There are a lot of things involved in our happiness and wellbeing. Everything from our work life to our personal relationships can affect the way we feel at any given time, which then, in turn, can affect our feelings over days, weeks, months and even years. Sometimes, you need to give the daunting task of managing your happiness a bit of a trim.
Guiding words are an excellent way to do this.
The general idea here is that having a single word theme for your journey to happiness will help to give your targets and behaviours a bit more shape. It’s a difficult concept to explain but bear with me. This article will explain everything with examples of how guiding words can help you on your journey.
The purpose of guiding words
For many of us, keeping ourselves happy and mentally healthy takes work and a commitment to self-care. And it’s that commitment that probably brought you to this blog.
So, you’ve decided to be happier. Great!
But where do you start?
See, our lives are so complicated, with so many thoughts and feelings bombarding our minds, so many tasks and tribulations challenging our moods, that it can sometimes be difficult to see what needs working on first. In the maelstrom of things that could be focused on, we can become overwhelmed and end up unable to cope.
So, what’s the solution?
For me, structure.
The idea here is to give that daunting task of managing your happiness, in all of its facets, a little bit of a trim, breaking it down into bite sized chunks or at least condensing it down to the most fundamental issues at hand.
Guiding words are an excellent way to do this.
What are guiding words?
The general idea here is that having a single word theme for your journey to happiness will help to give your targets and behaviours a bit more shape. It’s a difficult concept to explain but bear with me.
You wake up one morning and decide ‘I’m going to be happier from now on’. That’s a lovely idea, but what do you actually do about it? It’s such a broad target that it can be difficult to actually pinpoint what needs to be done to achieve the final goal. You try really hard to just ‘be happier’, but it feels like you’re climbing Everest, and you can’t even see the top.
How do guiding words help you?
Now imagine that instead of just thinking ‘I’m going to be happier’ you decide on a word, a theme, for your year, day, week, or whatever period of time you need. If that word was ‘Home’ for example, it might mean that you want to spend more time with your family, you want to work from home more often, or that you want to make sure that you keep your weekends free.
Suddenly, a number of concrete, manageable goals spring to mind, all of which will likely make you happier.
This is the beauty of guiding words. They do exactly what they say on the tin – they guide you towards happiness by shining a light on specific things in your life that need changing or attention.
Examples of guiding words
There are loads of words to choose from… technically any word in any language will do… but here are a few of my favourites.
We all like to think of ourselves as intrepid adventurers, always seeking that next life-changing experience… but sometimes life itself gets in the way. Work, family and the general commitments of the day-to-day can take up so much of our time that we never have a chance to get out there and see what the world has to offer.
Now, taking ‘adventure’ as your guiding word won’t suddenly turn you into Indiana Jones, I’m afraid, but it might just shift your focus towards seizing new experiences as and when they do present themselves.
You’ll be surprised at how often opportunities come and go, and how many you may have missed because you weren’t looking. Tim Minchin, during a 2013 address to graduates at the University of Western Australia, summed this idea up perfectly while talking about the dangers of fixating on long-term goals.
“If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye.”Tim Minchin
Life can get busy, right? If you’re lucky enough to love your job you might not even notice how much you work, or if you’re a particularly talented athlete (kudos) training might come first over all else.
There’s nothing wrong with any of this, by the way, but if you do want to have just that little more time with your family, or even just some ‘me’ time on the sofa watching Queer Eye, then talking ‘Home’ as your guiding word might just give you that kick to clock off on time every now and then, or give that training session a miss.
This is a really good one. The health benefits of gratitude are well documented, on this very blog. Not only will your mental health improve, but your physical health will as well! I know! Magic!
Unlike the other two examples, by taking ‘Gratitude’ as your guiding word you probably won’t prompt much change in your behavior, but rather a change in the way you see the world around you. This theme for your year tries to remind you to stop every once in a while and take the time to be thankful for the good in your life.
Not only will this help you to recognize when other people deserve your gratitude, which is always a good thing, but it may also help you to actually see how good your life really is. It can be easy to lose sight of the positives when we, quite naturally, fixate on the negatives. By taking ‘Gratitude’ as your word, you might just be able to combat that natural human pessimism and live a healthier and happier life.
This one is fairly self-explanatory, but if you want to get right on with living by this theme, I suggest you take notes. Bullet pointed, of course.
Being organised comes naturally to some people (I shall never understand how), but for many of us (me) it most certainly does not. There are just so many things in this world that can distract you and coerce you into leaving files half-filed, plans half-made and cakes half-baked (If you’re baking a cake while reading this article, do me a favour and go check on it… just in case… is it chocolate? I like chocolate).
Ok, my hilarious use of brackets aside, this particular guiding word is actually a bit of a life changer. I can attest to the fact that putting in the effort to be just that little bit more organised does actually make life easier and happier.
Clichés like ‘Tidy desk, Tidy mind’ might be a little bit irritating, but they’re not exactly untrue… Taking ‘Organisation’ as your guiding word won’t be the quick fix to get your life all squared and neat in one easy step, it takes work and commitment. But, just like the other yearly themes, if you have the idea of organisation in the back of your mind for a while, you will start to notice that your room is a little neater, your desk is a bit cleaner and your life is just generally more orderly.
This is my guiding word. I figured if I’m dishing out advice it’s only fair that I tell you what I’m going to do with my own bright ideas.
It can be hard to actually live in the moment, can’t it? There are always plans to be made, challenges on the horizon and even blemishes in your past that keep you from moving forward. We spend so much of our time in our own heads that we can sometimes lose sight of what is actually going on outside of our own mental walls.
Have you ever been outside on a beautiful day, and after 20 minutes of walking realised you hadn’t even noticed the heat of the sun, the rustle of the leaves or the chirping of birds because you were too busy wrapped up in you own thoughts? I have. It’s a difficult thing to snap yourself out of, to be honest, but it’s also very much worth it.
I took ‘presence’ as my guiding word to remind me to experience life as it is happening, right now, not as it was last week or as I hope it will be next year. There is a freedom to living in the moment that, at least for me, was accompanied with a freeing of my mental health too. It’s not an easy road, but it’s still one that I really suggest taking.
After all, in the immortal words of Master Oogway, of Kung Fu Panda fame (great film, highly recommend):
Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.
Just because those are the words of a fictional, animated Tortoise does not make them any less wise. After all, wisdom can come from the strangest of places.
I really like the idea of guiding words. They provide a loose structure that is both supportive and flexible. Within the parameters of your chosen word, you can still operate mostly as normal, with no major upheavals to your day-to-day life, whilst also being aware of your actions and making small, occasional changes that will eventually add up to be life-changing.
Self-improvement is hard. That’s just the way it is. But using this method it doesn’t have to feel like you’re climbing Everest. Instead, you can climb that hill in your local park, many times, over the course of a year. By the time Christmas rolls around, you probably have climbed higher, in total, on your little hill than the 8,848m of Everest, all without having to fly to Nepal and risk your fingers falling off from frostbite.
Seems like it might be worth a try, don’t you think?