I’ve been offline for almost 2 months. Deep in the Amazon jungle. Disconnecting in order to reconnect with Self and Nature. So much insight and learning that I hope to share with you over this and upcoming posts.
I should preface this particular post by stating that I am by no means an expert on happiness. I’m still trying to work it out myself. In fact, I have many days where I’m not feeling so happy. But over the last few years, I’ve made a concerted effort to improve the quality of my life, which includes my overall happiness.
For a long time, like many others, I believed that happiness was attained through the acquisition of things – make enough money to buy things that I think make me happy but then don’t really make me happy at all. That sort of thing. I had a lot of things. Did they make me happy? Well, the truth is I wasn’t UNhappy. But that feeling of gratification or satisfaction, that buzz I felt after buying a new pair of shoes, for example, was definitely fleeting. Momentary. And I was always left with a continued sense of wanting. And an empty space where I had quickly digested the instant gratification. Sort of like how you feel an hour after eating Chinese food. Hungry again.
We live in a culture that equates wealth, appearance, status and possessions with happiness. But these materialistic ideals often result in increased anxiety and depression, longer working hours, shallow relationships, growing environmental problems and crippling levels of personal debt. And the truth is, it’s the quality of our relationships as well as our mental and emotional wellbeing that have a much greater impact on our experience of happiness than our physical appearance, possessions or income. Research suggests that being happy can increase our lifespan. And our own personal happiness, in turn, influences the happiness of people we know.
So all of this looks really good, doesn’t it? If we make space for a little extra happiness, we live longer, the people we love are happier and so they live longer. What’s stopping us then? What we choose to do day-to-day has a significant effect on our happiness and satisfaction with life. And it doesn’t take drastic measures (like spending two months in the jungle) to create a little more space for happiness in your life.
I guess the point of this post is to remind people that happiness is a process of small steps. It takes some mindful action. And, yes, some people are more pre-disposed to happiness than others. But everyone can be happy. Ok, maybe not everyday, but almost everyday. We just need to try. It actually is a habit that can be developed through practice. So here are 17 simple practices that can make a difference in your own personal happiness. And if you already do most of them, you’re probably already a pretty happy camper. But chances are, we could all stand to be a little happier.
Smiling is scientifically proven to increase well-being, help you feel better, enhance your mood, and decrease stress. Smiles are also highly contagious. Try frowning around someone who’s smiling. It’s really hard.
Take your smile to the next level. Laughing has the same effects as smiling. It is a potent mood booster. Spend more time with the people that make you laugh the most and the hardest.
3. Be polite and courteous
Just like Mom taught you to be. When you say “please” and “thank you”, you acknowledge that someone has done something nice for you. That acknowledgement, in turn, makes them feel good. And if they feel good, you feel good. It’s a win-win.
4. Be kind to people
Again, take it to the next level. Kindness is contagious and increases the levels of happiness of both the giver and the receiver. You don’t have to go out of your way to be kind. It’s the small things that make a difference. Hold the door open for someone. Say something genuinely and sincerely nice to someone. Let that person or car ahead of you. You’ll make someone’s day. And the smile they give you will make yours (see #1).
5. Eat … well and slowly
Eat well – Choose foods that nourish you. Eat when you’re hungry. Don’t eat when you’re not (ie. bored). Try, as much as possible, to eat foods that are whole, fresh, organic and unprocessed. Eat lots of veggies!
Eat slowly – Savour your food. Enjoy your food. Be grateful that you have it. We often rush through our meals. But food is the fuel that allows us to live. Take your time during meals. Your digestive system will be happier. And so will you!
From the TV. From your smartphone. From the internet. Those texts, emails, Tweets, and Facebook updates can wait. Limit the amount of time you spend on virtual connections and, instead, expand your real-life connections and experiences.
Move your body. Walk. Run. Dance. Do yoga. Do something! You’ll feel better. Guaranteed. It’s good for your physical, mental and emotional well-being.
We all breathe. Naturally. But sometimes we forget. And often we don’t breathe fully and deeply. Conscious deep breathing results in a more relaxed state of mind, which makes you feel better, happier. So whenever you’re feeling a little anxious, take 10 slow deep full breaths.
9. Be social
Having fun, engaging with others, and being part of community is a big part of well-being and happiness. Nurture those relationships that are important to you by getting out there and doing something fun together.
