The Advantage of Being Happy

Intuitively I have known my entire working life that being happy is always a much better starting point than being miserable. Not only have I read countless books on the subject (trying to find the magic formula to happiness)and discussed it at length with many clients over the years (who searched for the same formula), I know from my own life that being happy gives me a confidence and an overview that makes things somehow effortless. Yet it hasn’t stopped me chasing happiness and it hasn’t made me immune to the grip of the “IF…Then” trap, that works on the basis of “If this happens…Then I will be happy.” The advantage of being happy is so logical and straightforward that it is the biggest sought after emotion. “I just want to be happy”, so many clients have said to me over the years, picturing some sort of utopia of a heavenly life that maybe, just maybe would be attainable some day in the distant future. And although I have always counted my blessings, I am also guilty of seeing happiness as a future destination rather than a day to day objective.

I am currently reading “the Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor and if happiness is something that you are after, then I would highly recommend this book. What I knew to be true for all those years, although I have practiced it only to a degree, can now be proven scientifically in study after study after a decade of research in positive psychology. Instead of chasing happiness as an objective, it appears that humans perform so much better and achieve so much more, if they ARE happy. The book outlines and backs up the notion that our formula for happiness as a reward after hard work is floored and backwards. Happiness generates success rather than the other way around.

new forest

In some ways that makes for uncomfortable reading and the fact that our left hand side of the brain gets satisfied with the data to prove it, makes it even more uncomfortable. After all, chasing happiness gives everyone an optional ticket for misery should you choose to use it. If life feels uphill, or things aren’t working out, then you could always indulge in the grey, hoping passively that sunlight would come to you one day. With the knowledge that happiness generates success, there is nowhere to hide; if nothing else, you can take responsibility for making you and those around you happy and research proves that this can be in the smallest things. In actual fact it is the small things that on a regular basis make all the difference.

So, despite the sleepless nights I endure with a newborn baby at the moment I am managing to stay afloat with the aid of the happiness advantage. I am at the mercy of my baby’s feeding and sleeping times but I am all too aware of how quickly this phase will be behind me. I absorb each gorgeous moment of total happiness, making time (even if it is minutes) to do some exercise, read, write and meet friends. Celebrating the weekend by going on little “adventures” (as my sons call it) to the sea, new forest etc.
My brain and my ego-identity want to run off, set a whole bunch of long term goals and re-define happiness in an even bigger and better sense, but I’m resisting this whilst rolling with the moment. If happiness is truly the engine behind achievement, then all will fall into place. In a way, that is only a small step away from having faith and belief. That is not the same as sitting back and watching it all unfold, but that is actively living your life, happily, each and every day.

Caring for your Tummy Muscles to Create a Flat Stomach

Over the years the most burning question on people’s lips when talking about physical fitness, has always been “how can I get a flat stomach?” Often people are filled with assumptions and myths about this topic, like “you either have a flat stomach or not”, or “if you have had a baby it’s impossible to get your flat tummy back” or “doing sit ups will create a flat stomach”. This blog piece will give you some information and simple tips so you can start caring for your tummy muscles to create a flat stomach.

Firstly, the muscles that we are talking about are the abdominal muscles, although many refer to them as stomach muscles. The stomach is an organ and aside from filling it modestly with nutritious foods, you really do not want to work that stomach in any other way. The abdominal muscles cover the front of the body and most importantly they allow you to bend the trunk and they work in synergy with the back muscles in order to protect your lower spine.
Many people these days have sedentary jobs, which means that they sit for hours a day. As a result many suffer lower back problems and pain due to lack of activity and weak abdominal muscles. Whilst sitting at a desk there is no need for you to contract or control your abdominal muscles in any way and often people slouch in their chairs exacerbating the problem. People in professions who stand for long periods of time, or need to lift, or mums who carry their children are all at risk of lower back problems and postural injuries. The body wasn’t meant to sit/stand in the same position for long periods of time. Add to that mounting stress that many people experience, all contributing to tense muscles and tired bodies. It is essential to have a postural awareness and work postural muscles especially the abdominal/tummy muscles in order to prevent injury.

flat tummy

Often people have told me that they do a few sit ups a day or they tell me excitedly that they manage to do 100 sit ups in one go. The sit up is a difficult exercise to get right technique wise, but quite aside from that there is no point in doing excessive sit ups if your posture is poor. So to begin with (and you can do this almost immediately), you need to build some postural awareness.

  • Try and remind yourself as often as at all possible to lengthen your spine from the top of your head. You will feel that in doing this you will gently tighten your abdominal muscles. Practice as often as possible “standing or sitting tall”.
  • Whenever you have to take a walk anywhere, like to the bathroom or in a shopping street or at a train station, or whenever you remember, actively pull in your tummy muscles. This will feel as if you are trying to do up trousers that are too tight. You pull your belly button to the spine and then hold for a few seconds. Don’t let it completely relax afterwards, always hold a tension in those muscles as they are meant to protect the lower back. Simultaneously (ladies) you can contract your pelvic floor muscles.
  • Put a small cushion in the small of your back if you are sitting at a desk or in the car. This reminds you keep your posture tall. If you are not used to sitting correctly then it may seem in the beginning that slouching is more comfortable until you get used to sitting upright.
  • Get moving in any way possible. Some movement is better than no movement as the body was meant to be active. So get up of your desk, walk around or better still take up a sport or exercise.

Caring for your tummy muscles to create a flat stomach takes time and patience. It isn’t something you can do occasionally, but something you need to exercise every day and all day. It doesn’t require exercise equipment or a gym, but mindfulness and awareness. Place reminders all over the place until it becomes second nature, or tell a friend to point it out if you have bad posture.

I will go into abdominal exercises in a further post, but as aforementioned they will have little effect until you have a real awareness of your posture and corrected any issues with it.

If you –like me- just had a baby, then take it easy to start with. It has taken 9 months for your body to change completely, so do not expect thing to ping back into place overnight. In fact by pushing and by being impatient you could do more harm than good. When your body indicates that it’s ready then follow the above mentioned tips to re-address your posture and find your core stability again. Be patient, but take care of yourself when lifting your baby and when you are feeding or carrying the baby. Those are all good opportunities to pull those muscles in to protect the lower back, whilst waking up those tummy muscles.

Good luck. More abdominal tips to come!

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