It is Mandela Day this week, and across South Africa, and the world, people are reaching out to each other with acts of service and kindness. Turns out that research has proven that serving others is just one way in which our lives become richer without more money.
In 2008, the UK government asked an independent organisation, called the New Economics Foundation (nef) to develop a list of things people can do to improve their personal well-being. This was an interesting brief, given that the nef looks at ways to inspire economic well-being.
The nef looked at a vast amount of research and came up with 5 things people can do that will make their lives feel richer and more meaningful. The great thing about this list is that you don’t need anyone’s permission or help to do any of it – it’s all up to you.
With the people around you. With family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. At home, work, school or in your local community. Think of these as the cornerstones of your life and invest time in developing them. Building these connections will support and enrich you every day.
Feeling close to, and valued by, other people is a fundamental human need. When it is met, we function well in the world.
Interestingly, we need different kinds of social networks. A broad social network where you socialise with lots of people is important for feelings of connectedness and familiarity and gives you a sense of your position in your community. Stronger and deeper relationships with a smaller group of people who are very close to you are sources of support, encouragement and meaning.
- BE ACTIVE
Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Cycle. Play a game. Garden. Dance. Exercising makes you feel good. Most importantly, discover a physical activity you enjoy and that suits your level of mobility and fitness.
Being active has an impact on our bodies and our minds. Studies have shown, for example, that physical activity helps us feel better because it makes us feel more in control and able to cope with life. The feel-good hormones that are released, take our minds off negative thoughts.
- TAKE NOTICE
Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savour the moment, whether you are walking to work, eating lunch or talking to friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you.
Being more aware of the world around you, helps you to understand yourself better and to make choices that tie in with your own values and internal motivations.
A good way to help you become more aware is to make a short list at the end of every day of specific things you noticed. For example, what made you happy today; what did you see or hear that was beautiful; what did you eat that was tasty; what did you experience for the first time?
Awareness also helps us to realise what we already have, instead of always thinking about what we don’t have.
- KEEP LEARNING
Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Fix a bike. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your favourite food. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you more confident, and it is a whole lot of fun.
We all accept that children have to learn, but did you know that when adults keep on learning their self-esteem improves, they have more social interaction and they lead more active lives? There is also evidence that educational activities help to lift older people out of depression
The great thing is that you don’t have to go to university to learn. You can ask a relative or neighbour to teach you to bake or to do woodwork. Simply reading up on a topic you are interested in is also learning.
Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look outwards, as well as inwards. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and creates connections with the people around you. It also creates connections in your brain and stimulates your internal reward system.
Evidence suggests that giving back to others is good for people of all ages. It is very important to develop social awareness in children and young people. For adults, and particularly retirees, giving and sharing give a sense of purpose in the community and a sense of self-worth.