How to be happy or happier? Who doesn’t wonder at the formula. And yet, while there’s no one -size-fits-all answer to the question, the missive this month is inspired by Boudica Fox-Leonard’s brilliant feature in the Saturday Telegraph, which I haven’t stopped thinking about since I read it, not least because as the weather turns, we are all more susceptible to SAD –vitamin D folks at the ready.
In it, Andy Cope, psychologist and author claims a small number of Brits, his “lab rats” (a group of people he calls the “two-per-centers” which are the top two percent of the working population , who stand out as creating a positive uplift in those around them) are 22.5% happier than anyone else, with a third more energy and asks what they can teach the rest of us?
For the past 12 years Cope has been studying happiness and observing happy people and is now on a mission to share what he has discovered. Perhaps deep down we too know that happiness is infectious. When someone smiles at you, your gut reaction – whether you know them or not – is to smile back. Happiness, even for a nation he describes as one of moaners (Brits apparently languish at no. 19 on this year’s World Happiness report) is a lot easier to achieve than perhaps we might realise. It’s very much worth the effort, because as Cope points out, without wishing to sound evangelical, your happiness will change the happiness of those around you.
These 2 percenters might not look obviously different from you or me. They are not jazz hands waving or overt Tigger types but their difference is their mental habits. They do not take on the “mood hoovers” who surround them and who are so adept at sucking out their happiness. Instead they are experts at reframing questions back at negative people in a more positive way.
Not that this is easy. It is hard and takes practise. His findings: consuming less news, remembering to take a lunch break, learning to live in the moment and embracing Danish hygge as well as lagom (the Swedish idea of having ‘just the right amount’ and being satisfied with that) are published in his book, Happiness: Your Route Map to Inner Joy.
My favourite of his pearls of wisdom however are remembering what the American author Stephen Covey calls the 90/10 rule or what is known in our house as “s*** happens”. This is where you acknowledge that ten percent (at least) of life is not going to pan out as you wish no matter how organised/ efficient/punctual you are: the wifi won’t work when you’re on a deadline, the printer is guaranteed to jam up just as you need it. And yet, how you respond to that ten percent will largely depend on how positive that other 90% of you is. Being happy is accepting that you can’t control that 10 % of what goes wrong so why worry?
The other nugget which made me sit up, possibly because I and many of my friends are in the throes of juggling young children with work, is Cope’s reminder that keeping the spark in a relationship isn’t as important as keeping the spark in yourself. Although really, this applies to anyone. Seriously, who wants to be a hoover?
If we focus on our “to be” list rather than simply the “to do list” chances are, come date night we will be more chatty ,confident and witty. And what’s not to like about the dynamic person with oodles of warmth and an abundance of energy. It’s not rocket science: they attract others, like moths to a flame.
Most of all, Cope talks about being the best version of yourself. That resonated a lot. I’m ashamed to admit that I’d only ever thought of being this in terms of style and my wardrobe. And yet, what food for thought.
What else would I include on that list?
- I would add challenge yourself, which invariably means stepping outside of your comfort zone and which in turn makes you feel ALIVE and boosts your confidence. It’s a way of growing because it’s never too late to polish up a skill, take up a hobby, learn a new language. Do you really want to be the person who moans they are too old/ too tired/ too fed up of life?
- Stop living in the tomorrow and make every moment count. Hard sometimes when you feel overwhelmed. Personally I find myself much more productive when I focus on one thing at a time rather than the entirety of my to-do list.
- I’ve also learnt that fun experiences with people you love is a far better way to spend your money than accumulating a lot of STUFF. Don’t underestimate the enormous benefit of eating well and exercising outside, walking even, to alleviate stress. Getting enough sleep ( although therein lies a whole other article) makes for a happier you; so make the time to hit your pillow earlier. Or power nap when possible.
- In the wise words of C.S Lewis, don’t think less of yourself as a person but think of yourself less. And as Andy Cope reminds us: “Once you get this energy, it goes to work with you, it goes home with you and it goes on a date night with you, because it is you.
- And if all else fails, there’s Gill’s latest launch, “ Something for Happiness”, a formula which contains saffron, griffonia and vitamin B6, which aids the normal function of the nervous system and supports emotional balance. Good luck.