Wednesday 6 October 2010

5 EASY ways to be happier and more alive TODAY!

First of all I want to say I've had a lot of fun writing this post, was just what I needed after a tough week last week. If you have as much fun trying out some of these techniques as I have then I'll be even happier. Now back to the post...

What are we really looking for out of our lives? More money, bigger house, more stuff, vacations in the sun? But think beyond those things, what are we really looking to gain from climbing the corporate, financial or social ladders? Most people would say happiness. They just want to be happy in their lives.

'be happy' a popular goal on

I guess one of the great 'con's of the 'con'sumer society is that owning more stuff, having more money, or consuming more will make you happy. Watching programs like Mad Men is an interesting look back at how mass advertising trained people to think it that way, and for many people that's still the philosophy that they buy into or are told to buy into. I myself have tried it, working hard to climb the ladder to get more money to buy the stuff that I thought would make me happy. You know what, it really didn't work, I wasn't a very happy person at all.

To some extent stuff can make you happy, but in my own experience I found that it didn't bring real, deep, long lasting, meaningful happiness and in some cases it brought more problems than not having the stuff in the first place. Owning a gorgeous sports car sounds like a superb idea until you get one and have to spend a small fortune on servicing it or have to spend a week getting a scratch professionally repaired. And think about all the cool things you could be doing instead of sitting in an office trying to pay for it.

Also in my life to date the happiest people I've met have had very little. And the most miserable people had the most material wealth. The conventional wisdom doesn't seem to be true at all. And this is a good thing. Once you realise that conventional thinking doesn't make sense you can stop working so hard to get all the things you don't need and spend more time doing the things that make you happy.

So what kind of things can make you happy if amassing money and stuff won't?

Here are 5 areas you can focus on and a few EASY things you can do right now today to make you feel as happy as pig rolling in shit:

1) Hyper-reality experiences 

Ok I admit I made this title up. But more and more people are coming to the conclusion that experiences will make you happier than owning things. Anything can be an experience. As you read this page you'll be experiencing lots of things. If you're an enlightened being totally at one with yourself and the world around you, then even waiting for a bus can be amazing. Personally I'm not quite there yet, so let's focus on that I will call hyper-reality experiences, things that take you out of your everyday life, things that make you feel alive. Here are a few examples:
  • Go for an hour long deep tissue massage
  • Go swimming after work 
  • Smell some flowers
  • Dance! Either at a class, a club or just at home to your own music.
  • Play a music instrument (even if it's just banging along on a table to your favourite song)
  • Take an ice cold bath/shower, a good shock to the system
  • Go out for a 20 minute run and get the blood pumping
  • Meditate for 20 minutes in a quiet space
You can probably think of 1000s more. What you're looking for is something that will snap you out of mundane reality and reconnect you to the fact that you're alive, really alive on this planet floating in space (have I been meditating too much already?).

Do it now: find a shop that sells flowers, a public garden or a nearby field and smell the nature. Close your eyes and imagine what it would be like to be surrounded by wonderful exotic plants out in the middle of nature, smile, stay there for 15 seconds, then go on with your day. How easy was that!? 

2) Generosity

Life is about giving as much as receiving. It's easy to forget that in our modern world. Humans are to some extent programmed to be selfish. Since the beginning of time we have fought over scarce resources and competed to own more land/money/stuff than each other. Consumerism is built on this urge and it's the cause of many of the troubles we have always faced as a species. The problem is that if we want to be happy it's actually much more effective to be generous than selfish. 

I'm not talking about giving to charity type of generous, although that can work too, I'm talking about everyday actions that have a positive effect on those around us. If we can give our time in order to make others feel happy then we will also feel real, deep and long lasting happiness. If you want to give money no matter how small then "The Karmic Capitalist: Should I Wait Until I’m Rich to Give Back?" is a good place to start.

One note of caution, recent research showed that many receivers of 'random' acts of kindness treat them with suspicion, so make sure your acts aren't too random and that they are genuinely kind to the receiver.

