The new year is exciting, it really is.
Work is going good, a fun new flatmate is showing up tomorrow (thank you sigil magic) and I've already got business trips to Milan and Barcelona booked in for a few weeks time.
But -in London at least- it is also grim and dark and wet and nobody is serving me mulled wine anymore. Plus I've just been tagged in Facebook photos from Christmas parties that make me want to cry for five days and diet for five years.
No doubt you are in a similar -albeit less shrill- situation.
So whilst the majority of us magical folk seem to have stumped for an interesting life rather than a happy one, 'happiness' with a little 'h' is still a factor in our plans. Because happy people are more likely to achieve their goals... Even if happiness isn't strictly one of the goals they want to achieve.
let's start by breaking down your happiness potential so we know what we are working with:
- 50% of your happiness potential is genetically determined. You can't do anything with that.
- Just 10% is due to your circumstances. (Job, relationship, those damned kids.)
- 40% is derived from your day-to-day behaviour. Which makes personal happiness a head game.
That last bullet represents a huge magical opportunity. A clinical absence of happiness would fall into the first point (and to a lesser extent the second). But point 3? There's where you should set your targets. Hack away, baby... Hack away.
1. Buy happiness correctly
Retail therapy is a crock. You briefly feel good after buying a new top or a book or whatever, but that feeling quickly vanishes.
However, if you spend your money on experiences rather than goods you can double both your short and long term happiness.
The research seems to suggest this is because we edit out all the bad bits of an experience (having to queue for the bathrooms at a concert, getting groped by security at the airport, etc) and only recall the good times (getting within three feet of your favourite musician, lying on the beach in the sun).
Experiences are more likely to be shared, as well, and this makes a difference because spending money on other people improves long term happiness more than spending money on yourself.
So if you have some disposable income allocated to your 'happiness fund', skip buying those shoes and take a friend to a museum and then out to lunch. Experience wins every time.
We all know a certain someone who is rightly rather a fan and champion of meditation. But even on a purely materialistic level the mountain of evidence in favour of regular meditation for mental health and happiness is now unassailable.
Do it. Everyone says "twenty minutes a day". Try five. That's a little bit more than an ad break (for now). You can find five minutes. Bump it up if it works. (It will work.)
3. Don't peel your vegetables
Yes, this is the big thing in nutrition at the moment. Eat more skins. Skins you never thought of eating.
For instance, the banana peel is extremely high in serotonin, which is your brain's happiness goo. Don't freak out, it's edible. You can use the whole thing in baked desserts if it's all too weird. (It is a bit weird.)
But carrots, kiwi fruit... Really anything with a skin. Stalks and cores as well.
Eat that whole damn broccoli, not just the florets. Roast garlic whole with your other vegetables rather than crushing it over the top.
The bits we throw away are where all the cancer-fighting, happiness-inducing secret weapons are hidden.
You'll get a secondary happiness bump from being 'on trend' and also taking extra little health steps, too.
4. Be a bit fat
Being a bit overweight reduces your risk of heart disease and cancer -or at least, it is absolutely no different to being at your ideal weight (which is arbitrarily chosen anyway). This intuitively feels correct. We are designed to store energy -it's a hard won genetic advantage.
So apparently the whole BMI is moving up a few notches on the global belt.
Within 5kg of your 'ideal' weight is fine. This from the Guardian:
"The new emphasis is on waist measurements: men can be content if their waist is less than 38 inches and women should be happy with a waist of 34 inches or less. Keeping our waist measurements lower than those of our hips is a practical aim for everyone."
Don't tell me just reading this didn't boost your happiness a teensy bit on its own?
5. Count to five everyday
It's not like I'm in danger of being considered cool by anyone yet I still feel a bit sheepish admitting this -like someone is going to take away my wizard's hat and Tarot cards- but the underlying brain technology behind the gratitude journal is sound.
Simply the best way to boost your happiness is to adopt a gratitude attitude.
I buy way too much stationery to keep a gratitude journal -I'd start at least six and none of them would be filled beyond the third page.
But I can count to five.
So I mentally pick five things that happened that day I am grateful for. It is a matter of moments. The coffee, the witty comments made by my colleague, M&S's bone-achingly good salted caramel sauce (it's new), something hilarious somebody's kid said on the tube on the way back from work, 30 Rock, whatever.
I know I am getting better at this because it takes less than ten seconds to think of five new things each day. Less than ten seconds. Do it!
6. Shove a pencil in your mouth
Okay so I haven't quite got to this one yet -but not because it's too weird for me. (You cast spells. This is not weird.)
It's more because I think I'm going to need to keep a few tactics in reserve because late January is usually the worst for my SAD.
The idea comes from this book. It's not strictly worth buying, it's rather glib, actually. Just a few highlights from some psychological studies into happiness and whatever. If you're into that, then it's definitely worth a buy.
I own it because it cost me a pound.
The book mentions a famous study in the eighties where half the people were asked to put a pencil in their teeth so it didn't touch their lips (forcing a smile) and the other half were asked to keep it between their top lip and their nose (forcing a frown).
Those forced into a smile found the Far Side cartoons they were shown much funnier than those forced into a frown.
Obviously, this is crazy. You can get the same result by just smiling for 25-30 seconds a day. Start by thinking of something that genuinely makes you break out into a massive grin and then just hold it -exaggerate it a bit maybe- for half a minute. This will release your brain's happiness goo. (Scientific term, that.)
7. Put your back into it
Full confession. I found this research in the appendix of the book I just slightly panned. In case it alters your purchase decision.
There are basically two types of change:
- Circumstantial change: important alterations to your life like getting a raise or moving house.
- Intentional change: where you put in effort to achieve a goal like learning a new language or getting fit for a half marathon.
According to this study, while both change types result in a short term lift in happiness, those who experienced circumstantial change quickly reverted back to their pre-change happiness levels.
The intentional group stayed happier longer.
So the evidence is clear, if you want longer term happiness, kick start a change that requires work on your part.
8. Enchant for it
Well, of course.
Happiness is an odourless, colourless concept that you have had a lifetime's relationship with. This will be easy.
Try something along the lines of Israel Regardie's pore breathing exercise. (He may have got it from elsewhere. But I first read it in Healing Energy, Prayer & Relaxation -a book I like so much it almost made it into my book game.)
Invoke happiness as you would any kind of energy... Go 'pure', don't go thumbing through your pantheons looking for the being with the closest characteristics match -this isn't AD&D.
Soak in happiness. Get it into every cell. And once you're fully soaked, seal it in there... Be like a wine bladder filled with happiness. (All wine bladders are filled with happiness.)
Feel free to tart this up with whatever incense, music or candles you like. I've just been going with some store-bought joss sticks I hadn't found a use for and some Bach cantatas because I'm trying to teach myself about classical music.
Not just for January
Obviously these hacks aren't just for January... But January is when I need them most. In fact, most of them in one form or another will be on the daily schedule for 2011.
What about you? Any happiness hacking tips? I'd be grateful for as many as you've got. It's not like they contain calories. (Except baking-related hacks but I avoided those for obvious post-Christmas reasons.)