Happiness hacks

Happiness hacks #9: Make it easy

January is the month for good intentions. 

Question is, which of those those 'good-idea-at-the-time' presents will make it through? Will your brand new juicer see more than one carrot? Will your new running trainers actually leave the house? Has the wearable you vowed would make you smash your daily steps target made its way out of the packaging? 

I confess, even though my running trainers and wearable are in constant use, I do have a juicer in hibernation from about 2010 (taking 30 mins to dismantle, clean the pulp off its million bits and reassemble was a bit too much for the morning routine).

The juicer haunts me to this day and it is the reason my partner joked with me when I requested a cheap exercise bike this Christmas to help me get to our wedding marathon start line (which you can read all about here in case you missed it) in one piece. 

To show my commitment, I decided that if we are going to get a bike, it would have to be impossible not to use. 

So, it's now a trip hazard in the living room. You basically have to mount it just to get in.

Why so obstructive you ask? If I've learned anything in my 35 years it is that if you want people people to do something, you have to make it easy to do. 

I understand the beauty of order (as you will have read in a previous post). But I also understand the beauty of convenience. I know right now, if I make a nice home for it, or pack it away when it's not in use, it will gather dust in some forgotten corner - and my legs won't get any stronger.

Everything should have its place, but if there is a chance you might find an excuse instead of finding an item, that place has to be visible and, as is the case with the bike, conveniently inconvenient. 

I am certainly not alone in my thinking. I was listening to a Ted Radio Hour (love these) podcast this morning all about nudging. A behavioural economist was discussing the fact that pension contributions have increased significantly just by asking people to opt out rather than in. 

After all, the easy route (the one that doesn't involve excessive form filling), will always win. 

Another was discussing something called 'the last mile'. He talks about breakthrough vaccines that don't saves lives they could because people do not know or choose to use them. 

You don't become the world's ice cream maker by having the world's best maker on your counter. You have to use it. (The getting good part, of course, is entirely in your hands.) 

We none of us want appliances and gadgets clogging up our cupboards and our lives, so I think we owe it to ourselves to find a way to make what we have work for us.

So, liberate those cupboards, get those gadgets on display, make ice cream in your ice cream maker, get in a stew over your slow cooker and wear your wearable to bed.

If there's a will, there really is a way! 

Oh, and never buy a really complicated juicer, even if it claims to core and slice your apple. There is no position in the kitchen that would make this more convenient. 

Let's turn good intentions into brilliant habits that make it through the year! 

Happiness hacks #6: Look up

There's a beautiful scene in the film About Time, where the main character spends the day enjoying every moment rather than racing through each one. 

He looks up at the law courts to admire the architecture. He looks up at the coffee shop barista to show her he cares. He looks up to his friend in a meeting to give him confidence. 

He looks up because he realises that looking up is a gift we can unwrap every day.

Try it today. Look up, live and take it all in. A world of technicolour awaits.

Happiness hacks #5: Carry loose change for that charity bucket

A charity bucket collection taught me a big lesson about kindness.

Earlier this year, I stood in a Breast Cancer Haven T-shirt on a cold evening outside a London tube station shaking a bucket and I watched as people hurried by and looked the other way. 

My bucket was light, but my heart heavy at the thought that people with their fine suits and pristine handbags were so busy rushing to get through the barriers that they had forgotten how important a little bit of kindness can be. 

Standing there, invisible to the steady stream of commuters, was more uncomfortable than delivering a charity speech to a crowd of more than 7,000 festival goers. And that was scary! 

Ask me if I would do it again, however, and I would say absolutely. This has nothing to do with the awkward glances and rolling eyes and everything to do with the Big Issue seller who came to ask me the reason I was standing there. 

He listened to my story. He told me his story. And then, completely unprompted, he emptied the entire contents of his pockets into my bucket. I nearly wept. Friends have since suggested that I should have stopped him. But, for those who understand the happiness that comes with giving, I wasn't going to be the one to deprive him of his moment. 

After my shift had finished, I went to find the seller to thank him again and buy a Big Issue out of my own money in return. He was gone. 

I wrote to the Big Issue to pass on my thanks. Without a name, we couldn't identify him. I have passed that station most days since. I have never seen him again. 

I hope that one day I will be able to return the favour - although, in many ways, I am not sure he would want me to. 

Until that day, I will continue to pay that generosity forward.

I, too, have put my head down and scurried past undetected when faced with a charity bucket collection. Not any more. 

Because of his act of kindness, I carry a pot of change with me everywhere I go. 

This is not just to support the charity asking, but to acknowledge the selfless act of the bucket collector, a symbol of kindness in a society that all too often chooses to look the other way. 

Now, seeing a collector, puts a spring in my step.

I hope that, by carrying a bit of small change in your pocket, it will do the same for you.

Happiness hacks #3: Embrace those daily CLANGERS

Ok, so I appreciate the word clanger is not something you would naturally associate with happiness. But, according to TV Dr Phil Hammond, who I was humbled to hear speak at the first ever British Health Journalism Awards, it could be exactly what is missing from your hectic daily routine.

By clangers, I don't mean mistakes. Clangers is actually an acronym or convenient check list of all the things Dr Phil believes we all need to build into our lives to ensure we get the right amount of self care to really be able to enjoy our lives. 

Connect: connection gives us a place in the world. We all need to hug, to chat, to feed off each other if we are to become better versions of ourselves. Never underestimate the restorative power of touch. 

Learn: see every day as a knowledge bank that is waiting for you to make a withdrawal. And don't be afraid to make deposits too. Helping others to discover new things can be so rewarding and life-enhancing. 

(Be) Active: for me, a good day is always one with a good few steps in it (whether it be in the park or up the eight flights it takes to get me to the office). Of course, it's not always possible for people to be active, so Dr Phil's alternative is finding 5 portions of fun a day. As we all know from Ron, anything that raises a smile can only be good for you. 

Notice: this takes me back to my post about mindfulness. I didn't tweet much at the awards ceremony, because I wanted to enjoy watching the look of gratitude and happiness on the faces of the winners and to really taste the candied fennel in my dessert. How often we hide behind a screen and miss the feeling of being present. 

Give back: if I could find a way, I would encourage all people from a young age to volunteer and allow kindness and compassion into their lives. Often, many of us feel we don't have time to volunteer. Then we find a cause. I have a cause. And, in finding that cause, I have brought happiness and purpose into my every day. When the currency is kindness, it is easy to feel wealthy. 

Eat well: as Phil describes, if your grandmother wouldn't recognise it, don't eat it. If we don't give our body the right fuel and lubrication, we will all end up back in the workshop after a failed MOT. 

Relax: meditation no longer means heading out to a remote temple in the mountains to find yourself. Even taking a few minutes to pause and breathe at your desk can make a huge difference to your piece of mind. 

Sleep: all batteries need a good charge

I have a huge amount of respect for a man who inspires a room full of people to stop rushing, slow it down and start hugging (strangers included). 

From 'this day forward' I promise to start celebrating clangers and giving more hugs (just maybe not to unsuspecting strangers)!