It's a common, modern affliction. This niggling feeling that we should have more, travel more, do more. You only have to open up Instagram to trigger a mid-life crisis and wonder what the hell you're doing with yourself when so many people seem to be having this "perfect" time.
Believe me. Most people aren't. On social, they're only showing the very best of themselves. You don't see the reality or the hardship – just the fun experiences. However, this is "Generation Perfection", and it's putting unnecessary pressure on all of us. If you work in the creative industries, it can feel worse because so much of what we do is on display.
When your career doesn't feel successful, and if you're wondering why you're spending all your time at work when others seem to be travelling. Or if you think the grass might be greener, read on and enjoy these tips on how to be happy with what you've already got.
Establish a "happy" morning routine
Don't watch the news. Don't pick up your phone. Pick up a book instead and enjoy a little quiet before you rush to your office or desk. On your commute, listen to happy music (these will get you started) or an entertaining podcast that's positive and light. You don't want to overload your brain with information first thing. Or remind yourself how depressing the world can be.
Ditch Instagram and Facebook
Why the daily scrolling? Does it make you happy? Take a look around on the train, bus or tram. See all those people on their phones? Trust me, not one of them will be smiling. (If they are, then it's because they've seen a video where a dog drags its balls across a carpet.)
It's understandable why you'll feel miserable on a winter's morning when you look at Instagram and see someone taking three months to travel around Thailand and Vietnam while you're battling the elements.
And Facebook. Don't get me started. It used to be that you could naturally "move on" from people. Now, you have to stay in touch with ex-boyfriends or girlfriends, see someone who bullied you in school suggested as a "friend" and keep in contact with acquaintances that really, you should've left behind a long time ago.
"But I won't be able to stay in touch if I leave," I hear you say. That's rubbish. You can easily connect with people via other means. "And I love Instagram; I can't live without it!" Oh, if only you knew how much happier, you'd be if you stopped following inspirational "influencers" who seem to have it all.
Limit your time on social media. Only follow creative stuff – not people with incredible bodies or those who always seem to be travelling (it'll make you miserable). Your brain, your body (RSI, people!) and your mental wellbeing will thank you for it.
Embrace the little things
I'm a simple person. I gain happiness from the smallest of things — the sound of birds singing on a sunny morning. A soft, early morning breeze is floating through the curtains. A bee is happily moving from flower to flower. A cat is lazily lying in the sun and quietly observing you, as you sip your tea.
Ok, the weather isn't always perfect. But you can always find joy in the small things. Your first cup of coffee. The smell of a freshly laundered bed. The feeling of carpet under your feet.
Embrace the here and now. It's the little things in life that make us happy. Drink them up. Cherish them. Indulge yourself in things that don't cost a penny – take a walk, read a book (join a library and always have a good book on the go), have a hot bath, do some exercise, light some candles. Enjoy a little Hygge – pronounced "Hoo-gah" and live your life.
Make the weekends special
Don't always reserve Saturdays and Sundays for catching up on housework or DIY. Find the time to indulge in some "me" time. And fill the days with family and friends.
Every Saturday, I love to get a weekend newspaper and then go to a café with my husband. We don't always do this. Sometimes, we stay at home and listen to the radio or read a book, lazily staying in our pyjamas and doing nothing.
Whatever you choose to do, make it unique. And I look forward to it.
Do something nice during the week
You can't live for the weekends. That'll make the working week drag on and on. So plan a little something here and there to keep you happy. Go to the movies on a Tuesday. Make Wednesdays the day you catch up with friends. Join a sports club and make it a regular fixture.
Buy "experiences" not things
It's easy to get sucked into consumerism (especially if you follow people with gorgeous clothes or homes on Instagram). We all do it. Buy stuff. But buying things doesn't make us happy. We might get that initial buzz. But it doesn't last. Accumulate less, live more – that's the sentiment I'd love you to ponder today.
Live in a clutter-free home
If all that stuff you've been buying over the years is starting to clutter your home, perhaps it's time for a re-think. Because you know what they say, "tidy home, tidy mind" – and we're trying to encourage optimum wellbeing here. A good old spring clean not only transforms your life; it can also make you happier.
In her excellent book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Marie Kondō says: "The process of assessing how you feel about the things you own, identifying those that have fulfilled their purpose, expressing your gratitude, and bidding them farewell, is really about examining your inner self, a rite of passage to a new life.”
