This time of year always leaves me feeling a little bit reflective and maybe a little bit melancholy, even though I’m not sad. The seasons are changing, leaves are falling and as summer turns to autumn I began to think about happiness.
When I set off on my travels, I was looking for two things: adventure, and happiness. I found them on the road. In abundance.
When I returned home, back to ‘reality’ I struggled to deal with home and normality. Until I realised that it wasn’t necessarily travel that had made me happy, but it was more my mindset when I was travelling that made me happy. So, I did the only thing I could think of and I began to incorporate elements of my travel life, into my everyday life. Slowly but surely, the two became more more interchangeable and that longing for ‘something’ began to ease.
1. Be nice to and about people.
Being nice to and about others is probably the most important thing you can do in life. So many of us go abroad to volunteer and do good, so why don’t we do it more in our own country? Volunteering at an animal shelter or at a rest home, will give you the same good feeling you get when you volunteer in Africa or elsewhere, I can vouch for that.
Then there’s the other aspect, simply being nice to people, this is just good karma. Putting others down is a sure-fire way to make yourself feel low but helping others will make them and you feel happy. Concentrate on thinking good thoughts, wishing people well and being a good person, instead of thinking negatively towards anyone else.
2. Don’t waste your time on people who don’t deserve it.
One of the things I love about solo travel, is that if you meet people along the way who aren’t really your cup of tea you move on and go your separate ways. It may seem like an obvious one, but it’s surprising how often in life we dedicate time to people who we really shouldn’t – both in the physical world and in our heads.
That old boyfriend who treated you bad, or that friend you caught bitching about you behind your back – try not to hold a grudge. Forgive them, but don’t waste your precious time and thoughts on them. Easier said than done when you’re in the same place all the time or they’re all over social media – but it can be done. Life is far too short to use that energy so ineffectively.
Instead, concentrate your efforts on the ones who love you and are always there when you need them, the ones that make you laugh, look after you and pick you up time and time again.
3. Take a social media sabbatical.
Because of my job as a Travel Blogger, I’m on social media a lot. Don’t get me wrong, social media is great! It’s a great way to keep in touch with people and to find out information, but it’s also a so easy to disappear down the social media rabbit hole to find hours of your life have been sucked into the void never to be seen again.
You know what it’s like. You think to yourself, ooh, I’ll just quickly check Facebook… a few Buzzfeeds, blog posts, online stores, a few bucks and a couple of hours later you usually emerge thinking – what the hell just happened? What was I doing again? I mean who needs to click on an article entitled ’20 Ways to Open a Wine Bottle’ like I did today- ok, bad example, that one is REALLY important for wine emergencies.
But it’s not just the time wasted that’s the problem. It’s the never allowing ourselves to disconnect, to recharge our batteries, away from the rest of the world like we do when we are travelling or on holiday. Go offline once in a while, take a walk, climb a mountain, swim in the sea, spend some undistracted quality time with friends, do some meditation – whatever it is you need to do to feel like you again.
My friend Brenna just wrote a great post on putting down our phones – well worth a read!
4. Don’t compare yourself to others.
I’ve written about the dangers of comparing yourself to others before and one of my goals for this year was to not do this any more because it’s just not healthy. When you meet people travelling, you’re all following a different path and at different stages in your trip, some will head of in a different direction, some will race ahead, some will dawdle along. A life or metaphorical journey is not really any different.
There’s no point me comparing myself to someone who has been blogging for 5 years, or someone who has been blogging for the same amount of time as me but is on a round the world trip and blogging full time or someone in their twenties – we’re all different and will experience success in different ways. What even defines success?
This also links in to point 3, because online people will generally just put on the happy stuff, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – except, don’t compare yourself to a glimpse into someone else’s life. You know what they say – ‘a picture paints a thousands words” and all that, but a thousand words is barely a chapter in a very long book.
Your unique power, is that you are the only person who can be you. And if we can be the best versions of ourselves, then we’re winning. As the very talented Mary Schmich once wrote, ‘The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself”.
Your time will come my friend. Hang on in there.
