When saying no is the nicest thing you can do

The younger me wanted to be friends with eeeeveryone. She wanted everyone to like her, or at least ‘be okay’ with her. She hated to disappoint, or upset, or anger anyone. In the end though, this meant that the only person who was disappointed, upset or angered was myself. This was exhausting. 

Then one day – one of those days when I was thoroughly exhausted and fed up – a friend asked me this hard question: “Are you your best self when you’re with these people and doing these things?”

That question fired up something bright, a single flicker in a dark room and the answer came immediately: of course I wasn’t at my best; I was too depleted to be. It was revolutionary to me to realize that so much of what I was doing was actually stopping me from fully being me. I’d spent so much time and energy worrying about how to keep everyone else happy that I didn’t have anything left for me. I wasn’t expanding, I wasn’t developing the things I was passionate about or broadening any of the good qualities I was fortunate enough to have. I was just… there, hovering at the flattest, broadest, most stagnant plateau there was just so I could get through each day ensuring that everyone around me was pleased with me (or at least not displeased). 

The same friend went on to point out a second hard truth (she wasn’t mincing her words that afternoon): that although I was ‘being nice’ to everyone by answering their calls for help, volunteering to do everything and never saying no to requests, I was actually being quite dishonest about it all. And that’s not very nice. 

Back up. Dishonest? But I only wanted everyone to be happy. How could that be dishonest? 

She was right though. I was agreeing to all these things and nodding along to requests, but then going away and feeling resentful, tired and reluctant. Because these weren’t necessarily things that I personally wanted to do, and these people weren’t all people that I was particularly close to and loved, a lot of what I was doing was half-hearted, even slightly angry. I went into things – tasks, offers of help, friendships – with plenty of zeal to please but at heart, I felt mostly dread, annoyance or sheer indifference. The truth to hit me hardest was realizing that I didn’t actually care about what I was doing anymore. 

For all I was doing to try to be nice, I wasn’t of any real service to anyone, not least myself. As much as I felt like a champion of doing so many things and being so many people’s friend, none of it was making me more of me. Actually, it was diminishing who I was; I had become a miserable, downtrodden shadow of the person I was. 

I had to change what I was doing because it was too exhausting to continue that way. Since then – and it’s been a long, hard road – I’ve learnt to very carefully and gently say no to things, situations and people as soon as I start to feel like something is making me back down on myself. By that, I mean I feel less able to be myself, or that something is pulling me directions I don’t actually enjoy or am uncomfortable with. 

This could be something as simple as choosing not to engage in a difficult conversation, to something more complex like stopping contact altogether with people who I feel are being too demanding or on very different paths to my own. It could mean literally saying no to a request; or more subtly, being discerning about who I choose to spend my time and energy with. 

Sometimes, I decline all social invitations and stay in the whole weekend with nobody but myself and mugs of tea – and know that this is totally okay and kind and honest to everyone, even the people I’ve said no to. It is okay because these are the days I build myself back up to my fullest potential and charge my spiritual, emotional and mental batteries. It is okay because I know that when I do start interacting again, I’m clear-headed enough to choose to surround myself with situations and people that are going to uplift me and enable me to give my best to whomever I’m with.  

People-pleasing has become a scourge of our modern day sensibilities. Of course it’s important to be sensitive, mindful and as kind as possible to the people around us, but if trying to fulfill all these demands on our time and energy restricts our own growth, dampens our spirits and tires us out, we’re not giving of ourselves fully anyway. We give only partially, perhaps begrudgingly and distractedly – so how helpful is that going to be to anyone anyway? How much can we really give or do – for ourselves or anyone else – when we’re running on empty? 

Sometimes, I’ve learnt, the kindest thing we can do is to say no, to step back, to unashamedly enjoy the rest and quiet we need for ourselves, recharge and recalibrate. Then, when we do say yes, it’s an emphatic one – yes! We make the deliberate choice to engage with what energizes us, what supports us to contribute the best we have to bring with us, what makes us fuller, more joyful, more excited and curious. 

Then we know that when we finally say yes, it is truly a good thing for our own growth, clarity, happiness and peace of mind. And if that’s making us the fullest, brightest beings we can be, we are offering the best of ourselves to the people we choose to spend our time with.

Now that’s really nice. 


