Spring Clean Your Life

According to some statistics, at least 1 in 4 of people living in the UK consider themselves to be unhappy.  How awful.  Not just unhappy about a particular event, but unhappy every single day.  And of course many of us go through unhappy phases periodically, or want to fine tune our happy muscles or find a better way to live.  Here are some practices and books which could be the solution to finding happiness, with the sun shining, maybe it's time to spring clean your life too?

100 Happy Days

Last year's 100 Happy Days challenge, started online by Dmitri Golubichy, suggested that the Holy Grail of happiness could be found if it was sought every single day for 100 days.  The challenge was to post a photo of something that makes you happy on Facebook, Twitter or privately on the 100HappyDays website for 100 days to bring a measure of joy to your life every day.  In theory, at the end of 100 days, participants would be far happier than when they started.

The #100HappyDays project is perfect for helping us to appreciate the little things that make us happy as it is the smaller things and the every day delights that lead to happiness, not suddenly becoming thinner/wealthier etc.  As most experts suggest, positive thinking; rising above negativity (your own, other people's and the media's); appreciating the good things, big or small; and choosing happy are the keys to becoming happy.  Yes you can set life goals to change what you think is wrong with your life, but if your fundamental mind set remains the same then happiness isn't automatically going to come from more money in the bank, or a different job, or losing three stone, or finding a great life partner.  The change has to start now, with your approach to life and your everyday thinking.

The Reticular Activating System

Have you ever noticed how when you set your heart on a new car, a blue Golf say, you will suddenly start seeing blue Golfs everywhere?  Of course there aren't somehow significantly more blue Golfs around, this is the mind's Reticular Activating System coming into play.  This mental filtering system is the brain's way of sifting out the background noise (visuals) of life and choosing to focus on certain things.  There aren't any more blue Golfs than there were before, but your mind is now causing you to pay more attention to them.

Using the RAS to your advantage, the 100 Happy Days Challenge encourages your mind to focus on the things that make you happy, thereby training your mind to filter out the negative more and focus on the happy bits.  Clever huh?  Train your mind regularly and for long enough and this becomes a habit, keep going and the skill should be ingrained for life.

Overcoming Adversity

Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote in his book Man's Search For Meaning about his fellow prisoners in Auschwitz finding incredible joy and hope in fragments of memory and small moments of happiness.  Whether it was the colour of a single flower, the sunlight gleaming through the trees, or memory of a loved one, there were tiny moments of happiness to be found even in the darkest situations.  He notes how those moments can empower the human mind to build resilience and focus on an end goal, in this case freedom, despite all the odds.

What can we take from such an extreme situation?  Maybe to find the happiness in every day, but also not to write times and days and situations off.  Yes, our day may not have started well but do we need to write the rest of it off?  Our job may suck big time, but are there any aspects that can be seen as good?  Any moments to treasure?  Finding the happiness in every day, even in the strangest or most difficult of moments, is a habit of happy people, maybe it's time to choose happy.

Stress Control

One of the biggest causes of unhappiness in our busy modern world is stress and finding ways to tackle the causes and deal with the fall out of stress is the subject of the book Stress Control: Stress-Busting Strategies For The 21st Century by Susan Balfour.  Are you too busy to do what you really want to do?  Too stressed by life and all its demands?  Maybe there is another way.

Psychotherapist Balfour examines the causes of stress, its affects on health, and how to manage it in daily living.  She acknowledges that a certain amount of stress is intrinsic in our daily lives, with most of us juggling work, home, family and many other commitments and expectations on a daily basis.  But when something tips the balance and stress overwhelms we run the risk of dropping some, or all, of our spinning plates.  Balfour suggests taking control of your agenda, scaling back some activities and making time for the stuff that really matters.  Easier said than done perhaps, but with Balfour's guidance on alternative ways to approach modern life and its challenges, and her suggested solutions based on ancient classical wisdom, a new solution is presented.  Each chapter suggests easy stress-busting exercises to help put you back in control of your life.  An interesting approach to stress-busting and life organisation, worth a read.

Cut the Crap and Feel Amazing

A fairly straightforward approach to improving your life, boosting your happiness, and changing your mindset, Ailsa Frank's Cut the Cr*p and Feel Amazing incorporates elements of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, visualisation, hypnotherapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and even a bit of Cosmic Ordering.  The subtitle "how to let go of the negative and get into the amazing zone" sums up the nature of the book and, as discussed above, simply by looking for and cherishing the happy moments, we are sure to find more of them.  Like the Balfour book, this one also deals with cutting and overcoming stress.

I do like the idea of getting into the AMAZING zone by rising above the negativity and the drama which surrounds us, but there is probably a big chunk of British reserve for most of us to leap over first.  That's not to say that there isn't a lot of good to take from this book, indeed most people I know could benefit from ignoring/avoiding the negativity and talking themselves and their lives up.  The last chapter on treating your life like your home by de-cluttering and spring cleaning was after all the inspiration for this article.  We could all benefit from getting rid of the life-sapping friends and acquaintances, the duty phone calls, and those who delight in bringing us down.  Most of us should watch the news less and choose uplifting books, TV and films over the crud that we do watch.  And I'm sure all of us would indeed benefit from pruning life of all the 'crap'.

The book covers most aspects of life in bite-size chunks: money, work, parenting, love and relationships, stress, loss, relationships and modern living, and provides lots of useful tools to help you progress your life more positively.  The idea of getting into the AMAZING zone and rising above negative thinking and dramas, whilst simultaneously using the techniques described in the book, will help you to make life changes, but more importantly it helps to change your attitude towards life and its challenges, and as we have seen that's half (most of) the battle.

"The way you live your life is based on a series of habits and established patterns.
By replacing old habits with new ones, you can change your life for the better."

I like that this book has practical kick-ass solutions, says put the past in the past and move on, as well as offering advice on positive thinking and providing exercises to clear negativity.  Ending with the advice to stop making excuses and take control of your life and your happiness is also a refreshing change from many self-help books.  A positive, easy read that will help anyone make changes instantly.

168 Hours

If you're thinking well, that's all very well but I never have the time to read, then our last book is the one to start with.  In 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, author Laura Vanderkam proves just that.  We all have 7 days of 24 hours, yet some people manage to run huge corporations whilst having plenty of time for recreation and socialising, whilst others work part-time hours and barely have time to clean their homes.  Of course neither has more or less time than the other, it is how they organise that time and how they choose to spend it that is the key.  (Although I do still believe the current account balance of the former helps rather!)

Vanderkam gives various case studies and examples as evidence, but ultimately asks the reader to take responsibility for acknowledging which time-sappers they are guilty of, and provides exercises to work through to help you see how you spend your time and how you might like to change that.  Plotting out a full 168 hours is a very interesting exercise, and does show how much time we all have (and waste) each week.  We found this book really useful for freeing up even more time for our family life and enabling us to get more done in the time we have available.  A good read and a very interesting book, highly recommended.


Ultimately of course, the way we conduct our lives, how happy we are, and what we do with our time is down to personal choices.  But if 1 in 4 of us is unhappy all the time and most of the rest of us ebb and flow out of the happy and stress zones, there must be something we can do.  Any of these three books would be a great start, and the combination of all three would be even better perhaps, but the first step towards happiness is choosing to find the good in every day, keeping a journal of the best parts of your day, photographing the moments that make you smile.  Flex that Reticular Activating System and just maybe you'll be happier every day as a result of it.

What's made you happy today?  How could you improve your day to day to invite more happy?  How would you like to spend your time to improve your life?  What can you do right now to change it?