It's November last year. I am lying on a beach in Thailand beside one of my best friends in the world. She is the type of friend who makes you feel loved every second that you spend with her. She listens, she supports, she says wonderfully wise things and she knows the key to a good party is a playful, upbeat, only slightly sinister sense of humour. I will be friends with her forever.
We are talking about our lives - family, friends, boyfriends, work - and suddenly from nowhere she turns to me, eyes squinting into the sun and she says.
"You're one of the happiest people I know,"
I'm shocked. I doubt her. I second guess why she's saying that.
" It's true. You're really very happy. I can tell. And I mean in a "content" way, not in a smug way,"
I stayed quiet, thought about it some more and blamed it on the sunshine. How hard was it to be happy on a beach in Thailand?
But her words have stayed with me. For six months I've been chewing them over and over in my mind - hesitant to swallow their truth. Because I couldn't really argue with her then and what's even more puzzling is that I still can't now, even though I've left the Thai beach behind and many good, sad and bad things have happened since that conversation.
So what makes and keeps me happy? I can't answer that question conclusively, though I suspect luck plays a leading role. However, I have come to realise that a few habits of mine are very effective to bringing more ups than downs to my days. I have also tentatively come to the conclusion that while travel and our lifestyle plays a bit part in my happiness (and the fact I'm blessed with a network of love from friends and family) the following five things are also incredibly important and productive when it comes to how content I feel about life. The good news is that anyone can make these changes regardless of where you live (to an extent) and what your lifestyle is like.
1. Not watching the news.
It began in Amsterdam a year ago when the only news broadcasts on our TV were in a language I couldn't understand. After a few months of being relatively uninformed about what was happening in the world I remember commenting to NewMan that I felt lighter and brighter for not regularly watching news reports. Since then it's been a part-deliberate, part-I-don't-have-time decision to no longer watch the news.
Some people may find this sacrilegious, that I'm skipping a moral duty by not staying informed in world events, but I counter that argument by saying look at what is happening in Turkey right now. The news on any channel in any country of the world is never going to be an all-revealing, all-inclusive unbiased look at what is happening across the planet. I now find news broadcasts almost always full of "bad" news and sad and violent stories; they do not make me feel good about myself or the world. I'm sure this must affect us and our mood. I still read the news online (occasionally and for no more than 15 minutes) but I reserve the same right that the media take, which is to be selective on what I read. I also have to say that my watching TV in general has reduced considerably in recent years so maybe that's important too...
2. Exercise every day.
Doctors and scientists will tell you the reasons why this makes you happier. I will just tell you that getting outside and walking, running or cycling for at least ten minutes a day loosens the knots in my body and mind, without fail. If you don't know where to start with this then maybe consider running one mile every day. It takes ten minutes, makes you sweat and is time for you and you alone. I've recently extended to running two miles a day just because I like having more "me" time.
3. Only read blogs/websites/magazines/books that motivate, entertain or educate.
I used to read all the "popular" blogs (about a range of topics from travel to fashion), hoping that just by stroking the screen as their photos and words filled the page that their popularity and success would rub off on me and my little blog. I didn't actually take a step back and think about what value that website brought to my life. When I did, I realised there wasn't much and I was wasting my time and energy by reading many on and offline publications (fashion magazines, I'm looking at you).
Now, I'm pretty strict about what I read online. There are only really a handful or two of blogs and websites that I read every day and that's because they do one (or more) of the following things; educate, motivate and entertain. Reading (or watching/listening etc.) something that doesn't do any of those things is a waste of time. I also rarely buy newspapers and haven't bought a magazine for nearly a year. I try to only check Twitter and Facebook once or twice a day. Instead, I prefer to spend more minutes on Instagram for the pretty and inspiring pictures that help me become a better photographer and I read books, glorious books.
It goes for my blog too, if I don't inspire or make you feel good then I'd much rather you find another blog that makes you happy, makes you think, makes you happy. I mean that very sincerely.
4. Pursue a passion every day.
It saddens me that in the past I stopped indulging so many pleasures because I was too busy working too late, dating too many men or most likely, being too lazy. I've been thinking about this a lot and I have so much to say on the much-neglected topic of hobbies that I risk filling the page with unrelated ranting. Instead, I'll keep this really simple.
If you do something purposeful that makes you happy everyday, the chances are you'll be a happier person. It doesn't have to take long, just spend ten minutes on it. I have lost on average an hour's sleep every day since I started writing my short stories with intent and passion. Do I miss those hours of sleep? Maybe sometimes. Am I happier for it? Yes, yes, yes.
5. A 7pm Crap Curfew.
Evenings are my time. There's no room for crap. I've worked hard. It's time to rest and get happy. I switch off my phone notifications, I don't check my email or social media streams and I avoid caffeine and crappy processed or sugary foods. I cook and eat dinner with NewMan, do some pilates stretches and we watch Breaking Bad or The Wire together or I'll write my stories. Of course, this doesn't always happen. Sometimes I have to work late or I choose to do so. But they're my rules to break and I am pretty good at sticking to them until needs really must. This may make me sound extraordinarily boring, but really I'm just gearing up for a good night's sleep because if anything is crucial to happiness, it's sleep.
I hope these bring you a little happiness to your daily lives. Happiness is a underrated commodity in our world; it's not an endangered species or a non-renewable energy source, but perhaps we should look after it a bit better. If there are any other little things that you do to make your day a little easier, I'd love to hear what they are.
Frances M. Thompson
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