If you've often felt you could be happier in life, those urges will likely be stronger as we head into winter, when we're all likely to feel a little low. But what to do? "Life is all about developing, changing, forming and reforming," says psychologist Emma Kenny. "Asking yourself a few questions can kick-start some revealing reflections." So we created a list that could literally change your life!
Do I live to work or work to live?
Work/life balance is a key part of how we achieve happiness. "You can't live to work indefinitely; we're just not made to cope with that much stress," says psychotherapist Phillip Hodson. "What's healthy is eight hours' work, eight hours' rest and eight hours' play. So once you reach a point where you can take your foot off the throttle a bit, do it."
Would I like me?
A little self-awareness helps you understand other people and how they perceive you. "One of our basic human drivers is to connect with others and to want to be liked," says life coach Claire Koryezan. "Ideally, we want to see in ourselves what we'd like to see in other people, and the ideal is to treat others as you wish to be treated."
But how can we look at ourselves objectively? "You need to consciously slow down and concentrate on all the little thoughts that take you to the big one," she says. Say you meet an acquaintance and feel uncomfortable because you'd rather leave than stay and chat, analyse each of these thoughts. Why didn't you want to talk? Is where you're going important? Are you happy with the way you prioritised? As each thought crossed your mind, did you behave positively towards the person, or might your irritation have shown? Then ask yourself if you'd like it if the acquaintance went through these same thoughts. Think of other interactions you've had-good and bad-to practise. Eventually, you'll become more self-aware, understanding your reactions and learning to adjust them so you are able to project a version of yourself that you really like.
What would I fight for?
Being clear about the people, belongings and causes you'd stand up for shows what your values are-and research has found that this is the key to happiness. "The point of knowing what you'd fight for is to focus on what's intrinsic to your existence," says Kenny. "These are the pillars of your life. Imagine life without certain things-like a friend, their politics, or shoes-and if you can, it's proof you don't need it." It's an important exercise.
Do I tend to generalise?
If we see other people do well, it's easy to think that person has it all and we have failed in some way. "But it's rare to find people who have genuinely gilded lives, the same as it is to find people who faced disaster after disaster," says Hodson. "The problem is that we generalise one event-so if we have one day of rain, we complain that it's been wet for months." While most generalisations don't affect our happiness, it's a habit that can compound low moods when something doesn't go our way. "If you feel you're bad at your job because you missed out on a promotion, remind yourself that this is just a moment in your life," says Hodson. You can stop generalising and free your mind to concentrate on your next step.
Who is the luckiest person I know?
Life has ups and downs for us all, but we all know one person who finds the great house, perfect job and Mr Right. "Having good things happen is often about good planning, for example anticipating pitfalls and avoiding them, but also consciously putting yourself in the way of opportunity," says self help guru Robert Kelsey, author of What's Stopping You? Being More Confident. "There's a part of your brain called the 'reticular activating system' that's like an antenna. I used to have it constantly turned into how things might go wrong, until I decided to tune into possibilities and then act on them." Kelsey advocates using episodes of bad luck as life lessons. "There's a saying: 'If you don't like the fish you're catching, change the bait.' Similarly, if you keep on doing the same thing and having bad luck-say, every man you meet is flaky-try something new."
Am I strong enough to accept blame?
When something goes wrong, our first instinct is often to defend ourselves and try to deflect blame on to something-or someone-else. It's a habit many of us pick up in childhood, but as adults we need to be more upfront. "By not facing mistakes, you risk undermining your own credibility with others and letting yourself down," says psychologist Mike Guttridge. "Be brave. Say, 'I did it, it was my responsibility and I was wrong,' then explain what you'll do in future. That way, you can make clearer decisions next time." Psychologically, you're taking back the power and showing you have the guts to own up. "You're also freeing yourself from any guilt associated with knowing that you messed up." Accepting your faults earns you more respect and admiration.
Does my life inspire me to be better?
"Thinking about different aspects of your life and challenging yourself to owe it your best efforts can really focus you on where you might want to make changes," says life coach Patrick Mathieu. "Imagine you woke up and promised to give your all to every single task ahead of you-from making the best breakfast to what you do at work and how you'll spend your free time. "Try living like that for one day and see how much better you'd feel. You'll find new ways to get excited about life."
Am I hard on others?
When our standards are set too high, it can make us quick to judge others-and disappointed when their efforts don't make the mark. "If you find yourself expecting too much of people, recognise that often others are doing their best and it's just that their best isn't our good enough," says Kenny. "This helps us to accept other people the way they are."
Who do I matter to?
We come into contact with new people all the time. But often, the sheer number of new relationships can be overwhelming and we lose sight of the people who really matter to us. "If there are people who make you feel 'less than', or whose expectations lead you to feeling like you're a failure, then these are toxic partnerships," says Kenny. "Great relationships are arenas we can enter and leave without a sense of guilt or requirement," she adds.
Do I listen?
We all like to think of ourselves as good listeners, but we often let judgments and assignments get in the way of our conversations. "Listening is about keeping an open mind," says Liggy Webb, author of How To Be Happy. "By suspending your own interpretation, you'll respond more objectively." So when you're chatting, instead of planning the next thing you're going to say even before there's a pause in the conversation, wait. Focus on what is being said and don't assume that what you say will be received the way you intended. Small talk is one thing, but when it comes to more serious stuff, the right words can be hugely powerful.