5. Don’t look in the mirror too much.
This sounds weird I know… but in the culture many of us live in, it’s very easy to become obsessed with looks. The media constantly presents us with conflicting images of airbrushed celebrities next to celebrities who’ve ‘let themselves go’ and then there’s social media where selfies are the thing of the moment, but only once you’ve taken about 50 to get to the one image you like, which then gets filters applied to make you look better again.
When I travel, I’m away from all that stuff. I don’t watch TV, there’s not a gossip magazine in sight and the internet is thin and far between. I’m too busy having fun to really give two craps about the way I look. I wear very little make up, and probably look at myself in the mirror only a couple of times a day at the most (sometimes not even that much) and I usually feel a lot better about myself which then manifests itself on the outside too.
6. Exercise (but pick one you really enjoy).
So this is a bit of a tenuous link, but hear me out.
We all know that exercise is good for you. But as well as the obvious physical health benefits, exercise releases endorphins that make your mind feel good too. Travelling as a backpacker, I didn’t really have much access to gyms, or to exercise classes – not that I really love those anyway. So I kept fit by dancing, swimming, surfing, cycling and trekking. I love that sort of stuff and it didn’t even feel like exercise, it was just fun and adventurous.
So, my point is that you shouldn’t make yourself miserable doing exercises you hate, as they will only make you likely to give up. Find something you truly enjoy. All those cool things you were able to do travelling will probably be in easy reach at home too, just the scenery might be a little more familiar!
Find the the things that work for you and stick with it!
7. Find beauty in the ordinary.
I’m happiest when I travel, but travel it’s not something I can or want to do all the time – this is probably the case for most of us. Despite knowing this, it’s easy for me to feel a bit down when I don’t have any imminent adventures on the horizon. When we travel, everything is interesting because it’s new, but to the people who live there, it’s kind of ordinary, maybe even dull.
Last weekend I had two of my friends from Quebec staying with me. I played tour guide and took them to a few of my favourite places in and around my home city of Liverpool and my adopted city of Manchester (where I work). We saw the sights and ate typically English foods that they’d never had before (English breakfast, roast dinner, fish and chips and erm… curry). They noticed things I just completely took for granted. They loved it all and through their eyes I experienced wonder and I saw my home in a new light.
If you explore your home like a tourist, it will help to bring that feeling of travel into your every day life. Or set yourself a little project. For a great example of this, read this post by Young Adventuress. Make every day a little adventure.
8. Do the crappy stuff first.
It’s so easy to procrastinate and put off doing the stuff we don’t want to do. But, this leaves these things hanging over us like a stormy dark cloud of doom, a little niggle in the back of the mind that just won’t go away. Likewise, you can’t run from your problems, you have to face them head on.
Arriving in a new place in Thailand, all I wanted to do was get out and explore. But I had a heavy backpack to carry round, so I got the boring bit out the way – finding a place to stay, dropped off my backpack, freshened up and I was good to go. It’s a simple analogy, but it’s true. If you get the crappy stuff out of the way, it will take a lot of weight off your shoulders and allow you to concentrate fully on all the things you do want to do!
9. Live in the moment.
When I travel, I am truly living in the moment. I slow down and take everything in. I’m not worrying about the next 5, 10, 20, 50 years, or dwelling on the past, I’m just enjoying what I’m doing and with the people I’m doing it with. Of course, you have to have some plan for the future to some degree, but it shouldn’t be where the majority of your thoughts lie as before you know it, you’ll be looking back with regret, wishing you’d enjoyed life more and stopped worrying about the what ifs or what might have been.
You can’t change the past, but you can shape your future by being the best person you can be, right now.
10. Be grateful for what you do have.
It’s human nature to always want more and almost easier to focus on what we don’t have, rather than what we do. But what if we made the choice to be grateful more often? Travel exposes you to so many different walks of life and makes you appreciate how much you actually have. But it’s easy to slip back into old habits when you return home and take things for granted.
A very good friend of mine started to write down all the things she was grateful for on a blackboard and shares it on Facebook. I always look forward to her updates and love how she has embraced gratitude into her life. When you spend time being thankful for what you do have, you have less time to dwell on the things you don’t have. And, I am a strong believer that be being thankful, you are also drawing other good things towards you.
