Happiness is the key to sucess... apparently. We all want happiness in life, but when things aren't going our way it's hard to be on the bright side.
To celebrate the Blu-ray and DVD release of documentary film I AM out on Monday 18th February, Universal has teamed up with Mindfulness Expert Rebecca Crane from BangorUniversity to tell us how to look at life in a more positive light.
Rebecca Crane says: “There are many turning points in one’s life when you start to realize there may be more to life, and how your being alone can make a difference. Receiving a terminal diagnosis is a classic one – when clarity emerges about what really matters, receiving redundancy notice, giving birth, being close to a loved one as they die, or being injured.
“All these moments have the effect of jerking us out of the sleep walking state that we can easily slip into during our day to day lives. Tom Shadyac’s story in the film ‘I Am’ is a clear example of this – the bike accident and the difficulties that followed were a clear catalyst that created the impetus for Tom to investigate the world in a new and deep way.
“The happiest people in the world embody ease and contentment. The people who stand out most are often not celebrities - they are quietly living their life, living at peace with themselves and others.”
Rebecca has provided her “Top Tips” to happiness that we can follow to start seeing a difference:
Wake Up Happy- As you wake up, take a few moments to become aware of the world around you. The feel of the bedding, the quality of the light in the room, the sounds in the house and the sounds outside. Tune in to your breath and prepare yourself for whatever is coming next. If you drink a cup of tea or coffee first thing, make that an opportunity for mindfulness practice. Take a minute or two just for yourself. Enjoy the warmth of the cup or mug, the aroma of your drink and its flavour. Gaze out of the window and take in the sounds of nature or the city – the world is waking too.
Walk to Work - If you walk to the bus or tube or train station, make that a mindful walk. Perhaps take the chance to turn off your phone and any other communication device and give yourself over to enjoying those moments. Feel your feet on the ground and the movement in your legs and hips. Notice how you’re breathing. Allow the range of your attention to broaden and expand – take in the world around you in this moment. If you’re using public transport, maybe get off a stop earlier and do the same. The exercise is has its own obvious benefits and it’s another chance to tune into yourself and establish some mindfulness. Enjoy your walk.
Find Peace - sit quietly for some time each day so that you have the space to pause for long enough to recognize and connect with how you really are. Practice mindfulness meditation is a way of bringing gentle and kindly attention to the moment by moment experience of sensations in the body, emotions and thoughts. Sometimes the rush of everyday life can force you to lose touch with yourself, and this in turn means you are less in touch with your children, husband, colleagues, and the environment around you.
Spend time in nature- Our lives are full and complex and giving ourselves time to connect and feel the ground under our feet gives us a place to stand. Step aside from constant doing by giving yourself time to be in nature, by running for the pure joy of running, or by immersing yourself in music. When we do this we find that we naturally connect in kindly ways with people around us. When we connect with ourselves we are discovering more deeply what it is to be human. It is easy to empathise with and be kind to others when we are in touch with this. We then don’t need a goal or a resolution to make us think of others – it comes naturally
Mindfulness Meditation - meditation practice to recognise these moments when our minds are slipping into unhelpful negative habits that we have rehearsed many times in the past. If you travel to work on a bus, or tube or train, maybe take a few moments on each journey just to tune in to yourself. Put aside the newspaper or your work, switch off your iPod and turn off your phone. Take some time now just for yourself. Follow your breath and settle inside yourself. These are rare moments, time just for you.
Savour your food more - Savouring the taste of our food is an important fundamental human ritual that we often take for granted. Do not rush your breakfast or lunch, take time to share the experience with others. Maybe eat one or two meals each week in silence, enjoy the flavours and textures and just be with yourself.
Spend more time with family – spending time with people we care about. It becomes completely clear that sustained happiness is not about experiencing pleasure through material possessions – even though the culture we live in constantly gives us the message that we should keep seeking pleasure through getting more and more things. Of course pleasant experiences are important. However, there is a happiness that goes beyond momentary pleasures. It is an ease that arises within us when we connect with ourselves and our world with care and kindness, and we allow our speech, our choices, our actions in the world to align with this connection and kindness
Don’t be critical of yourself- Accept your feelings and let them go. It is very easy to fall into negative traits and habits, and it is challenging to remember to be mindful! We easily slip into habitual patterns of thinking, feeling and doing. It isn’t possible to stop this happening and it wouldn’t be wise to try – we can so easily magnify a difficult emotion like sadness, anger or fear by being critical of ourselves that we feel this way. It is natural for these emotions and all the challenging thoughts that come along with them to arrive.
