There’s something poetic about watching sunrises and sunsets, she says.
Dubai-based Avanti Jacob feels a calming sense of peace and happiness when she watches them from her balcony. Once a routine, these few moments alone became a luxury in 2023. “I don’t think that I’ve had any time for myself this year,” she says rather candidly. “I feel like I’ve just been rushing to work, rushing back home, looking after my children, rushing to India to be with my father, who was hospitalised this year,” explains Jacob.
However, she promises to make more time for herself in 2024, which entails just getting up early and watching the sunrise while drinking a cup of hot tea and sitting with the family cat.
Most people have different ways to create a little happiness in their lives, even if they’re not able to do it often. For some, happiness lies in appreciating their daily routines, rituals and the habits of loved ones. That’s the case for British-born Gina Matthews, a Dubai-based freelancing content writer. “When life isn’t so hectic and an endless rollercoaster, I do like treasuring the smallest things, which make me happy,” she explains.
What could this be? For Matthews, It’s sometimes watching amusedly as her husband insists on making a large second cup of coffee for himself and never drinking it as he has to rush for work. There’s invariably a playful argument that follows. “I don’t want to take these moments for granted,” she says.
Sometimes, happiness is just an evening in the park alone, listening to music. She hasn’t had too many opportunities to do any of this in 2023, but like Jacob, she vows to pause and create more moments of happiness for herself in 2024.
What gives us happiness?
“I think the topic of happiness is rather subjective. Everyone has different ideas on what makes them happy,” says Catherine McNeely, a British mind and wellness expert, based in Dubai. “For instance, someone might find bliss in working out and going for regular jogs; another might not. That person might like just a pleasant walk,” she says.
On the other hand, Heather Broderick, life coach and clinical hypnotherapist, believes that happiness comes from within; people should stop looking at others for external validation. “Happiness comes from building your own self-esteem and confidence. You should look at the areas that make you unhappy, whether it is something like finance or personal relationships. You need to see where you can focus your energy and what makes you happy,” she adds.
Happiness might be subjective and varied, but the experts and UAE residents provide some broad ideas on how to manifest a happier 2024. What suits you?
Spending more time with your pets
This seems to resonate with several people. Most agreed that nothing is as cathartic as just cuddling, patting or playing with their dogs or cats in the morning. Abu Dhabi-based Canadian expat Adrianna Nicole, found two abandoned kittens outside her home last year, that have now grown into big, healthy furry cats. “I love playing with them, and watching them play together. They create such chaos by jumping on chairs and tables, frustrating my husband and me, but I actually wouldn’t have it any other way,” she says.
“Spending time with your animals as a routine, has actually proved quite beneficial for people’s well-being,” adds McNeely. “Cuddling your pet can actually induce the brain’s production of the love hormone – oxytocin,” she says. True to the name, oxytocin provides a range of benefits for the body, including include slowing down our heart rate and blood pressure. It’s a hindrance for escalating cortisol, the stress hormone. And there’s the release of dopamine, the happiness hormone, which helps you to focus better.
Letting go and forgiveness
It might sound a tad preachy, but working on letting go of bitterness and in some cases vengeance, is actually healing. Broderick elaborates, “If there are people who upset or hurt you in the previous year, work on learning how to walk away from them. Otherwise, instead of harbouring thoughts of hatred and revenge, just learn to forgive them,” she says.
If there are people who upset or hurt you in the previous year, work on learning how to walk away from them. Otherwise, instead of harbouring thoughts of hatred and revenge, just learn to forgive them...
Of course, this is an entirely internal process that takes place; you don’t have to quite walk up to the person and let them that you’ve forgiven them. We need to focus on more acceptance. "Accept how you feel, and stop blaming others too," says Broderick.
Spreading a little joy in the workplace
We get it: Most of us are overworked, stressed and tired and probably don’t have time to foster stronger relationships with the colleagues. “They’re just as overworked as you, most likely, so you can try to do little things to uplift the cheer at a stressful workstation,” says McNeely.
Checking in on your colleagues, for one. Maybe ask them for a coffee if you think they need a break, she adds. Sometimes, leaving a small chocolate on their desk could make them happy, and it could help in breaking down walls. This could foster more comfortable relationships and ease the tension. “It doesn’t have to be grand gestures like ordering a five-course meal; it could just be something like sitting with a colleague for a brief fun conversation to help them relax,” she says.
Karim Shawky, a Dubai-based hotelier, reveals that he recently began pampering his guests with a “chocolate hour”, where they enjoy eating chocolates, while interacting and talking to the staff. “It’s more than a treat; it helps to build connections and conversations over the love of chocolate,” he adds.
Clearly, chocolates go a long way.
