For a happier and healthier 2015 Emma Cook says forget the diet and instead make simple, manageable changes to your lifestyle

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The 5:2 diet has revolutionised the way people view dieting but what if you could apply the principles of the regime to all areas of your life? Emma Cook, an Editor at The Guardian and specialist in parenting, psychology and relationships, reckons the 5:2 concept can transform your health, wealth and happiness and she’s written a book to prove it. With our thoughts at this time of the year inevitably turning to resolutions, Emma shares here how her philosophy of balance and flexibility can help you have a happier year.

Emma explains: “Don’t set yourself up for failure with New Year resolutions that are over-ambitious. You’re much likely to feel happier if you can focus on small improvements in your life that improve your everyday experience and are, most importantly, within your power to achieve.”

1) Keep your worries in check

Nothing erodes your quality of life more than continual worry, small repetitive anxieties that stop us enjoying the present. Sometimes the most effective way of dealing with worry is simply to notice emotions and physical sensations, without reflection or analysis, and then let them go. Remind yourself these thoughts are ‘passing through’, not fixed and part of you but transient.

If you do one thing:

Each day focus on a small detail - like drinking a cup of tea. What does it taste like? What does the cup feel like in your hands? Focus on the experience in the moment, without wondering what you’ll be doing in the next half hour. If you can be present in the moment, it’s much more difficult to worry about the past or the future.

2) Stay active

We know from research that exercise improves our emotional as well as physical well-being. The one factor that uniformly appears to lessen our chances of so many critical conditions - from high blood pressure to obesity - also makes us significantly happier too, less prone to negativity and depression. But you don’t have to punish yourself daily in a gym - increasing research shows short and simple bursts even twice a week can make a radical difference.

If you do one thing:

Set yourself a target to raise your heart-rate twice a week - a really brisk walk, short run or even jogging on the spot indoors - for no more than ten minutes, anything that makes you out of breath. According to the most recent research, spending even a few minutes each week at an all-out level of effort will give you at least the same benefits as moderate exercise over a much longer period.

3) Switch off from technology

How we connect with other people is crucial to increasing happiness. To truly nurture and strengthen relationships and make new connections, we need to look beyond social media. At least once a week, take time out from Facebook, Twitter, emails and texts and focus on one-to-one time with family and friends.

If you do one thing:

Spend an hour making connections in an ‘old-fashioned’ way: phone a loved one for a chat, play a board game with your children, chat to a neighbour.

4) Do something different

Making small everyday tweaks to your routine can have a more substantial effect on your well-being than aiming for those big, unrealistic changes. Strike out and do something different in the daily routines you take for granted; thrive on the uncertainty of not knowing the outcome. Often we forget about the pleasure of surprise and the unexpected.

If you do one thing:

Once a day, challenge yourself to experiment with something new, even if it’s something different on the menu, a coffee or a sandwich you’ve never tried before. Only by changing small habits will you realise how much of your life is routine.

Travel home a different way - cross to a different side of the street; take a back road; get off the bus a stop early and walk. At home, sit in a different chair when you’re watching TV, and in a different seat at the dining table.

Look up at least three times during your next lunch break - what do you see that you haven’t seen before?

5) Celebrate the positives

All psychologists agree that focusing on the good aspects in our lives can quash negative thoughts and increase happiness. Recent research suggests that if we're grateful for what we have, we're likely to be happier, healthier and less vulnerable to depression.

As glib and contrived as it may sound, focusing on what is good about our lives is a tried and tested behavioural technique that appears to have long-term benefits.

If you do one thing…

Write down three things each day that are going well - if you can keep this up for longer than a week, it will make a difference; according to research, levels of wellbeing rise even up to six months after completing written journals.

6) Stay curious

According to positive psychologist Dr Martin Seligman, curiosity is one of the 24 key strengths that contribute to wellbeing. Curiosity increases our passion in all sorts of crucial areas from hobbies, relationships and understanding the world around us. The more curious we are, the more opportunities we have to enjoy experiences that are stimulating and inspiring.

If you do one thing…

Each day challenge yourself to ask three new questions and find out three things you didn’t know before. Chat to someone new and ask them about themselves; learn the meaning of one new word a week.

7) Relive a positive memory

Positive memories build resilience and protect you from negative thoughts. According to research, recalling detailed memories that are life-affirming can improve mood significantly, especially for people with a history of depression. It can also help to boost happiness in relationships - couples who thrive are more able to look back and access happier moments, remembering and sharing pleasurable memories. Drawing on your past can be your greatest resource, either on your own or with your partner.

If you do one thing..

Think of three positive memories, write them down and ‘re-play’ one or two vivid details from each one during the day. If you’re in a relationship, repeat the exercise with your partner.

5:2 Your Life by Emma Cook is available  here

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