“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” – Albert Einstein
Most of us want to be happier, but rarely do we do the things required of us to facilitate this. There’s always some excuse – too busy, too tired, the new series of Black Mirror has just come out on Netflix. But if we make one small positive action each day, we can break out of our routines and increase our happiness.
This is the ethos of Action for Happiness, a charity focussed on what makes us happy, and how we can incorporate more of it into our lives. To help assist with this, they’ve come up with a series of programmes tailored to suit your specific needs. The idea is simple; you fill out a brief questionnaire about your lifestyle and habits and they send you daily challenges. The challenges are designed to push you out of your comfort zone and improve certain areas of your life. Being on the poorer end of the spectrum, I opted for the free 3 week challenge (there was no “3 Weeks to Wealth” programme).
The first thing I noticed was that I felt much more engaged and present with whatever I was doing. This began around day 2, where I was given the challenge of walking a different way home. My immediate reaction was “I can’t be arsed” which was quite telling of how deeply entrenched in routine I was at that point, but I did it anyway and to my surprise, I suddenly felt really in tune with my surroundings.
Whereas before, I would walk the same way home with my head down, half listening to a podcast, half planning what to have for dinner; I now found myself looking up and taking everything in. I even switched the podcast off to tune into the sounds of the area, mostly angry car horns and teenagers shouting outside kebab shops, but it’s the pulse of my area and I realised, whether subconsciously or not, that I’d insulated myself from that by switching off my senses. By tuning back into them, it made me much more mindful of the world around me, not just in that moment, but in general.
Another thing I noticed was that I was starting to think about how I could add more happiness to other people’s lives. As a lot of the challenges were geared towards doing things for other people, it made me realise that my motivations are often quite selfish; I do things largely to benefit myself. By taking the focus off me and putting it on other people, it allowed me not only to act as a conduit for other people’s happiness, but also get out of my own head for a while, which for someone who is a chronic over thinker, was most welcome.
This was most evident on day 3, when Sarah came into the office with her children. My challenge for that day was to “give 1 hour of my undivided attention to someone”. Rather than just stare at them for an hour, I decided to make them a treasure hunt. This led to a much more fun interaction and seeing how happy their faces were, made me happy.
Ultimately, I would say that the Action for Happiness 3 week challenge has been really beneficial for me. It’s so easy to get locked in negative habits or routines and not even realise we’re doing it. Sometimes, it takes doing something like this to step out of auto pilot long enough to realise how detached and disengaged we’ve become.
Really, when you break it down, the fundamentals of life are to be present, do things you enjoy, surround yourself with positive people, get out in nature more, don’t be negative etc. We know these things. It’s obvious when you write them down, but at a certain point life takes over and we forget to do even the simplest of things. Action for Happiness’s “Do Something Challenge” not only reminds you to do these things but actively encourages them, so I highly recommend you head over to the Action for Happiness website to start your own 3 week challenge.
I’ve listed the full breakdown of my daily challenges and some of my thoughts throughout the process below.
Day 1 – Go screen-free for one evening
This was actually tougher than I thought it would be! The urge to check my phone or go on a YouTube binge was pretty overwhelming at times, but I distracted myself by playing guitar and eating food.
Day 2 – Take a different route home
I took the long way home. It’s a much prettier walk, but I usually avoid it to shave 6 minutes off my journey (6 minutes that would then be wasted on a YouTube video when I get in anyway!). I passed a park that’s usually shut, but for some reason today it wasn’t, so I sat in it for a bit. Looking at Canary Wharf and people passing by, I suddenly felt much more present and in tune with my surroundings.
Day 3 – Give an hour of your undivided attention to someone special
This was my best day so far. Sarah was coming into the office with her kids so I set up an “Easter egg hunt” for them. It was the first time I’d met her children and she’s always telling me about them, so it was lovely to finally meet them. Felt really happy afterwards.
Day 4 – No daily do.
I guess sometimes even “Do Something Different” likes to do something different!
Day 5 – Help someone achieve their goals
I brought Rianne a coffee to help her get through the afternoon slump. She was very pleased!
Day 6 – Take a walk in nature
Went for a walk in Mile End Park. I’ve lived in Mile End for about a year and a half now and had no idea that there was this beautiful nature reserve just the other side of the station. Real eye-opener for me that I need to explore more of not only my own area, but also London in general.
Day 7 – No moaning for a day
This was on a Monday so not the easiest challenge, but I managed to make it the whole day. Felt good!
Day 8 – Invite someone for coffee
I actually failed this one. I tried to ask people in the office, starting with Grace because she was the easiest option (we regularly go for coffee) but she flat out told me “No! You have to ask someone else or you won’t pass your challenge”. I thought about asking Rianne, but she seemed really busy and I thought it would be cheating to ask my friends, so I gave up. The following day, as if by magic “Action for Happiness” sent me a leaflet on how to deal with failure. How did they know?!
Day 9 – Write someone you care about a letter
I wrote my Nan a letter thanking her for always being there for me. It was really nice actually. I felt quite positive after I sent it. A few days later, I received a really nice text from her so that was good.
Day 10 – Get out and play
I went for a skate in Victoria Park. First one of the year so that was really fun. Weather’s starting to pick up too!
Day 11 – Listen to different music
We put on Jazz FM at work. We’d had Heart on for the last few weeks and it was driving me crazy. Not a big fan of “club” music, so it was really refreshing to have something different on. Completely transformed the vibe in the office.
Day 12 – Get at least one of tomorrow’s activities done today
I got my mums mother’s day card a day early and sent it in the post. Annoyingly, I took a picture to post on Twitter and I didn’t want to put her address on there, so I just put MUM on the card with the idea that I would put the address on after, then send it. Totally forgot! Posted the card with just MUM written on it. So she didn’t receive the card, but she did receive a funny story, so every cloud!
Day 13 – Give a genuine compliment to 3 people
I ended up giving about 10 compliments in the end. Rianne got a few, Maciej got some, Grace got a LOT. Turns out I really like giving compliments and people like receiving them. I made a mental note to always say something nice about someone when I meet them. “Cool jumper”. “Nice scarf”. That sort of thing.
Day 14 – Write down how you want to be remembered
I ended up procrastinating on this one for a few days. As I was documenting everything I did on Twitter, I actually felt a bit self-conscious about writing anything too “deep” or “pretentious” whilst at the same time desperately wanting to write something “deep” and “pretentious”. In the end I just wrote “I want to be remembered as someone who came from a little and achieved a lot”. Pretentious?
Day 15 – Look back at something you’ve done differently on GoDo. Shout about it. Reward yourself.
I thought about everything I had done in the last few weeks, during Action for Happiness and I genuinely feel quite proud. I celebrated with a large Texas BBQ from Domino’s Pizza.