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Get the happiness habit: which wolf are you going to feed?

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Writes Dr Alison Sedgwick-Taylor

There is a Native American parable about an old Cherokee talking to his grandson. 

A fight is going on inside of me” he says and ‘it’s a terrible fight between two wolves, one of whom is angry, full of sadness, greed, regret, resentment, judgement and guilt. The other wolf is full of joy, generosity, truth, compassion, faith, empathy and love’. He adds, ‘the same fight is going on inside of every person.’ The grandson thinks about this for a few moments and asks his grandfather: ‘Which wolf is going to win?’ 

The old Cherokee simply replies; ‘the one you feed’

The moral of the tale is that we have more control over our happiness than we might think we have. Whoever we are and whatever our life is like, we will all recognise this same battle going on inside of us. It’s a good news story which can motivate us to change our outlook to focus on what is good in our lives. But this is not as easy as it sounds, particularly if life is not going well. 

The truth is that we are not really designed for happiness, we have evolved to survive. Our minds are naturally reactive and judgemental with the tendency to focus on threat, on what’s not ok or, as we would like it, and this is hard baked into us. So, is that it? Or is there another way? Can we train ourselves, even when life is tough, to find some joy and happiness, and start flourishing and not just survive? Ancient Buddhist wisdom and modern Western Psychology research believes we can, and by practising the following habits, we can boost our mental immunity: 

Thoughts are not Facts Whatever is on our minds, will have a big impact on our bodies and feelings.  Learning to manage our scattered and tricky brains and focus on the present moment, just as it is, can be life changing.
Gratitude Use the fingers on your hand to recall 10 things you are grateful for today. Keep them specific and small. 10 different things tomorrow and do this every day.
AppreciationThroughout the day, PAUSE and take in what’s around you, the smell of the coffee, the warmth from the sun, bird song, the taste of your food. Come back to your senses.
Be kind to yourselfOr more like, stop speaking to yourself so negatively. You wouldn’t speak to a good friend the way you speak to yourself. Quieten that inner critic-it’s not helping!!!  
Be generous to othersLittle acts of kindness have a big impact. Do a random act of kindness every day, notice how contagious it is. 
Digital DetoxGet off your phone and give yourself a break from the news at least once per week.
IntentionsSet realistic daily intentions including taking care of yourself. Review them each evening.
Be Mindful Try some meditation to teach yourself how to pay attention in the moment without judgement. Try this:  http://franticworld.com/the-three-minute-breathing-space-meditation-is-now-free-to-download/

Learn more: http://franticworld.com, https://www.oxfordmindfulness.org

Dr Alison Sedgwick-Taylor (Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist, Mindfulness Teacher) www.astpsychology.co.uk

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