The concept of happiness and Human Flourishing has been debated from the time of the ancient Greeks, when there were 2 opposing schools of thought.
One was led by the Philosopher Epicurus, who believed that the best life was one with filled with pleasure and little bodily, mental and emotional pain.
The other, led by Aristotle, suggested that it was more complex and consisted of The Pleasant Life, The Engaged Life and The Meaningful Life.
Leading researchers today, such as Professor Martin Seligman and Professor Corey Keyes have built on Aristotle’s ideas and talk about Human Flourishing, which incorporates what we tend to think of when we refer to ‘happiness’ – positive emotions in their language – with the other Aristotle elements of engagement and meaning. Recent research has clearly shown that the health of our body also contributes to the health of our mind, so my approach to happiness and flourishing consists of 10 elements;
- Get clear on the values that are important to you and use them to guide your behaviours and choices. Values are simply words that describe how you want to behave in this moment and on an ongoing basis – how you want to treat yourself, others and the world around you. The Stoic Philosophers believed that living in accordance with your values and virtues was all that you need to flourish.
- Exercise daily, as this up-regulates a swarm of positive neurochemicals that enable your brain to function well – these include endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline and endocannabinoids. Without regular physical activity, you deprive your brain of these critical chemicals.
- The brain is a social organ, so actively work on the relationships in your life, with particular focus on the people who support and uplift you.
- Don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others – instead, focus on personal growth and compare yourself to who you were last week, last month and last year.
- Live within your means – research shows that money can contribute to happiness, but only if it’s in a savings account. Earning a big wage and overspending will not contribute to happiness, but even a modest wage where you save some of it regularly will.
- Engage regularly in activities that interest you. If you’re lucky, your work could fall into this bracket, but you don’t need to love your job to flourish. Having one or more hobbies that you are interested in is critical for a life of flourishing
- Get serious around sleep – chronic poor sleep is a big contributor to anxiety and depression, so ensure you use good sleep hygiene practices, such as: keep caffeine (a known stimulant) to 3 cups a day and try to be done by 2pm; go to bed and get up at regular times so that your circadian rhythm is regular; keep alcohol to one or 2 drinks most of the time; wind down for 30 minutes by turning off all screens and read a novel, meditate, do breathwork or stretch.
- Eat a low-HI diet, where HI stands for Human Interference. Basically, eat like your grandparents, where most of your food is real food – that you can tell has recently been alive and minimally interfered with by humans. Real food -especially fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds – contain thousands of polyphenols which recent research has shown is important for good brain function. People who eat a lot of ultra-processed food starve their brains of these nutrients and introduce a whole range of nasty chemicals that disrupt proper cellular processes.
- Practice gratitude and kindness daily. Gratitude primes your brain for positivity and our brains are wired to feel good when we help others.
- Work on your purpose – many people get put off by the idea of a purpose statement as it feels too hard, but this is not about changing the world, but how you can make your little corner of the universe better for you being in it. I find it helps to create a tombstone statement – what you’d like to be written on your tombstone that would sum up your positive contribution. Once you have a draft, spend at least 5 minutes a day bringing it to life by doing those activities, and you’ll find that it becomes clearer the more you focus on it.
Written by Paul Taylor.
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