Life
Patricia Carswell 8 May 2017 10:30am

Ten easy ways to make yourself happier

Even modest happiness hacks can make a difference. Patricia Carswell suggests 10 ways to enrich your existence that don’t involve a seismic change

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Caption: Patricia Carswell suggests 10 ways to enrich your existence that don’t involve a seismic change.

Ring those bells

Making music is good for your physical and mental health, according to several studies.

Instead of taking the usual route and joining a choir, consider bell ringing. Not only will you have the pleasure of creating a joyous peal, you’ll undergo a significant physical and mental workout while you’re at it. Fitness experts from YMCAfit investigated campanologists and concluded that they enjoyed improved agility, co-ordination, reaction time and balance, as well as increased muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness. Bell ringing is a low impact way to work your abs, glutes, biceps, quads and calves.

Getting started: Your first stop should be either your local church (provided it doesn’t use a recording) or the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers, cccbr.org.uk

Keep bees

Installing a beehive in your garden or on your roof or patio is a thoroughly life-affirming experience. These clever little pollinators are vital to our ecology – one third of all vegetables and fruits are pollinated by them, but the bee population is in dramatic decline – so by keeping bees you can feel you’re doing your bit for the environment. And then of course there’s the buzz you’ll get from harvesting your perfectly local, raw honey (which contains vitamins, minerals and antioxidants not found in sugar).

But the rewards go beyond that. Any beekeeper will tell you that to handle your swarm you need a calm frame of mind – the traditional lore is that you need to be a “gentleman” in its most literal sense to be a beekeeper – so keeping bees will help you achieve a more zen mindset.

Getting started: Once you’re up and running bees are pretty low maintenance, only needing attention a few times a year. There are lots of courses available to learn the necessary skills and you only need to buy most of the equipment once. Local groups often lend out larger items such as extractors.

As for the bees, you can either buy a colony or wait fora swarm to become available. Contact the British Beekeeping Association for information and to find your nearest group, bbka.org.uk

Do something new

Never seen Star Wars? Still haven’t been to a football match? Never eaten an oyster? There’s nothing as stimulating as doing something new. Neurologists have discovered that a region in the midbrain is stimulated by novel images, activating dopamine pathways, so doing something new really does make you feel better.

Getting started: You don’t need to create a full-on, 50-things-before-50 bucket list. Just think of a couple of things you’ve never got around to doing and put the wheels in motion.

Cut your food waste

Getting on top of your waste levels isn’t just about eco-angst or composting smugness: food waste campaigner Selina Juul believes that it’s a fundamental act of self-respect. Knowing you’re preserving the world’s resources will make you feel better about yourself, and you may find yourself eating more healthily as a result of taking greater care over what you buy and how you dispose of it.

Getting started: You’ll find lots of hacks online – like creating pesto from leftover herb stalks or freezing vegetable peelings and onion ends to make stock. Don’t forget waste prevention, either: putting apples in with potatoes can stop them sprouting and storing mushrooms in a paper bag instead of their plastic carton will prolong their life. Planning your meals in advance will also make a huge difference to how much food you end up throwing away.

Take the plunge

Forget the highly-chlorinated pool; consider taking a dip in the open. No longer the preserve of chill- immune crazies, outdoor swimming is growing in popularity: with increasing evidence that immersing your body in cold water can boost your immune system, improve your circulation and pump you full of endorphins, more and more people are taking to the water in lidos, lakes and rivers, swearing by the natural high it gives them. It’s even recommended by some doctors as a way to help combat depression.

Getting started: It’s important to get into outdoor swimming safely, both in terms of acclimatising to the cold and finding a safe spot to swim. The Outdoor Swimming Society is an excellent source of information, outdoorswimmingsociety.com

Ditch your goals

We’re constantly being told that we’ll be happier, healthier and more fulfilled if we have goals, but driving yourself to reach milestones in the future can leave you feeling that your life isn’t good enough.

In fact, the oft-quoted study of 1950s Yale University graduates (which purported to show that those with written-down goals for their lives ended up richer and more successful) is a myth, as it
turns out.

Getting started: You may have no choice about performance targets at work, but when it comes to the rest of your life, let yourself off the hook. Aim to live day by day. Rather than resolving to lose half a stone by the end of the summer, ask what you can do today to eat more healthily and move a bit more.

Go stargazing

Few things put life so firmly in perspective as staring up at the night sky and becoming aware of how tiny you are in the scheme of the universe. Plus, recognising constellations gives you bragging rights as soon as night falls.

Getting started: There are books and phone apps that will help you identify what you’re seeing, but if you really want to discover what’s out there, join an astronomy society. For the best view of the stars above, visit one of the country’s dark sky sites with the least light pollution. They are dotted around all four corners of Britain. Dark Sky Discovery will help you find the best spots, darkskydiscovery.org.uk

Learn to survive

So the chances of finding yourself lost in the wilderness may be slim, but learning survival basics can be profoundly satisfying. There’s something elemental about mastering skills and knowledge that we have left behind in the modern era; it will connect you to the natural world in a primal way, giving you a renewed appreciation for the habitat around you.

Having basic survival knowledge will make you handy with a tent and your friends will be super-impressed. And you never know: there’s always the chance it could come in useful if you ever get
lost on a hike. Or the zombie apocalypse arrives.

Getting started: There are scores of weekend survival courses available around the country. They range from gentle bushcraft workshops with an emphasis on foraging and plant recognition
to more demanding, military-style survival regimes – it’s entirely up to you just how Bear Grylls you want to go.

Do your bit

One oft-stated observation that turns out to have substance is that it really is better to give than to receive; studies have established that volunteers enjoy greater longevity, higher functional ability, lower rates of depression and less incidence of heart disease. So it does you good to do good.

Volunteering can also make you more active – helping out at an animal shelter or wildlife park can involve a lot of physical exercise – or even take you abroad if you have time available.

Getting started: Pick a charity that resonates with you and get in touch, or if you don’t mind where you help out, your local paper may advertise opportunities. You can also look for volunteering opportunities at do-it.org

Get up earlier

Research suggests early risers are happier and more satisfied with their lives than those that get up later.

The extra time will help you start the morning calmly; getting yourself organised for the day will make you feel more in control.

Getting started: You don’t need to get up at dawn; just an extra 10 minutes could make a difference. Consider an alarm clock that wakes you gradually with a gently increasing light, a cup of tea or even by wafting a pleasant scent into the room.

Simple tips for joyful living

Try these simple, feel-good steps to make your spirits soar

1. Give someone a compliment every day; it’ll make both of you feel better.

2. Spend an hour a day unplugged from technology; your mind will feel more clear and refreshed.

3. Bring flowers into your home; they instantly brighten your surroundings.

4. Spend a minute breathing deeply from the bottom of your stomach; it’ll calm your mind and refresh your body.

5. Do one job you’ve been putting off; it’ll give you instant satisfaction.

6. Experiment with a new recipe once a week; you may find a new favourite dish.

Buy a rocking chair; research shows that the rocking motion helps to calm your mind.