Jamie Khoo is currently doing a PhD in Women’s Studies at the University of York, UK, where she is researching contemporary constructions of feminine beauty and body image. She has also written for Elle MalaysiaHuffington Post UK Blogs, Time Out Kuala Lumpur, elephant journal and the be you media group. Sick of being told by mass media and society what “beautiful” is or isn't, Jamie founded the website a beauty full mind to challenge conventional beauty ideals and create new conversations around what beauty can mean today. Say hello to her on Facebook or email hello@abeautyfullmind.com

Hygge: the art of celebrating life, little things and everyday comforts

When developing a meditation practice, we often find that the act of sitting and taking time for ourselves, perhaps in a special place or at a special time, begins to feels like a nurturing practice. We learn to associate it with comfort and self care.

The Danish word Hygge has a similar meaning. There’s no exact translation but it’s viewed as a ritual where one can find enjoyment and comfort in life’s simple pleasures. That might be enjoying the company of friends or family. Doing something that feels nurturing and creates contentment or feelings of warmth.

Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down.

Some examples are creating a cozy evening by candlelight, eating comfort food, taking a warm bath, Doing something you enjoyed as a child, going for a bike ride with a good friend. Any simple pleasures that makes you feel happy and comforted.

The word ‘Hygge’ originates from a Norwegian word meaning ‘well-being’. For almost five hundred years, Denmark and Norway were one kingdom, until Denmark lost Norway in 1814.

‘Hygge’ appeared in written Danish for the first time in the early 1800s, and the link between hygge and well-being or happiness may be no coincidence. Danes are the happiest people in Europe according to the European Social Survey, but they are also the ones who meet most often with their friends and family and feel the calmest and most peaceful.

Therefore, it is with good reason that we see a growing interest in hygge. Journalists are touring Denmark searching for hygge; in the UK, a college is now teaching Danish hygge; and around the world, hygge bakeries, shops and cafés are popping up.

Although this a celebrated practice in Denmark, it can be experienced anywhere, so the next time you're feeling like you could use some comfort, perhaps contemplate the ways you can bring hygge into your life. Maybe even today.


For more inspiration and learning how to create Hygge in your home and life, be sure to check out The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking.

7 Principles of happiness

We’re all on this constant search for happiness. And it’s funny that something so many people crave is so difficult to attain. We look for it in all kinds of places… A nice home, a successful job, the perfect partner or weight, but even when we attain all these things happiness still eludes us.

The reason why? We’re so busy looking for it in achievements and pleasures we miss the fact that happiness is actually born from the inside out.

There are seven principles that significantly contribute to the state of our happiness.

Let’s take a closer look –
 

Seeing the world through the lens of gratitude.

Gratitude is the ultimate antidote to unhappiness because when you’re experiencing it, it’s almost impossible to feel bleak.
It helps you see the bright side of things when life can otherwise feel impossible. It enables you to appreciate your circumstances and all that you have, rather than focusing on what you lack.

Gratitude is not always easy.

Life is far from perfect, but when we experience challenges, pain or loss that’s when it’s most valuable.

The more you practice gratitude the easier it becomes, and the more benefits you experience.
Studies have shown that people who practice gratitude consistently report psychological benefits such as being more alert, optimistic and happy.

They experience social benefits like feeling generous, compassionate, and connected to others.
There are physical benefits such as a stronger immunity and ability to cope with stress and pain.

Gratitude blocks toxic and negative emotions and enhances positive ones, so you can see why it’s worth the effort to practice.

Just imagine what it would feel like to have wonder, thankfulness and appreciation as your primary state of being?


Offer yourself love and acceptance.


Did you know the way you think about yourself is more directly connected to your happiness than the circumstances of your life?

One of the most crucial keys in experiencing day-to-day joy is the level of our self-love and acceptance.


You’d think this would be a given.

But without even realizing it, most of us are incredibly self-critical. We judge ourselves for everything.

We either don’t have enough money or love, security or success, talent, beauty or possessions.

And we blame ourselves for all of it.

We have this idea that the harder we push ourselves, the higher we’ll excel, and the higher we excel, the happier we’ll be. This means constant critiquing, berating, and judging.

The problem is, we’ve got it all wrong. It’s not through judgment that we find motivation or happiness. It’s through self-love and acceptance. Happiness and self-acceptance go hand in hand.

In fact, our level of self-acceptance determines our level of happiness.

Basically, we experience as much happiness as we believe we’re worthy of.

The practice of self-love and acceptance is an invitation to stop judging ourselves. It’s about accepting who we are with an open heart and treating ourselves with the same kindness, love and compassion we’d offer a good friend—or even a stranger, for that matter.


