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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Armstrong

The Gentle Pursuit of Happiness


Can we be happy all day every day? Maybe… maybe not. But can we be happy for some of the time most of the days? Quite possibly…and I’m on a journey to find out how.


I have been a therapist for almost 14 years and during that time I have built up quite the toolbox of techniques, but even therapists at the heart of it are still humble humans with their own fair share of problems and difficulties that the hand of fate grants us on a regular basis. Now, I am on a journey to finding a way to achieve the elusive balance in having more of the good days and less of the bad.


But how?


This is a question I have pondered for many a moment when wondering how I can work through my endless list of emails and household tasks. Whilst trying to calm my crying toddler in the middle of a busy supermarket and trying to ignore the disapproving looks of passers-by.


This led me to think about what really does make us feel happy and content. We can’t stop the myriad of problems life throws at us, but if we could figure out the key ingredient to our happiness wouldn’t we all feel in a better place to be able to deal with such occurrences?

And so, with this in mind I did some research.


Since 2002 the World Happiness Report has used statistical analysis to determine the world’s happiest countries and in 2022 named Finland as the happiest country in the world followed closely by Denmark. Various measures are used to rate happiness including social support and personal freedom. These factors were high across the board in other Nordic countries, however, Denmark stood out for me as a population who’s happiness levels have consistently been ranked highly over multiple years, and I wondered whether the Danish way of living plays a part in this? Most notably the concept of ‘hygge’ (pronounced – “Hyoo-guh”.)


The Oxford dictionary defines hygge as “the quality of being warm and comfortable that gives a feeling of happiness”.


But how do we achieve this? This has been a question on my mind ever since I started contemplating writing this blog and I have come to believe that the individual nuances of the answer will be different for each and every one of us but that the overarching concept will most likely be the same.


If we were to consider the work of the psychologist Abraham Maslow who developed a model called the ‘hierarchy of human needs’ we see that we must fill our needs from bottom of the hierarchy upwards.


The most basic of these human needs which reside at the bottom of the pyramid are food, water, sleep and security. However, after this is our need for love and belonging. Therefore, could a key component of our happiness be the need to have meaningful and positive relationships?


Spending time with people who we share positive and meaningful connections with can be hugely impactful upon our mental wellbeing. It is important to also remember that happiness isn’t only gained from the social support that we receive from others but also that which we provide to others. Positive and meaningful connections to others have been shown to reduce low mood and increase happiness. Volunteering, spending time helping others or joining a group are all great ways of finding meaningful connections with others that in turn can increase you own well-being and happiness.


Another component hugely important to the achievement of happiness is showing gratitude and one of the most helpful ways to do this can be by keeping a journal.


But where do I start?


Rest assured, there is no right or wrong way to keep a gratitude journal. I usually try to list at least 2-3 things I have felt grateful for during the day. Simple things like getting to an appointment on time, or there being no one else in the queue at the supermarket.


I have found over the time that I have been engaging in gratitude journaling I have had a much more positive view of my day. I used to feel very stressed if my little girl had had a ‘huge toddler meltdown’ right before bed and I would genuinely feel like it had ruined my whole day but in using gratitude journaling I have been able to say to myself “I’m so grateful that I only had to deal with a 15 minute toddler meltdown and had much more time than this over the course of the day enjoying being with my daughter.”


Thinking like this really helps me to appreciate the positive aspects of my day and helps me to dwell much less on the negative.


A good start can be writing 5 things that you feel grateful for. The aim of the exercise is to bring to mind a positive event, person or experience in your life and enjoy the positive emotions that come with this.


The Danish concept of hygge fits neatly with the concept of self-care and appreciating the positive things in our lives.

Our lives by their very nature are rarely what can be deemed perfect and the concept of hygge is not an attempt to pretend that this is the case, however if we can readdress the experiential and cognitive balance, is it possible that we can generally feel more positive?


One way to engage in the experiential balance of our lives is the participation in mindfulness.


Mindfulness is the concept of trying to engage in a mindful way with the things around us and trying to concentrate on the present moment. I am a therapist and I have a young child and I know that it can be hard to make time for this in our lives, but I have found that making time for mindfulness has been my only option.


In fact, it is probably when we are at our most stressed that we need hygge the most to come back refreshed and revitalised.


A simple exercise to help you get started with mindfulness is engage the 5 senses.


Start by bringing awareness to each of your 5 senses one at a time.

Start to focus on the present moment and how each sense is being activated in that moment.


Hearing:


Begin to notice the sounds around you. Try not to judge the sounds as positive or negative, just notice that they are there. You may notice sounds around you that you did not notice before.


Sight: Now move your attention to what you can see. Notice shapes, colours, patterns and textures. What are you seeing now that you have not noticed before?


Smell: Bring awareness to what you can smell. Can you smell food, furnishings, plants/trees. If you close your eyes, does it sharpen your sense of smell?


Taste: Are you eating now? Can you taste the after taste of food in your mouth? Can you taste nothing? Bring awareness to this area of your body.


Touch: What sensations can you feel in contact with your skin right now? Is it the sensation of the chair you are sitting on? The grass under your feet if you are barefoot in the garden? The fleecy inside of your hooded sweater?


When you are finished notice how you feel now. Has anything changed to how you felt 5 minutes ago? Try this exercise next time you are feeling overwhelmed and maybe it can help you as much as it has helped me.


The concept of hygge could be very beneficial for our happiness. It is unique in its approach to achieving the feel-good factor in our lives. By utilising mindfulness, gratitude and engaging in meaningful relationships with others we can all bring a little hygge into our lives. We can live and experience hygge anywhere and at any time in our lives and hopefully it can help every one of us on our own individual…yet gentle…pursuit of happiness.


Wellbeing wishes,


Rebecca,


CBT Therapist/Director

Littlemoor Therapy Practice



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