With so many demands on our time these days it’s all to easy to forget the importance of staying connected with those around us. This is especially true when it comes to our nearest and dearest. One study found the average time each day parents and children talked to one another was 12 minutes. In many homes such conversations tend to focus solely on domestic arrangements: ‘What time will you be home?’ ‘Have you done your homework?’ ‘What do you want to supper?’ ‘Can you drive me to swimming?’ ‘Where are my keys?’
No matter how busy you are, or how hectic your schedule, spend time each day talking, walking, playing and eating together as a family. Have at least two sit down at table meals together each week. Switch off the TV, leave mobile phones, i-pads, Kindles and all the other distracting paraphernalia of modern life in another room. Avoid filling the time with trivialities, such as ‘what’s on TV tonight’ or ‘Did you see the latest episode of…’ and focus on topics which really matter to you as a family. Learn to listen positively – most people listen poorly as I explain in my FREE download The Power of Positive Listening from the Wellbeing page of www.askdrdavid.co.uk
Avoid falling into the trap of believing you can ‘buy’ love, whether of your partner or children. Nor can you ensure lasting friendships or the loyalty of co-workers by spending money on them. All you will achieve is a superficial and short lasting ‘hedonic’ response. Investing in others means spending time and being emotionally honest with them.
Give Yourself ‘Me Time’
What I said about investing time in those close to you applies equally to spending time with yourself. No matter how busy your schedule it is vital for your long- term health and wellbeing to be as generous to yourself by having some ‘me time’ each day. By this I mean a period – it can be as brief as 10 minutes – when you are alone with your thoughts. Never look on ‘me time’ as a waste of time. It will refresh and reinvigorate you, enabling you to become more productive and creative.
Live More in the Moment
Rather than living in the past or looking to the future, become more aware of the present moment, including your thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you. Some people call this awareness “mindfulness”. It can positively change the way you feel about life and how you approach challenges.
Consider Caring for a Pet
If you have the time and inclination to look after a dog or cat and you don’t currently have one then you might consider doing so. Dogs, especially, provide what psychologist call ‘unconditional positive regard’. This means they love you for yourself and not just for what you do for them. Having to walk a dog, whatever the weather, not only obliges you to take regular exercise but also provides a great reason for talking to other owners. Both dogs and cats help counter feelings of loneliness and isolation that can, although not necessarily does, reduce feelings of wellbeing.
Dogs and cats deliver at least two other wellbeing boosters. Research has show that, especially in touch-deprived Western societies, stroking a ‘pet’ reduces stress and brings down high blood pressure. Furthermore caring for a pet and taking responsibility for its needs are altruistic acts, which for reasons explained below, enhance wellbeing. This is, perhaps, especially true if you rehome an animal from a rescue centre.
Take Daily Exercise
Being physically active is essential to both your physical and psychological wellbeing. The exercise you choose, whether this involved walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, going to the gym or playing a sport, should be something you really enjoy. Whatever you choose to do, it should form a part of your daily timetable and be sufficiently exerting to raise your pulse rate without causing you to become breathless. When jogging, for example, you should always be able to converse with a partner. Having someone to share the exercise with you not only makes it more enjoyable but also helps you remain motivated.
Spread a Little Happiness
Every act of thoughtfulness and generosity, whether it’s as seemingly trivial as a friendly smile or as demanding as volunteering at your local community centre, will increase your sense of wellbeing and help you create new social networks.
Making someone happy through a small act of kindness makes it more likely that they will then do the same for someone, so spreading those feelings of joy. This was confirmed by a Japanese study, led by Keiko Otaki, that found happy people were more likely to carry out small acts of kindness and that, by doing so, they also increased their own levels of happiness. They could also boost their happiness simply by counting how many acts of kindness they had performed in a week.
Studies have also provided convincing evidence that even hearing about another’s good deeds increases one’s own readiness to be altruistic. It leads to what some psychologists have termed ‘elevation,’ a positive emotion “experienced upon witnessing another person perform a virtuous act, principally one that improves the welfare of other people”. People experiencing ‘elevated’ emotions report being inspired, uplifted and motivated to perform similar acts of kindness themselves.
Being spontaneously kind is not only going to increase the happiness of those around you but significantly enhance your own sense of wellbeing.