There are so many things you can do, here's a few:
  • Give someone you know a hug
  • Send a friend or colleague a handwritten thankyou card, just for being a good friend or colleague!
  • Spend an hour helping at a retirement home
  • Make the effort to talk with and listen to someone who's going through a tough time
  • Give an inspiring book to someone or leave it in a coffee shop with a note on why you liked it
  • Volunteer your time for a good cause, you can find hundreds of ways to do this in the UK at the Do-It site. (Let me know if there are good ones in other countries)
  • Donate the money you'd spend on one meal this week to a charity of your choice
Do it now: Email, or even better, hand write a note to a friend or colleague telling them what a great person they are and how much you value their friendship or help at work. This will take you 2-5 minutes maximum, do it! :)

3) Learning and growing

It's amazing how self improvement makes you feel good about yourself, boosts your confidence, allows you to meet new people and opens up new and exciting adventures. It's also a great way to keep your body and mind healthy.

There are probably lots of things that you've always wanted to learn such as a new language or skill, or goals you've wanted to hit such as running a marathon or sailing the Atlantic. Work often gets in the way of course and sometimes it feels impossible to hit the big goals so we don't even bother starting. But there are things you can do right now today. As Taoist philosopher Lao-Tze said "A journey of a thousand miles began with a single step.", so make the first step on your learning path. Who knows where you might end up! The great thing is you can learn so much online right now without signing up for an expensive course. Use your imagination, here are some starters:
  • Spend 20 mins learning the first module of a free online language course at
  • Learn some Toprock dance moves from Bboy B.Yu
  • Learn to cook a new recipe, Jamie Oliver is a great teacher and has excellent video tutorials
  • If you haven't used Ebay, learn how to advertise something you no longer use. You'll feel good, declutter and make money, Zen  Habits will teach you how
  • Find your nearest yoga centre and enroll on a one month beginners course (if you don't fancy yoga, just substitute with anything physical that takes your fancy)
Do it now: sign up to, pick a language you'd like to speak and do the first course. I picked Spanish :) You can easily do this in your lunch break. Don't procrastinate, click the link now!

4) Music

When film director Stanley Kubrick was asked why he had so little dialogue in the film 2001, he replied by saying "I intended the film to be an intensely subjective experience that reaches the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does; to explain a Beethoven symphony would be to emasculate it by erecting an artificial barrier between conception and appreciation." Deep! But a great answer, it made me think about the power that music has to alter our mood, emotions and even perceptions. It touches our inner consciousness.

If you listen to miserable, depressing or melancholy music you'll probably end up feeling that way. If you listen to angry music you may even get angry. Of course we normalise everything so an overdose of punk probably won't make you want to smash up your workspace (or maybe it would) but you get the point :) So if you want to feel happy, what music might make you feel happy?

Turn your speakers up as loud as possible or stick on your headphones, start up Spotify or even YouTube then try one of the following:
  • Remember a time when you were growing up when you were really happy. Try to remember the music from that time and search for that. Mine include (dont laugh) "Bare Necessities", "There's no stopping us", "Feel so real". They remind me of camping, BMX and very early breakdancing. Silly songs are good so don't hold back.
  • Remember a great holiday or travel experience you've had. What were the standout tunes that you remember? Mine include (these are hopefully slightly more credible) "Music Sounds Better with You", "You know what I feel", "Saudade Vem Correndo", "Baby"
  • Or maybe you just have some tunes that really get you pumped and make you want to dance around the room like a crazy person. Of course you do need to smile/sing/shout and jump along to these so make yourself some room :) Try starting with "Sex is on Fire", "Don't stop me know", "Jump Around, "Bonkers"
Do it now: pick one of the strategies above and do it now. I've already got a big smile on my face just writing this part of the article :) Headphones on, click, now!! :D

5) Friendship and community

I wrote a previous post on "The importance of reconnecting with old friends, before it's too late". My good friend died whilst I was outlining this post so it really brought home the importance of friendship and community. Friends will make you laugh, make you cry and make you feel happy when you're sad. Having friends and social connections is an essential part of being human. For a long time I've been 'too busy at work' to do very much to nurture many friendships outside of socialising with workmates. Probably one of the main reasons I wasn't very happy. Of course I've made some excellent friends through work who I will always treasure, but it's easy to forget to make time for the people who you don't interact with regularly through your job.