Take up a reading challenge
This one is for the bookworms. Abu Dhabi-based American expat Rebecca Dale managed to complete half of her reading list in 2023; she plans to make a bigger list for 2024. “I promised to read 50 books in 2023; I managed around 25. In 2024, I want to extend my challenge just for myself,” she says. She says that her ambitious plan is around 100 books. “Even if I don’t reach that goal, at least I’ll manage around 60,” she adds. “Reading really makes me happy, and I think need more of literary happiness for 2024,” she says.
Dubai-based author Purva Grover plans a similar goal: Travelling with pages, stories and characters without moving at all. “I think, for me, happiness in 2024 will lie in the pages of books, or a Kindle version, and even an audiobook that I can tune into,” she says. Reading not only helps to acquire more knowledge and vocabulary, it also enhances creativity, which is important for those who work in those fields, says McNeely. “It will also give them new ideas, and give aspiring writers a chance to experiment with storytelling. Moreover, joining book clubs, meeting fellow bookworms also creates a strong sense of community and likeness,” she says.
A little gratitude and ‘habit stacking’
“I know practising gratitude may seem overrated and repetitive - but that's because it works,” explains Dubai-based Kai Simmonds, wellness expert. “The key though is to do it consistently, and yes you can even write the same thing everyday, some days, I am just grateful for my coffee and bed. The reason why this is so powerful is because it is rewiring your brain to start to have a more positive outlook on life. When you repeat the same small habits on a consistent basis, you can reprogram your subconscious brain which governs 90 per cent of what we do,” she says.
Practise gratitude. The key though is to do it consistently, and yes you can even write the same thing everyday, some days, I am just grateful for my coffee and bed. The reason why this is so powerful is because it is rewiring your brain to start to have a more positive outlook on life...
She also explains the idea of habit stacking. “So, if for example you have a cup of coffee and tea every morning and keep that as part of your routine, but add in either five minutes of guided meditation or five minutes of gratitude journaling practice to your coffee, instead of scrolling on social media while you sip your morning cup of coffee,” she says.
Controlling triggers in 2024
Huda Tabrez, a journalist at Gulf News, Dubai, promises to curb her triggers for 2024. Sharing her own personal story, she says, "The past few years have been slightly tough for me," she explains. "They came with a lot of growth, both personal and professional, which I make a point to be consciously grateful for, but they also came with a lot of pressure to manage that growth intelligently."
"I have always been a highly expressive person, living every emotion that I feel to the fullest. While that can be a great approach, it can also wear you down if you don’t keep the negative emotions in check. The habit of getting triggered too easily and dwelling a little too long on those emotions, has been a constant personal challenge for me," explains Tabrez.
She continues, "A casual conversation with a friend of mine brought this habit to the fore. He was sharing a personal experience with me, not a pleasant one, the details of which I will not be able to share. But while I would have had a strong reaction to that unpleasant experience if I were in his situation, and would have continued to feel angry or wronged for a lot longer, he seemed to have made his peace with it very quickly and moved on. His voice and demeanour were calm, his response to when I asked him, “Didn’t that make you angry?” was a shrug and a smile. And that left me thinking – am I taking away from my own peace of mind and happiness by holding on too long to the little triggers in life? And, am I getting triggered too easily?"
"I’ve always been an impulsive human being, but would it be better now – having lived for a good 37 years on this planet – to not react as quickly as I do? I think it might help. And that’s the experiment I’m going to embark on in 2024. Be more aware when things bother me, and be more in control of that impulse to jump into action when triggered. I’ll still take action – communicate a frustration, draw a personal boundary or even cry. But may be, just may be, I’ll do that after a deep breath and a pause. And a lot of grace. For myself, and for those around me, especially the close ones, who may trigger me once in a while, but are wonderful all the same. Let’s see how it goes," she adds.
A guide to manifesting happiness
Happiness sometimes doesn’t come so easily to most of us. In that regard, Carolyn Yaffe, a counsellor and cognitive behaviour therapist at the Dubai-based Medcare Camali Clinic gives a guide on how to manifest that happiness.
1. Understand the triggers that make you happy: “Many people perceive happiness differently. For example, social media would have you believe that in order to be happy, you need money, success, and a large number of friends,” says Yaffe. “However, that may not be what makes you feel happy. So, grab a piece of paper and jot down all the things in life, big and small, that make you happy and that you believe you may be lacking right now,” she adds.
Grab a piece of paper and jot down all the things in life, big and small, that make you happy and that you believe you may be lacking right now...
2. Visualise yourself in the happy situation: Once you've decided what you want to materialise and why, spend some time visualising how your life will look like once you acquire the thing you wanted.
3. Create affirmations: Manifestations function by altering your energy and behaviour to reflect your desired outcome as if you already had it. Consider three statements that you can repeat daily in order to help you attract your goal.
4. Embody the person you want to be at the end of the manifestation: After you've established your affirmations, make sure your conduct resembles your manifestation goals. So, if you want to make new friends, for example, be open to meeting new people, adds Yaffe.