Try writing down 5 things you are truly grateful for at the end of each day and let me know what happens.
11. Accept change and face your fears.
It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”, however I would also add change to the equation. Change is inevitable.
In travel everything is constantly changing; landscapes, people, routes, even the weather! We are forced to say goodbye more times than we’d ever want to and to deal with challenges and setbacks we never thought possible before before we left.
Accepting change, walking away from that relationship you feel is no longer working, or losing your job or taking that trip you’ve always wanted can be difficult, scary and sometimes painful process. But change can also be good for the soul. It makes us stronger, makes us appreciate the constants in our lives, opens us up to new experiences and enables us to grow.
Now I embrace change and I have travel to thank for that. I see setbacks or disappointments as an opportunity to improve or to do something different and take my life in another direction. Change is an opportunity.
12. Give yourself a break.
Travel has this magic ability to transform us into a much more carefree version of ourselves. I think it has something to do with the fact that you are meeting so many people who are different to you, and different to each other, you sort of give yourself permission to just be who you are and you know that if those people you don’t meet don’t like that, then it’s kind of ok, like I did when I went to TBEX in Ireland last year.
But it’s not so easy to do that at home where people have certain expectations and where you’ve been moulded by the society you live in. We worry about what people think of us, that we’re not good enough at this or that, berate ourselves for the time we made an idiot of ourselves at the office Christmas party, the way we look – all kinds of things. But Life is tough enough without giving yourself a hard time. Stop trying to be perfect. We ALL make mistakes. I’ve made many. Try to think about these things objectively. Think about what you would say to your best friend, and give yourself that advice. You’re never going to please everyone, but as long as you like you, and the people closest to you like you, then that’s all that really matters. Be proud of the things you achieve and celebrate them.
You know when I said be nice to people? That includes yourself. You deserve happiness. We all do.
13. Do what you love and do it often.
This is a pretty simple one. We all know what we like and what we don’t like. When I’m travelling, I just did more of the stuff I liked more often. It’s a little bit more challenging to fit those things in when you work a full time job, but it’s totally possible. They don’t have to be big things.
So my task to you today, is to write a list of 10 things that make you happy, and I mean really happy, and make a conscious effort to do them more often! Stick it on your fridge, or if you don’t have a fridge a little card on the corner of your laptop, whatever, just as long as it’s somewhere you can see it every day!
For the record, my 10 things are:
- Seeing my family and friends.
- Planning adventures.
- Going on adventures (even if it’s just to somewhere local).
- Hiking in the countryside.
- Going to the theatre.
- Singing, loudly.
14. Be open-minded.
There’s something about travel that opens you up. You’ll find yourself making friends with people who are different than anyone you’ve ever met. People who are much older/younger than you, or who have totally different backgrounds or belief systems than you do. By keeping your mind open to the possibilities that diversity and difference brings, you’ll expand your world in ways you never thought possible.
Keep that spirit with you when you’re home. Don’t write something (or someone) off because they are different to the norm. What would your travel self do?
15. Go outside.
One of the reasons we’re happier when we travel is good old Vitamin D, which we get from the sun and, being outside! If you’re working in an office, try and get outside at lunch, even if it’s just for a little while.
How many times have you listened to a person you meet travelling tell a wonderful story? That old man who talks to you on the bus and tells you about his life? It’s so interesting right? So what would you do if someone in your own country started talking to you on the bus? Move seats? Put your ear phones in?
That person might just be the most interesting person you’ve ever met, or they might just change your life.
17. Follow your dreams.
Taking the plunge and doing something you dream of is pretty scary. I was terrified when I set off for my first solo trip in 2009. Absolutely terrified. I almost didn’t get on the plane because I was scared about what was waiting for me in Africa, scared about what I was leaving behind and what I would come back to when I eventually returned home.
I always remember this line from my favourite play, Shirley Valentine. “Dreams. They are never in the place you expect them to be.” I think this is right, dreams never are in the places you expect, not really. But happiness is there, in the small moments that you find in the pursuit and achievement of those dreams.
I took a risk and I don’t regret it for a second. Don’t be the person everyone expects you to be, be the person YOU want to be.
* Quote images on Pinterest
What are your tips for a happier life?