It's also easy to forget to build friendships beyond your work circles. Even living in a big city can be a lonely and isolated experience if you don't go out and meet new friends. The key to this is often common interests so having interests is an important step, all the more reason to do some learning and growing.

One other point. Try to surround yourself with friends who are positive, supporting and inspiring. If your current friends are none of the above then either help them on their journey or get new friends who are. Harsh I know, but you need to do this. The people who you spend time with have a massive effect on your own personality, outlook on life, and what you'll achieve in the future. So if it's critical that you spend time with people who will push you forward not hold you back. Here are a few ideas to ensure you have a rich, diverse and inspiring community of friends:
  • Find a blogger who really inspires you, drop them an email and ask them to tell you what motivates them to write their blog. If they live nearby invite them for a coffee to discuss one of their posts, or if not continue the conversation over email and ask if they know any inspirational people in your area.
  • Join a group. It may be something you're already interested in or something totally new that you've always wanted to find out more about.
  • Sign-up to an evening class, you can find hundreds if you search online on sites like
  • Reconnect with an old friend and arrange to meet up for a chat, or if that's not possible share what's been happening since you last spoke
  • Have any friends moved abroad and offered to put you up if you visited? Drop them an email to ask if you can visit them in 2 weeks time for the weekend. Then go and find airline tickets.
  • Get social networking, interact with some of your online friends who you haven't spoken to in a while, even better, arrange a meet up in person one evening this week. Do this even if you are 'too busy at work'. Work will always be there, friends may not.
Do it now: Spend 10 minutes today reconnecting with an old friend who you haven't spoken to for a few years. Use Facebook, Google or ask around your old contacts. Find their FB page, email address or phone number. Then call them or email them to see how they are getting on. Do it today, they will really appreciate it and you will too. (If you've already done this from the previous post then do it again but with a different friend or do the last bullet point in the list)


Each day for the next 5 days do any one of these really EASY things, don't start tomorrow start right away. Everything else can wait, nothing is more important than your happiness, and you already know this.

Pick whichever one you want, the only thing you have to remember is to DO it. Without action nothing will ever happen and these small actions will make you happier straight away.

As always please share what works best and any other ideas you have for being happier in the comments or on the Facebook Wall.

With maximum happiness and a big smile! Michael

Related: Inspiring Happiness - an excellent video with Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos and author of the book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose. Business Plus


  1. Great post! I firmly believe that consumerism is not going to make you happy. For one once you buy all that "stuff" then you just start to worry about it all the time. Is it safe? How can I afford to replace it if it breaks? For me I comsume things that aid my passion which is photography and travel. When I spend to further these goals I feel good because it furthers things that I enjoy doing. Buying a 50" screen while nice doesn't further those goals so in the end I won't be happy with that purchase.

    I think you've hit on some key areas with your 5 areas to focus on. All are definitely things that we should focus on. Good stuff!

  2. Thanks Matt, I totally agree. Love your blog by the way, good luck with your adventure.

  3. Michael,

    It's really interesting reading this post and I couldn't agree more with your intro. As you know very well I was in a similar position to you (for reader's of this post who don't work at VCCP, Michael took over my post at their when I decided to go travelling with my girlfriend for 15 months). I got an overwhelmingly positive response from everyone (apart from Kathy's boss!) which was wonderful, but more inspiring still was to find out that so many other people had done something similar in the course of their traditional "careers". Many of these people were very successful in what they were doing and it helped to reinforce something that I firmly believe in, perspective on your own life is essential, and whatever you need to do to gain that perspective should be your number one priority. There are far more people than you can imagine who have already done it and it does nothing but help.


  4. Hey Buster,

    Hope you're doing well and having a great time on your adventures, I'm sure you are. Thanks for the kind words and you are absolutely right.

    Since making the decision to change my approach to life, I've started to meet many inspiring individuals who have already taken the step away from successful careers and created a brand new lifestyle that allows them to achieve their dreams.

    In fact just yesterday I had lunch with four people who are way ahead of me on the journey:
    Anne Marie -
    Sam -
    Anke -
    Viv -

    Hope to see you somewhere in the world soon and look forward to hearing more about your adventures