Kindness is an underrated strength. In our competitive world, it's easy to assume that it shows some sort of weakness. But acknowledging other people, and our relationship with them, can lead us to do things that make us happier than taking the selfish route.
One of the simplest things we can do is something for charity. Big charity events, like marathons, are incredibly popular. They let us do something that meets our personal goals, and at the same time we know that we are helping someone else.
Kindness at home
Sometimes it's much harder to be kind nearer to home. Maybe your mother drives you mad, or your partner seems to you to be moaning about something trivial.
Quite often, the best gift you can give under these circumstances is simply listening to them, and this is often the hardest thing to do of all.
You can make it easier on yourself by learning to see things from their point of view. Here's an exercise that can help you to 'walk a mile in their moccasins.'
Talk to yourself
When you're on your own, try this. Put two chairs next to each other. One is your chair and the other is for your 'partner' even though he isn't there.
Sit on your chair, and explain what is driving you mad.
Then, step over to the other chair, sit in it and imagine you are your partner. Now explain how you are feeling.
Go back to your own chair and answer his points.
Continue this back and forth conversation. You'll find that you begin to see the issue from his point of view.
That doesn't mean that you will change your mind and agree with him, but you will find you feel less annoyed with him, and that will help you to listen more kindly next time you discuss the problem.
A good decision is one that considers all the options. So if you have a difficult decision to make, here’s a Six Step process that will help.
Step One: Sit down with a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle, so you have two columns.
Step Two: In one column, list all the good things that you can think of on one side of the argument. In the other, list the arguments against that side. You may end up with something like this:
Should I give up my job?
I hate my job I don’t have another job to go to
I think I can be a writer I’ve never had anything published
I will have time to write I may not be good enough
I can live on my savings for 6 months I like having a regular income
I will feel happier as a writer I like going on expensive holidays
And so on............
Writing the arguments down will help to clear your mind and make it easier for you to make the decision.
Step Three: When I make this sort of list, I like to give weighting to the items, as I find some of them are more important to me than others. For example, ‘I will feel happier’ would be more important to me than ‘I don’t know whether I’m good enough’. I’d give the ‘happier’ item five points, and the ‘I don’t know’ item only one. You can choose how to weight your items. It’s your list, after all.
Step Four: Add up the points and make a total.
Step Five: Then you make the decision. Avoid slavishly following the totals. You may surprise yourself by deciding to act in a way that seems to go against all the logic, but that ‘feels right.’ The list will have clarified your thoughts and you will, at the very least, know what you’re letting yourself in for.
Step Six: Finally, as Napoleon is reputed to have said: Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.
Dr Martin Seligman has led research into positive psychology and happiness. He's identified six virtues that build on the personal strengths we all have in larger or smaller amounts. The six are wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance (an ability to show restraint) and transcendence (paying attention to the world outside ourselves.)
Wisdom is one of the core happiness virtues. It's about adding to our skills and knowledge and using them wisely. There are hundreds of ways that we can grow our store of wisdom.
Curiosity is a personality strength that helps to develop our wisdom, and contributes to an overall boost in happiness.
Curiosity may have killed the cat but he probably died happy. Children are great at curiosity. Why is the sky blue? How many peas can I stick up my nose? When we grow up we often stop asking questions and stay in our safety zone. That way we miss opportunities for that buzz we can get from finding out new things.
Start to ask yourself: What if? What if I listened to a different radio station today? What if I made that suggestion to my boss? What might happen? How would I feel?
Often, we're too scared to try, so we go on getting up at the same time, eating the same breakfast, listening to the same music, even saying the same things to the same people every day.
We can make changes.
The 'What if?' experiment
It's scary but exciting to do things differently. Start off simply. Try a new way of doing one thing every day and see how it makes you feel. Here are some suggestions to start you off.
- Eat something different for breakfast; if you usually have muesli, try porridge, or yoghurt and toast. Try coffee instead or tea, or the other way round.
- Take a different route to work; maybe you could use the bus instead or the train, or give yourself a bit of extra time to walk to the station through new streets. Who knows what you might see?
- Do something different at lunchtime: try a different type of sandwich, sit in the park and read a book.
- Take a quiz that might tell you something surprising about yourself. There are plenty to find on the internet.
- Rearrange the furniture. You might find your room looks bigger, or it may spur you on to redecorating.
- Choose a book from the library that you would never normally read, and read at least one chapter; perhaps that new author will become one of your favourites.
- Google something that you know nothing about. Maybe ice hockey, or pottery. Find out all you can about it.
- For one full day say 'yes' to every suggestion anyone makes to you and see what happens.
- Think about taking a course in something you always wanted to do.
Enjoy your new found wisdom and happiness.
Every day, there's a new suggestion for a happiness boost at http://www.getmeoffthehook.com/speechcontacts/
But wait a minute. How can I be feeling so happy when there are wars, famines and disasters happening all over the world? Won't thinking about those things ruin the mood?
The good things that are making me cheerful today are all pretty trivial compared with the madness that's going on around the globe, but the truth is, the tiny details make a greater difference to my mood than worrying about the huge, important issues.
That's partly because I can do something about them, I guess, and partly because they're happening, now, today, and I feel the effects straight away.
The great thing is that if I'm having a blue day, when things aren't going so well, I can change one or two details and make myself feel better instantly. I can spray myself with a scent that I love, that persuades me take a deep relaxing breath. I can put on a pair of red socks to make myself smile. I can listen to Mozart and find myself enjoying the anticipation of waiting for my favourite moments.
