“Most of us are not as happy as we might be. We tend to obsess about the things that make us miserable: doing jobs we don’t enjoy, travelling nose-to-bumper or crushed inside a bus to get to work, the strains of family life, never quite having enough money to afford what we want.” – Michael Norton
A collective based in Slough developed a ten-point happiness manifesto which people were encouraged to follow for at least two months to raise happiness levels. As part of my Day Zero Project, I pledged to do ten challenges from Michael Norton’s book 365 Days To Change The World, and one of those challenges was The Happiness Manifesto (that’s right, a project within a project within a project! *Inception face*). I’ve been following The Happiness Manifesto for the past eight weeks; this blog post details my experiences. I found it to be very rewarding, and definitely felt much happier after a week or two!
1. Exercise for half an hour, three times a week.
I walk my dog Toby every night, so all I needed to do was make sure that he got a slightly longer walk every now and again! I managed to complete this task every week, other than during the first week when I had an infected wisdom tooth and spent about 10 days moping on the sofa, watching Buffy and sucking ice cubes. Exercise always makes me feel much happier and healthier, especially when exercising outdoors.
2. Count your blessings – at the end of the day, reflect on five things you’re grateful for.
Here’s where I have to make a confession – I have terrible sleep hygiene. I struggle to sleep in silence and darkness, unless I’m very tired or unwell. I don’t know why, but something about the stillness of night makes my mind race and keeps me awake. When I watch something mindless like BBC3 at night instead, I find I can drift off to sleep much easier. I used to play with my iPhone in bed too, reading my Twitter feed or looking at web comics, but I’ve managed to stop doing this now (mostly). Shameful! Back to the point – initially, I tried to reflect on my blessings in bed at night, but due to my nightly routine I found myself struggling to get this done. I would start reflecting and my mind would drift before I’d reached the third blessing, until eventually I fell asleep. After trying for about a week, I realised that that method wasn’t going to work for me, so instead I decided that I would write down my blessings each night in my journal. But after a few nights, I realised that listing things that I was “grateful for” at the end of each day was too specific, as I was always listing the same things – family, friends, good health, etc. Instead, I began to list 5 good things that happened each day – e.g. a nice conversation, a serendipitous moment, or something I saw that made me happy. This method worked much better, and allowed me to come to a positive conclusion about every day. Sometimes I struggled to find five “good things” to list for each day, and I ended up reflecting on the bad things that didn’t happen, e.g. “I didn’t have any difficult customers to deal with today”. I don’t think there’s nothing wrong with that approach though, as it still allowed me to remain positive and reflect on the ways that my day could’ve been so much worse. I remember having a particularly bad day at work last month where a clinician lost her temper with me over a mistake I made – I spent most of my lunch hour in the toilets crying because I was so upset about the way she spoke to me. I would’ve usually gone home and moped about all evening feeling sorry for myself; instead, I forced myself to sit down and think of the good things that had happened that day that were overshadowed by the negative event in my mind. I went to bed feeling a bit sad about how the day had turned out, but otherwise I felt okay. This particular challenge was definitely among the most rewarding, and kept me feeling positive during some difficult weeks. I highly recommend giving it a go!
3. Pass an hour in uninterrupted conversation with your partner or closest friend each week.
This was much more difficult than I expected it to be. I no longer have a partner, and I can’t say that I have a single best friend that I see regularly, so my other go-to people for meaningful conversations are my Mum, and my good friends from Swansea that I maybe see every other week, depending on how busy we all are with our full-time jobs. There were a few weeks where I didn’t have any meaningful conversations that lasted near an hour. I can’t say that I felt hugely inspired by this challenge, as it was quite difficult to seek out opportunities for long meaningful conversations when they didn’t arise naturally, although the few long conversations I did have were wonderful.
4. Plant something – then keep it alive.
I planted a load of vegetables in my little veggie patch in the garden:
It’s looking a bit sparse at the moment, but the plants are getting there slowly! I’ve always found that growing things and keeping them alive makes me feel positive and hopeful; I like being connected to the earth and the seasons in that way.
