Filtered Instagram imagery and edited social-media feeds can, in our constant quest for happiness, create impossible expectations and feelings of deficiency. So what can we do to counter the pressure our culture of comparison creates? Bring more acceptance, balance and compassion into our lives, says Cheryl Rickman, author of The Happiness Bible.
- Take the rough with the smooth. Accept unhappiness as an authentic part of what it is to be human. We learn so much more about ourselves when we experience discomfort than when we experience ease. In accepting the whole spectrum of our emotions, our strengths and our weaknesses, our successes and our failures, we can embrace the complexity of humanity and, rather than criticise it, celebrate it. Contrary to what our social media feeds suggest, none of us have it all together and all of us make mistakes. Self -compassion and giving ourselves ‘permission to be human’ are just as necessary to our happiness journey as positive thinking or pleasurable activities. Being perfect is not being human. Being flawed is.
- Be grateful. Find balance between gratitude for what you already have and striving for what you hope to have. We tend to think, ‘I’ll be happier when... I live in my dream house, have my dream job, can afford to go on holiday, find my soul mate, achieve my goals’. Yet, research shows, we soon return to our pre-achievement levels of happiness, even after a lottery win. So, while setting goals and working to accomplish them can boost our wellbeing temporarily, it makes sense to spent time appreciating what we have now.
- Be kind. Scientists and psychologists have discovered the ‘helper’s high’ we get from performing acts of kindness boosts our wellbeing more than any other ‘positive intervention’, especially when we ‘chunk’ multiple acts together in one day rather than ‘sprinkle’ them across one week. As such, being supportive is even better for our happiness than being supported as being of service serves us as much as those we serve. As well as giving gifts, flowers and charitable donations, consider how you can donate your time, presence and expertise too.
- Get outdoors more. The wilderness does wonders for our wellbeing. Immersion in nature engages our senses and induces feelings of awe. It improves our creativity, attention span and energy levels and reduces our anxiety, depression and stress levels. Indeed if nature was a drug it would be a wonder drug, such is its healing power. Even spending just 20 minutes in natural environments rather than urban ones can positively impact our mood. So whether you walk in the woods, visit the seaside or plant a vegetable garden, try making your time in nature as habitual as possible.
- Give yourself a break! Life is a journey of self-discovery, on which we can either be our own best ally or our own worst enemy. It depends on whether we see ourselves through a critical or compassionate lens. It depends on whether we accept and believe the critical stories we tell ourselves or recognise and question them with gentle curiosity. So treat yourself like you’d treat your best friend, with comfort, empathy and encouragement; ask yourself whether you want to be perfect or healthy? Superior or connected? And remember, we’re in this together.
When we live our lives through a lens of acceptance, balance and compassion, we become stronger and better equipped to cope with, and cherish, life in all its occasionally brutal glory.