Live for the moment - If we have a practice like mindfulness that supports us in recognizing our moment to moment experience, we will be able to spot ourselves falling into old patterns, and so open the possibility of being able to step back, to disentangle ourselves and to take care of ourselves at these difficult times, which in turn helps fend off depression
Giving to others – Small acts of kindness really do help to make a difference in the world. This can be achieved by donating to charity, volunteering or helping an elderly person cross the street. Research clearly shows us that the good feelings that come from giving arise for both the giver and the receiver. Indeed the giver is the one who gets the biggest boost of good feelings – researchers track this by measuring shifts in serotonin and dopamine in the brain. So if we want to cultivate positivity in our lives, giving is a great way to do this!
Be Kind to Yourself - Kindness isn’t something that we can just offer to others. It isn’t possible to sustain kindness if it is only being offered outwards whilst our own internal environment is filled with criticism and negativity. The kindness can take many forms – allowing ourselves to feel sad can be a deep kindness – particularly when our usual pattern is to berate ourselves for feeling this way; making less demands on ourselves when we are feeling troubled; or seeking out what we need to nourish ourselves like the company of a good friend, or some solitude, or rest, or exercise.
Space to connect – We need to give ourselves the space to connect to see how we can put kindness into action. We begin to see that it is only kindness that makes real sense in our lives. It is what connects us to ourselves, to each other and to the world. The film ‘I Am’ really underlines this – the human race is deeply interconnected and we naturally empathise with each other if we allow ourselves to. Kindness isn’t something we bring in from outside of ourselves – it is inherent in our nature. Holidays, time off work or even a walk in the park at lunch can be the easiest way to find this thinking space and reconnect with the world
Sense of Community - Take up an interest in your local community for that important sense of connection. Difficult economic times offer us an impetus to pause and take a good look at the way we are living our lives. Many people in work are running faster and faster, becoming exhausted and squeezed, feeling like they can’t stop; while many people out of work are feeling alienated, separate, isolated and left behind. We begin to sense our place in the community that we are part of, and recognise that it is natural for us to receive from and give to our community. Chris Ruane is keen to build mindfulness training into communities for people who are unemployed, for stressed parents, for caregivers and so on.
Take regular and full lunch breaks – it is important to down tools in the middle of the day and sit quietly together for half an hour. By taking the pressure off yourself, you will be more effective. It doesn’t sound big, but for each of us it is a radical act - to deliberately set aside time in the midst of our full and busy lives to ‘be’. Get away from your computer – take a short walk and get outside if you can. Even a simple cuppa together with colleagues or friends is enough to refresh your mind before heading back to our work. You will discover that when you come back to their work in the afternoon, your perspective is quite different – you will feel fresher, more energised, more connected, and more positive.
Take up a hobby or learn a new language – Joining new activities support us to see the world in new ways, with fresh eyes. For many, the default can be to stay within our comfort zone. Exploring ways that we can gently push our edges, challenge ourselves is a great way to nudge us towards new possibilities. How we gently challenge ourselves will be different for each of us – it might be a new job, taking on a new hobby, taking a mindfulness course, or volunteering. Strange though it may sound, for some it might involve doing less – deliberately creating spaces that don’t have an agenda, slowing down. This can be tremendously challenging for those who are habitually pressured and busy.
Rebecca concludes:“The ideas and practices here are just a guide and each of us will need to find our own ways to be mindful at work and mindful at home. But practising a few of these each day, and making them part of your routine, can bring about significant changes to the texture and quality of each working day. Just a few minutes invested each day in that way, a few short and simple practices each day, can make for huge improvements in your overall quality of life.”
A life lived mindfully is so much richer and deeper
I AM, out on Blu-ray and DVD from 18th March