5. Cut your TV viewing in half - more if you can.
I’m still adjusting to working almost-full-time – that’s right, six months later – as you can probably tell by the inactivity of this blog recently. A consequence of this is that I now watch A LOT of bad TV – I’m so knackered when I get home from work that I slump on the couch and end up watching whatever my mum is watching, which usually consists of Corrie, Emmerdale, and crime drama like Whitechapel or Silent Witness. I also used to spend my rare days off working my way through the Buffy box set, and managed to complete 6 seasons within 3 months! I’ve been thinking for a long time that I needed to cut down on my TV viewing – the more TV I watch, the less actual stuff I do, and it’s very easy to waste the 4 hours I have to myself in the evening vegetating in front of the box. I gradually cut down over the course of this challenge, and would estimate that my TV viewing has been reduced from 20 hours a week to somewhere around 5. Instead, I try to read books and zines, write, make art, learn new songs, and visit friends.
6. Smile or say hello to a stranger – at least once each day.
Every day when I’m in work, I have to greet patients, which involves smiling at them and being friendly and polite. But I have to be honest and admit that when I’m out and about, I’m very nervous about smiling to strangers. I worry that they will approach me and ask “do I know you?” or similar, and that I will feel awkward and wish I hadn’t approached them. I also worry about coming across as flirtatious, and that may offend people, or worse, lead them on. I’m disappointed that I allowed my anxieties get in the way of completing this challenge, as I think people should definitely smile and say hello to each other more often. Perhaps on the weekends I’ll try this every now and again, and see how it goes.
7. Make contact with a friend or relation you have not seen in a while, and arrange to meet up.
I chickened out of this. I have mixed feelings about this particular challenge – as nice as it would be to potentially rekindle lost friendships, I can’t help but feel that people lose contact with other people deliberately. We move on, and grow out of people. I also worry about imposing myself on others – surely if they wanted to keep in touch with me, then they would have? Or am I giving people too much credit here? Perhaps some are too busy, or too thoughtless, to keep in touch with everyone. I’m not sure. Oh well.
8. Have a good laugh – at least once a day.
I’m pleased to say that this has never been a problem for me! My parents are both very funny, witty people, and we’re always joking around and having a laugh together (my brother inhereted that natural, confident funniness from my parents, and I sometimes regret that I’m not as much of a comedian as the other family members… though I do have my moments! I can sometimes make people laugh if I feel comfortable enough around them).
9. Give yourself a daily treat.
I suppose this would be a good thing to do if you were the kind of person who routinely overworked and denied yourself little pleasures. I usually give in to my temptations though (not necessarily food-related temptations, things like letting myself have an early night instead of working late at night to meet deadlines), so didn’t really feel much of a benefit from doing this. My daily treats tended to be either foods or early nights, though sometimes they were allowing myself to forget my responsibilities for a while, e.g. allowing myself to spend a few hours faffing about online, or buying something nice.
10. Do an extra good turn for someone each day.
What a nice idea! I found this very difficult too – as much as I tried, a good turn every single day is pretty difficult. I also wasn’t sure what counted as a “good turn” - does it mean going out of your way for someone? Doing them a favour? Or just being nice? I suppose it’s up to the individual to interpret that one. Most of my “good turns” were very small things, such as swapping my shift with someone, helping out more around the house, or paying for a round of drinks for my friends. This challenge encouraged me to think of more ways to be considerate to others, and was very rewarding, though difficult to carry out on a day-to-day basis.
Ten small things to make you happy:
1. Go outside – for at least a few minutes a day
2. Drink lots of green tea
3. Eat fruit and vegetables
4. Avoid processed foods
5. Live in a clean and tidy space
6. Stop comparing yourself negatively to others
7. Get a good night’s sleep most nights
8. Make lists
9. Listen to happy, upbeat music
10. Read a book.