WELLBEING | Find Your Happy – What I Discovered During My Year Long Search For Wellbeing

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I’ve been on a personal quest recently to find out what makes me happy. Could your own wellbeing be influenced by some of the keys to happiness that I’ve discovered?

When I embarked on this year of self-discovery, I was already living by the mantra of ‘don’t be a dick’, but I still felt like there were things missing. So, for the whole of 2017 I’ve focused on living in the present and being more mindful – paying greater attention to the things I do and the experiences I’ve had. Doing this has allowed me to evaluate how the things I do make me feel, not just emotionally, but in a physical sense too.

The benefits I’ve felt have included sleeping better after extended periods outdoors, to feeling a lasting, deep sense of relaxation that has helped to quell the anxiety that had started to creep back up on me again.

In my year long search for wellbeing, I found that my own happiness hinges on just 5 key things…

On a recent walk we stopped here and skimmed stones and took time to really appreciate the nature all around us

1. Greater engagement with the natural world

Mental health organisation Mind recognises the importance of feeling more engaged with the world around you as a basis for good mental health. I have found that being able to immerse myself in the natural world and focus on something other than myself and everyday work related stresses, has proven invaluable.

Instead of going for a walk and huffing my way down the path as quickly as possible, I’ve learned to meander and focus my attention on my surroundings.

Realising that a simple countryside walk can be so beneficial to me has been transformative.

From noticing the way that rays of sun fall through the canopy of trees, to looking out for fungi or simply stopping and listening to and attempting to isolate the various sounds I could hear. Walking in a more mindful and present way has helped to give me space and clarity and has helped me appreciate the natural world even more. Instead of focusing on stressful situations and anxiety inducing thoughts, I’ve been able to step away from those things, and it’s had a calming effect on my brain.

Nature therapy and mindfulnessTaking photographs that capture the way the late autumn sunlight falls through the canopy

Realising that a simple countryside walk can be so beneficial to me has been transformative, elevating walking and camping from an activity I sometimes choose to do, into activities that are vital for my wellbeing, which means I now prioritise these activities above pretty much anything else.

For great tips on being more mindful when you’re outdoors, I highly recommend reading How to Connect with Nature by Tristan Gooley.

2. More quality time spent outdoors

Whilst it’s a known fact and pretty obvious that physical activity will make you sleep better, that’s actually not been the case for me in the past. When I did an 8 hour hike up Snowdon, despite feeling calm, happy and physically wiped out when I got back to my tent that night, I was still lying awake until the wee small hours, unable to switch off my brain and sleep.

For me sleeping well is a more complex issue concerning my state of mind rather than how active and physically tired I am.

Nature therapy and mindfulnessInstead of just seeing ‘trees’, I make an attempt to focus my attention to see more and pick up on every detail

The thing that determines how relaxed I am and therefor how well I can sleep, seems to be determined by where my awareness is at the time of doing whatever I choose to do outdoors.

By changing my focus, particularly on a more challenging walk, from the discomfort I feel or from worrying about the terrain or how much further there is to go, I have instead learned to focused on how nice it is to be outdoors, the sense of freedom it gives me, the beautiful scenery, breathing in lungfuls of clean air… In short, focusing on the many positives and never letting the negatives become bigger than an insignificant niggle.

Kayak hire TaymouthI’m happy and confident enough to do pretty much anything on my own these days

This change in focus means I am more present, and appreciate the time I’m spending outdoors. Anticipating and recongising the positive impact of what I’m doing makes for an affirming overall experience, making me feel much calmer and happier which ultimately leaves me feeling less stressed and more likely to sleep well.

3. Having something to look forward to

I’ve always been a great believer purposely leaving free weekends for spontaneous microadventures or for planning outdoor activities in advance, meaning I’ve always got something to look forward to.

Loch Tay Armadillas Glamping Accommodation ScotlandThe view of Loch Tay from the glamping pod I stayed in during my solo Scottish road trip earlier this year

Whenever the opportunity has arisen I’ve planned days out and weekends away; everything from a simple hours’ kayak hire at a local lake, through to long walking, camping and glamping weekends and road trips (read about my solo road trip and hike up Ben Lawers earlier this year). I’ve found that always having the promise of something enjoyable to look forward to is a great way of getting me through a mood slump or a long week trapped inside the office, and it provides me with a greater sense of purpose and because I have increasingly chosen to plan things to do on my own, it’s provided a huge boost to my confidence.

The book Microadventures by Alistair Humphreys is great starting point if you need a hand in terms of planning things to do.

4. Spending time with like-minded, nurturing souls

Whilst I was at University I learned an important lesson, namely that if you surround yourself with difficult people they drain you and can exert a negative influence over your life.

I’ve spent my whole adult life working hard to ensure that my friends and acquaintances share similar values to me, and since starting this blog, I’ve found that the values I hold most dear are twofold, relating to attitudes towards the natural world and spirituality. I feel most content when I spend time with those who share an adventurous spirit, and a mutual love for nature and being outdoors.

Walking up Snowdon with the outdoor bloggers 2016The Outdoor Bloggers group hiking up Snowdon last year

Once surrounded by others who also value their own wellbeing, I’ve found it’s easy to benefit from their positive influence. This is true not just in terms of my close friends, but it even goes as far as those that I follow and interact with on social media, the publications I choose to read and what I watch on the rare occasions when I switch the TV on.

When I have suffered from depression in the past my instinct has always been to withdraw and shut myself of, and whilst I’m robust enough to cope in a healthy way with negative experiences, I have a choice and the power to largely shape my own world, and choosing to fill it with like-minded souls has ultimately made me a happier person.

5. Making time for rest

As well as running this blog, I also do some freelance writing, consultancy and have a full time job. Any blogger will tell you that it’s not easy and the many hours needed to make a blog successful are far greater than most realise, and that’s before I even factor in family demands, hobbies and a social life.

Resting is necessary for wellbeingI no longer regard relaxing as being lazy or wasting time

With so many demands upon my time I am used to operating on the edge of burning out and doing something as simple as taking half an hour out for a relaxing bath, was the sort of thing I never allowed myself to do, seeing it as wasting time I didn’t have. With so much to do, sitting and watching a film (and not writing a blog article and posting on social media at the same time) felt impossible, and it took an incredible amount of resolve for me to turn around my mindset. In fact, finally accepting that downtime is not lazy, but necessary has probably been my biggest challenge.

I’ve been strict in implementing at least 1 night a week when I don’t get home from work and immediately start working again. I’ve started playing my guitar again and even reading books, because I have realised that taking time for myself isn’t lazy or selfish, it is just a necessary component of my wellbeing.

Beautiful places and happy memories

Your path to finding your own version of happy

I’m not ecstatically happy all the time, but I do feel more content and I now know the steps I need to take in order to restore balance when I do feel stressed or inexplicably down. Coming to this realisation years ago would I’m sure have reduced my anxiety levels and had a positive impact on my mental health far sooner, but hindsight is a wonderful thing and I’m simply thankful to finally be in a position to understand what I need to make me happy.

I believe that anyone can find their own version of happy. My Burmese grandmother always used to tell me “within you is the power” and I still hold that as the sagest advice I’ve ever received.

Happiness starts by living in a more mindful way, paying minute attention to how your surroundings, the things you do and the people you spend time with make you feel. Experiment and observe the impact they have on you mentally and physically and make a concerted effort to fill your life with more of the things that benefit you and you’ll soon be on your way to living a more fulfilling, happier life.