I know that those things will pick me up. That boost might not last long, and it won't deal with real problems of illness, death and broken hearts. It won't solve anything, really. But just for a moment, a few seconds, a brief heartbeat, I'll feel better.
The things that enrich my life may be different from the things that work for other people, but we can all find our own mood-improvers. To write a list of 'what cheers me up' is a great start, and to patch one of them into everyday life is a brilliant second step.
Sometimes the things we can do on a small scale, in our corner of the earth, like charity donations or little kindnesses to friends, help us feel good and make a difference in the world at the same time.
They say 'don't sweat the small stuff,' but if we pay attention to the details, the aspects of life we can really control, maybe it gets easier to deal with the big scary stuff. It's worth a try, anyway.
If you'd like to know more about how we can work happiness into our lives, come and visit SpeechContacts
If you're the proud owner of an iphone, you can find a free application there that will offer you a daily dose of life-enhancing suggestions.
I took a peek at the newest addition to our family, now seven weeks old, and there was one answer, at least. There’s no doubt that a baby who’s just finished a feed, has a clean nappy and warm bed, not to mention plenty of cuddles, is in heaven.
So what happens to us as we get older? Why do we lose that fabulous feeling of wellbeing, of contentment and of just being happy in our own skin?
I can’t help thinking that the things we tell ourselves and our children may have a lot to do with it. Have you listened to adults talking to children? So often our conversation is full of ‘don’t.’
Don’t pull the cat’s tail. Don’t run into the road. Don’t talk with your mouth full.
It goes on throughout our lives. We’re always talking about the things we can’t do and the sad truth is that if there’s one thing that makes me want to do something, it’s being told I can’t.
I went to our local pet shop the other day. There was a notice on the fish tanks.
Don’t bang on the glass. Now, it hadn’t occurred to me that I would want to bang on the glass. Why would I? But when I read that, I could barely contain myself. Would it really hurt the fish? How about just a tiny tap? No-one would notice, after all.
Then I saw another notice, next to a pile of bags full of gravel.
Don’t climb on the gravel. I’m sure you get the picture. I suddenly knew exactly how it felt to be a child again, tantalised by suggestions of things I mustn’t do. I had to leave before I disgraced myself.
Telling us not to do things so often has the opposite effect. It can even be dangerous. Remember that classic instruction to anyone dangling at the end of a rope halfway up a cliff face: Don’t look down?
Wouldn’t it be great to turn all those negatives into positives? It’s not hard to do. We could change,
Don’t pull the cat’s tail into stroke his head gently. Don’t run into the road, could be see if you can keep inside the lines on the pavement. And don’t look down could be (much safer) look up to see how close the next handhold is.
So I’m setting myself a challenge today. No more negatives: only positives. I will avoid the words don’t at all costs.
I will tell my son to drive safely. I will point out to a child how much he will enjoy talking very, very quietly and I will tell myself to remember to buy the milk.
Perhaps you could join me in the challenge? Maybe when we get into the habit of being positive, we’ll find again some of that contentment we knew when we were babies. Even more importantly, maybe our happy talk will help our children to grow up to be happier people.
If you’d like to know more about happiness and communication, please visit http://www.speechcontacts.co.uk or join my new Facebook group, Happy Talk.
Pretending is so important to a child's developing language skills. There's good reason for this.
Language is a set of symbols
When your toddler offers you a cup of pretend tea from a miniature cup, and you pretend to drink it, nobody is fooled. He knows as well as you do that there is no real tea in the cup. What's more, he knows you know.
The cup represents or symbolizes a real cup of tea.
The word cup is a symbol that stands for a real cup, just as the toy cup does. Toys are symbols, so are pictures and so and words.
Although language is something that most of us learn easily, in fact it's a very sophisticated system of symbols. A word stands for something, just as a doll stands for a person and a picture of a toy car stands for a real car.
When you think of it like that, it's amazing that any of us learn to talk at all: never mind reading or writing.
We can help
Parents and grandparents can really help a baby learn about symbols.
The learning starts as he concentrates on one toy, staring at it, feeling it, sucking it. He doesn't need a cot full of stuff at this stage. He can only think about one thing at a time.
When he loses interest, offer him something else. This makes sure he isn't bombarded with too many things at once.
Then he starts to play with two things at a time, putting bricks in boxes and banging his rattle on his cot. This is the next step on the journey to language.
Soon you'll start to see real 'pretending' as he uses a toy teacup to pretend to drink. At first he pretends to drink himself or offers a drink to you, but then he'll offer a drink to teddy.
Now you can see that teddy is like a real person to him. He might kiss him, wash him, and out him to bed.
Here's where grownups really come into their own. This kind of play is for anyone. Even uncles who claim 'I don't know how to talk to children' enjoy tea parties, dressing doll games and pretending to bath teddy and put him to bed.
If you'd like to read more about language and communication skills, check out How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter, our Amazon Kindle eBook (you can also read it on iPhone, iPad, PC, Mac... BUY NOW for only £5.66.
I write this Communication Blog
Frances Evesham: on the run around Europe for years, with only a husband, three children and a succession of opinionated cats to keep me out of trouble. Somerset stopped me in my tracks. Now I walk in the country and breathe sea air. I will get around to cleaning the house soon.
I've been a speech therapist, a professional communication fiend and a road sweeper. I sometimes work in the criminal courts to uphold fair questioning of people with special needs.
I smell the roses, lavender and rosemary as I cook with a glass of wine in one hand and a bunch of chillies in the other. Writing historical romances and books on communication leaves enough time to enjoy bad jokes and puns and wish I’d kept on with the piano lessons.