It teaches us to be gentle with ourselves rather than harsh and critical. And instead of the endless comparison game we play, we can start appreciating our unique magnificence, which includes our imperfections.

It’s through self-love and acceptance that we find peace and happiness in our hearts.


Learn to let go.


It’s natural for us to want things to be a certain way. If we had it our way we’d control everything: Our parents, our health, the weather…

Unfortunately, in the game of life, there’s not much we can control.

We can however, choose how we respond to things when they don’t go our way. And the answer is in letting go.

We cling to anger, regret, grudges and opinions. But is fighting to hold on to that which happened in the past actually useful?

Or does it actually hurt us? Might it be that we actually find freedom and happiness by letting go of the past and accepting the present?

When you have no control over how things go, and you get angry, or upset, the person you’re hurting most is you.

Allow yourself to feel whatever comes up when you experience resistance – that’s essential.
But it’s important to keep in mind, that the sooner you can accept whatever’s going on, the sooner you experience freedom and peace of mind.

It’s in the act of letting go, that happiness returns.


Live in the now.


Most of us carry this sense that happiness is somewhere out there in the future. Our hope is that we’ll find it in our next relationship, purchase, or experience.

But all it takes is a quick look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs to see that as soon as we’ve satisfied one need another one arises. This leaves us unhappy and unfulfilled.

We might experience happiness for a short time after getting that shiny new thing, but ultimately, it’s fleeting, and we’re right back where we started.

Pursuing things we don’t have in order to feel happy is a never-ending race.
In order to find real happiness, we have to stop looking for it in the future, ‘cause where it’s actually found is in this very moment.

Most of us don’t recognize, we’re rarely in this moment, but it’s true – nearly all our thoughts revolve around the past or the future. Now, sometimes this can be useful.

Life involves planning ahead and learning from the past, but often, our minds are full of regret and worry, which actually holds us back.

Based on our past experiences, we decide we can’t achieve things, so we don’t even bother trying. And when we’re worrying about the future we’re putting ourselves through unnecessary grief visualizing outcomes that may never even happen.

When we’re living in the moment we’re not ruminating about concerns or are anxious about what might happen.

We’re connected to what’s happening right now. And when we befriend the present moment that’s when we experience happiness.



Embrace uncertainty.


I think we can agree that we’re all most comfortable when it feels like we’ve got life under control.

Unfortunately, we can’t ever be certain of what the future holds. Even when it looks like things are going one way, anything can change in a heartbeat.


Change, of any type is scary. When something changes it challenges our ideas and feelings of safety and security. Change might involve risk, failure, or heartbreak. We have such a fear of the unknown, we’ll do anything to prevent it. That might mean staying in an unhealthy relationship or job… Not taking a risk towards your dreams, not leaping towards goals due to the potential of failure…

We try and protect ourselves by remaining in our comfort zone, doing what we’ve always done to get the results we’ve always gotten, but even then, it’s impossible to control anything for long.

Change is a constant and is always right around the corner.

That leaves us with a choice: we can either live with fear or learn to embrace uncertainty.
Imagine if you were able to view the unknown as an exciting opportunity rather than a threat.
What if it were possible to turn towards uncertainty rather than fear it?

Befriend the unknown rather than run from it. Suddenly life wouldn’t feel scary at all, would it?
You’d be fearless.

Stepping into that place of fearlessness requires a peaceful mind. So meditation is one of the most productive activities you can practice to open to uncertainty.
 

Prioritize your health.

Often in the daily grind of life, our health gets sacrificed. After all, we have to prioritize. We can’t abandon work ‘cause we’ve got to get ahead.

Preparing healthy food is time consuming so we eat out or skip meals… we postpone hitting the gym… Getting enough sleep is a rarity…and taking time out to give our racing minds a break becomes a fantasy.

Life takes over, our health falls by the wayside, and we wonder why we aren’t happy.
The benefits aren’t always visible.

To start, exercise is one of the most effective instant happiness boosters of all time. Study after study show that regular physical activity increases happiness, reduces anxiety and stress and alleviates depression.

In many cases it’s been shown to be just as effective as antidepressants.
In addition to strengthening your muscles, joints, lungs, heart, and memory, the serotonin and endorphins that are released enhance your mood and sleep.

So as you can see there are plenty of reasons to get active.

Getting rest is also imperative. Considering that a single sleepless night can make you irritable and moody, it’s no surprise that chronic sleep deprivation leads to depression and anxiety. When we don’t get enough sleep, we’re less focused, less attentive, less creative and patient – so if you want to be happy, make getting enough shut-eye a priority.