What items can you discard or give away today to have a cleaner, clutter-free home?
Spend more time with positive people
If there's someone in your life who takes a little more than they give or somebody who always leaves you feeling deflated rather than energised, perhaps it's time to move away and spend more time with other friends. The type who makes you laugh and feel great about yourself.
Easier said than done when you have people you can't shake off, even if you wanted to. Be there for those who need you. Just don't feel guilty about laying down a few boundaries and limiting your time with them.
Sort those little tasks that you've been holding off
Nothing feels better than ticking things off a list. If you've meant to go to the dentists or fix that squeaky door for ages, get them done. You'll feel so happy with yourself for being productive and organised.
If it helps, use the very excellent task manager app Things. Buy it and then have it on your phone, tablet and desktop computer – it'll sync and know when you've ticked things off on any device. One-off cost, too.
Get some exercise
I don't know about you, but I feel amazing after a gym session or a bike ride. It's one less thing to worry about. A task completed. I'm looking after my health, and I feel great. It means I fully deserve that bottle of beer or glass of wine. I can indulge in a meal out and not feel guilty.
Staying active and looking after our bodies isn't just good for our long-term health; it makes us happy too. Aside from the release of endorphins in your brain, exercise encourages us to make more of an effort to dress nice, go out and see people, live and breathe! Looking after ourselves gives us confidence. We feel in control. And if you feel in control, then the world is at your feet!
Don't overthink it
I'm not a religious person. I don't think there's any meaning to life. But I do believe we need to find some meaning. Whether that's with family and friends, going to church or becoming more spiritual. Whatever works for you.
What I will say is that thinking about things too much can lead to unhappiness. Anxiety and stress aren't suitable for anyone. How do you stop negative thoughts going round and round in your head? Many believe the answer lies in mindfulness. The practise of quietening the mind. If, like me, you're not able to sit still in a perfect lotus pose (my hips are to blame) and meditate then do something that switches your brain off. For me, it's ironing, running, cycling, gardening, knitting, housecleaning – they all work beautifully.
For extra guidance, check out the following recommended books:
Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking by S.J. Scott and Barrie Davenport
This beautiful book promises to teach you the habits, actions, and mindsets to clean up the mental clutter that's holding you back from living a meaningful life — full of exercises that will have an immediate, positive impact on your mindset. Instead of just telling you to do something, it provides practical, science-backed actions that can create real and lasting change if practised regularly.
Priced at £2.99 – Buy the book
A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled by Ruby Wax
Five hundred years ago, no one died of stress: we invented this concept, and now we let it rule us. Ruby Wax shows us how to de-frazzle for good by making simple changes that give us time to breathe, reflect and live in the moment.
Priced at £6.31 – Buy the book
Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams and Dr Danny Penman
This book reveals a set of simple yet powerful practices that can be incorporated into daily life to help break the cycle of unhappiness, stress, anxiety and mental exhaustion and promote genuine joie de vivre. It's the kind of happiness that gets into your bones. It seeps into everything you do and helps you meet the worst that life can throw at you with new courage.
Based on Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which revolves around a straightforward form of mindfulness meditation, it takes just a few minutes a day for the full benefits to be revealed. MBCT is clinically proven to be at least as effective as drugs for depression, and it is recommended by the UK's National Institute of Clinical Excellence – in other words, it works.
Priced at £10.46 – Buy the book
Go easy on yourself
If you feel like a disappointment, that you've not achieved everything you hoped when others seem to "have it all", stop. No one has the answers. Those seemingly perfect people who have amazing lives and businesses might be the most unhappy of us all. A successful business, after all, requires a lot of commitment and sacrifice.
Don't assume the grass is greener, either. It's usually not. Find peace in the wisdom that all humans suffer from this negative mindset. It's only natural. When you find yourself wondering how life could be different, come back to the present – consider what's happening right now.
Still unhappy? Consider if anything needs to change
If none of the above helps and life is getting you down, perhaps a more significant change is required. A new job, launching a business, finding a new place to live – whatever it is, take steps to make it happen. It can't often happen overnight. These things take time.
It's only natural that you'll feel overwhelmed by the task ahead. Don't be. Instead, write down three small and realistic goals that you can tackle now to get the ball rolling. What have you been holding off for too long? What needs to change?
Please note, this article is made with Amazon Affiliates.