fortunate than ourselves we might feel less hard done by, more privileged, luckier ? Every parent tells their kids ‘be thankful for what you’ve got’ – perhaps we should listen to our own advice more?

And it may well also be that our relationship with paid work may have to fundamentally change in the future.

We read a lot of speculation about peak food, peak water, peak oil or peak energy, and whether there will be enough of these scare resources to go around the seven billion of us and rising. Should we also consider whether we are at, or nearing a time of peak work ?

There are millions unemployed around the world. Not because there isn’t plenty to be done, but because no one is willing or able to pay for it to be done.

The streets might need more cleaning, the elderly more visiting, and the sick more nursing – but, as we know, all these things come at a cost, and our societies all too often seem to know the cost of everything, but the value of nothing.

Most visions of a more sustainable future for us all require the production of far fewer material things, less travel and transport, and ever more efficient use of energy and technology – it’s difficult to see how we will all make a living within our current economic model.

No doubt there will be a transition, of course, and it seems to me we would be well advised to ‘share the work out‘ a little more.

In the meantime. . .

. . . if you’re not too keen on the prospect of going to work today, the remarkable series of films below might just prompt you to reflect a little. Capturing the lives of those undertaking hard physical labour, for very little reward, in places as diverse as Nigeria, Pakistan, Ukraine and Indonesia, these films provide a tiny glimpse into the lives of others across the globe.

Have a nice day.

 

 

Photo from Dickuhne via Flickr

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Happy Monday

Sometimes it’s good to do something different.

There’s a lot of urgent and serious problems in the world, and sometimes we need to be confronted by the reality of situations if we’re to be motivated enough to change them. Yes, we should care – but it’s not healthy to let our concern drag down our mood.

Depression and generalised anxiety disorder are the second most commonly diagnosed medical conditions across most of the rich world (after hypertension), with typically 1 in 10 people experiencing depression every year.

Mental and emotional exhaustion can creep up on us in our overloaded and hectic lives, and it’s often those in caring roles and work who are most at risk of burnout and depression.

We should be mindful of our own mood, and make sure that we keep on doing things to lift our spirits and recharge our emotional batteries.

Today, the first Monday in May, is a public holiday in the UK – one of the so called ‘Happy Mondays’. Whether you’ve got today off where you are or not, why not do something different ?

Shake things up, break the same-old same-old and do something different to remind yourself how fun life can be !

Photo by Jessica Tam, via Flickr

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