A healthy diet is also vital. When we fill our stomachs with refined sugar, artificial sweeteners and processed food it leaves us tired and cranky. In contrast, healthy food choices help combat depression and boost our mood.

Last, it’s important to give our minds a break from overstimulation and stress. And there’s no better way to do that than through meditation.

It’s proven that meditation has a multitude of positive effects that directly impact our happiness. It’s one of the top tools for managing anxiety, ill health and depression.
Meditating helps people feel more calm, clear and centered, providing a sense of well being that can last all day.
 

Take time to play.

When was the last time you laughed? I mean, really laughed. One of those big belly laughs that goes on and on and brings tears to your eyes. If you’re lucky, it was over the last couple of days.

But if you’re like many of us, you’re so busy trying to get ahead or tending to your to-do list, that laughter isn’t as familiar as it once was.

Children laugh on average up to 300 times a day, Adults, about 17 times. That’s a huge difference in our level of happiness.

Obviously, age is a factor because kids don’t have the same concerns and responsibilities as we do, but part of why they laugh more is because playtime’s on their calendar.

Adults find it hard to schedule in “fun,” because there are only so many hours in a day and many of us feel we have to earn our playtime.

We’re on a race to success and feel our time is too precious to sacrifice. But research shows that happiness is a huge part of what leads to success.

This means rather than spending all our time focusing on achieving future goals, it benefits us to access joy right now.

How much happiness do you experience when you’re doing things in order to get ahead in the future, versus immersing yourself in an activity that brings you joy in the moment? It’s likely a significant difference because it’s proven that when we’re in a flow and completely immersed in something, our level of happiness is the highest.

Think of how good it feels when you engage in activities that make you happy.

What it’s like to be with people who make you laugh.

Reflect on how it feels to be completely swept up in a hobby you’re passionate about.

One of the keys to happiness includes carving out time each week to engage in play. Not waiting till you’re further ahead in life to feel you’re entitled to take the time.


In our 7 days of Happiness Program we explore each of these principles and you’ll be guided through a themed meditation along with practical strategies you can test out in your own life to enhance the level of your happiness.

The simple key to unlock happiness

How often do you pause to appreciate what you have?

For most of us the answer is not enough.

We tend to focus our attention on that which we lack, and it’s easy for day-to-day things to go by unnoticed.

But if people realized that gratitude was kind of like a super power, and responsible for unlocking happiness, they’d probably practice it a whole lot more.

When we focus on that for which we’re grateful, it makes us feel good because it widens our perspective. When we’re caught in stress or despair, we often develop tunnel vision and are only able to focus on the negative.

Gratitude helps us see the bright side of things amidst the challenges. It enables us to appreciate our circumstances and all that we have, rather than focusing on what we lack.

It’s really the ultimate antidote to unhappiness because when we’re experiencing wonder, thankfulness and appreciation, it’s almost impossible to feel bleak.

So the question is, how can we strengthen our experience of gratitude? We can’t manufacture emotions and for many of us finding gratitude is challenging. Not everyone’s a glass-half-full kind of person.

Luckily, gratitude is a habit that can be developed. By taking time to regularly focus on what’s good in our lives, the more gratitude grows and the easier it becomes.
 
Starting with gratitude for this very moment. The fact that you are here right now.
 
Appreciating the use of our senses, our eyes that let us view spectacular colors in the sky…
Our ears that let us hear the trickle of rain, music and the voices of our loved ones.
Our ability to touch, taste, smell… offering us a direct enjoyment of the world around us.

 

And finding appreciation for the people in our lives. Our family. Our partners. Friends – old and new. People who have offered us support and kindness. Children who bring us laughter.

Time and time again, research shows that those who have an attitude of gratitude are more alert, optimistic and happy.

How could they not be when gratitude blocks toxic and negative emotions and promotes the savoring of positive ones?

People who practice gratitude consistently feel more generous, compassionate, and connected to others.

Ultimately, gratitude is one of the great keys to unlocking happiness.

 

So as a way to begin building the habit of bringing gratitude into your life, tonight, just before bed, reflect on 5-10 things for which you’re grateful.
 
And when you recite the list in your mind, remember it’s not enough to just say the words… The point is to really tune into the feeling of appreciation for whatever you mention. That’s when you’ll experience the benefits.
 
That’s all you need to do to start and begin strengthening your propensity towards gratitude.


 
Try Calm for free. Get started.