THE SECRET TO LIVING TO A RIPE OLD AGE

Sometimes you meet someone who inspires you in the most unexpected way. My friend Jean and I go to the silver screen cinema showings on Wednesdays and always have a cup of coffee in the nearby coffee shop beforehand. A woman who also goes to those screenings has begun to stop and have a chat when she sees us sat outside in the sunshine.

She surprised us the first time she stopped – in Britain we don’t usually engage with strangers! And she just said, ‘You two look happy!’ We laughed and said there were plenty of reasons to be happy that morning: sunshine and warmth, good coffee and company, and a movie to look forward to. She agreed and added some of her own: being healthy, enjoying life, being lucky enough to be able to do something fun on a Wednesday morning.

Over the weeks, we have gradually built that conversation, and each time she reminds me that it is the simple things in life that make the most difference.

How you choose to view the world

The big picture of how you view the world sets the context. Believing that this world of ours is there to delight us, not horrify us, that it is full of lovely things designed to please and support us – this provides the framework for everything else.

It is a big golden assumption: that life on earth is intended to be a good experience.

Noticing the good things

We often pay most attention to the things that upset or offend us. Instead we can actively notice the good things: it is a bit of a grey day, but it is warm enough not to have to wear a coat; I was feeling a little bit fed up, but then a friend phoned me and we ended up laughing.

This links to the idea behind a gratitude journal: to just write down 5-10 things that you can be thankful for today.

Looking for reasons to be happy

This is about actively adding in small things that make you happy, to consciously change your mood: buying yourself a good cup of coffee; calling a friend for a chat; wearing a favourite piece of clothing or jewellery.

Appreciating the simple things in life

This links to the previous point. We don’t need to spend lots of money or have lots of stuff to be happy – the best things in life are free! If we care to look around we can easily find things that make us feel good: a nice dinner we have cooked; flowers looking and smelling beautiful; birds singing for us; a favourite perfume or cologne; the feel of a lovely fresh warm bed.

Expecting people to be friendly

As our new friend has said: ‘I’m 85 years old, and in my life, I have found that most people are friendly.’ Most people respond to how we expect them to be, and life is much more pleasant if we expect them to be friendly and helpful. This means that we make lots of connections with people, which is good for our health, because friendly contact with others automatically raises our oxytocin level – one of our natural health-giving chemicals.

Saying ‘Oh well – never mind’

All this sounds very ‘rose-tinted spectacles’, only noticing the good bits. And we all know that sometimes things feel shitty! It’s about keeping it in perspective. We often let the shitty bits take over our perspective and taint our point of view.

Instead, life will go better if we acknowledge them, then let them go: ‘ I fell over this morning and bruised myself badly. Oh well, never mind.’ ‘Someone upset me with what they said yesterday. Oh well, never mind – it’s a new day today.’

Recalling good memories

When things don’t feel so good, we always have available to us a treasure trove of stored good memories. When we recall them or recount them to someone else, they help us to re-live those good times and perk us up. Old photos will prompt them, or old treasured objects, or particular music.

So the secret is…

Above all, find reasons to be happy and make your life enjoyable. This is not la-la-land; it is how we keep the health-giving chemicals running through our bodies. Research has shown that those who make connection with others, those who appreciate nature, those who have a positive outlook, stay healthier, live longer, and enjoy their lives.

None of this is difficult to achieve. The things that make the difference are available to all of us, regardless of our circumstances. The only thing that stops us is our way of thinking about things.

So what are your 10 reasons to be happy today?

 

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