10. Be still
On the flip side, finding solitude and stillness is also a part of your well-being and happiness. Being alone allows you to centre, ground and be fully present in the Now. As Eckhart Tolle says, “You cannot be both unhappy and fully present in the Now”. Finding a moment in your day where you can find stillness through a short meditation (whether it’s first thing in the morning and/or before bed) will lead to a greater sense of awareness and calm.
11. Help someone in need
Buddha said, “Giving brings happiness at every stage of its expression”. Helping others makes you feel good. Whether it’s assisting a neighbour, volunteering in your community, donating goods, or even taking the time to listen to a friend, making a positive contribution to the lives of others not only increases your happiness, but the happiness of those that you’ve helped.
12. Spend time in nature
I love the city. I grew up in the city. I love the accessibility that cities offer in terms of resources, arts, culture, and ideas. But I also see the benefit of spending time in nature. Connecting with the natural world allows you to relax, decompress, and slow things down. Studies have indicated that being removed from nature can lead to attention problems, poorer health, depression, and lack of creativity and efficiency. So take a walk in your local park. And if you’re fortunate enough, go to the beach, hike up the mountain, or walk through the forest (or jungle). Fill your interior (at home and at work) with plants and flowers. Your spirit will thank you.
13. Practice gratitude
What are you grateful for today? A sunny day. An amazing conversation with a friend. A kind stranger who let you in front of them in line when you were in a hurry. A delicious meal. Research shows that people who are grateful tend to be happier, healthier and more fulfilled. But so often, we take all the good things in our lives for granted, focusing on all the little problems, on all that is wrong. Why is this? There are so many awesome things that happen every day. But these precious moments are often forgotten. So we need to make gratitude a conscious practice in order to make it a habit. Taking time to notice the abundance of “amazingness” in our lives is a practice that is incredibly powerful. Because all those small things add up and can really brighten our day.
So how do you do it? It begins by slowing down in order to notice those special, and often ordinary, moments in our lives – the sun rising or setting, (your) children or animals playing, the ocean or the mountains, the smell of something delicious. This is mindful living in action – being fully aware of our surroundings. Don’t take these things for granted. They’re the stuff of happiness.
Before you go to bed at night, take a brief moment to reflect on your day and come up with at least 1 good thing you’re grateful for, no matter how small. If you want, you can write it down in a notebook or journal. You’ll begin to realize how wonderful each day is. And whenever you’re feeling a little low, you can look through your journal and remember how lucky you are to have such a blessed life.
I had insomnia for years. The lack of sleep affected me tremendously although I would never have admitted it then. Sleep was not a priority. I didn’t think I needed it. I actually believed it was a waste of time. Maybe I didn’t need as much sleep when I was younger. But I’d be miserable if I wasn’t getting enough sleep these days. I’ve come to realize that getting enough sleep is just as important as eating the right food. So I make sure I get enough of it. And on those occasions when I don’t get enough sleep, I definitely feel it – physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Sleep affects our mood, memory, and ability to process information. And depriving ourselves of sleep can have serious health consequences. Not to mention, you feel like crap during the day. On average, somewhere between 6 and 9 hours a night will make you both happier and healthier. So try it. Embrace the luxury of getting into bed a little earlier. Turn off the smartphone, TV and whatever else might distract you from a good night’s rest. Because life is better when you’re well-rested.
15. Nurture your relationships
Good relationships, I would tend to guess, consist of happy people. Happy people, I would also imagine, have good relationships. I’m not talking about the guy or gal who has 5000 friends on Facebook. I’m talking about people who have close, meaningful relationships with people who know them well, and deeply care for and understand them. Nurturing our relationships takes effort, persistence, acceptance and respect. And it’s not always so easy. Show affection. Say thank you. Be kind. Listen. Your partner, close friends and family should never be taken for granted. The people closest to you will enable your happiness and, in turn, you will enable theirs.
Never stop learning. Don’t ever think that you’re too old to learn something new because it’s not true. Read. Watch a documentary. Take a course. Learn a new language. Engaging in pleasurable and meaningful activities is fundamental to happiness. Find something that interests you and pursue it!
17. Get creative
Creative expression, I’ve recently rediscovered, is incredibly therapeutic. It’s a way to move stagnant energy, and remove stress and anxiety. It’s a way to make life more meaningful, to enhance it’s very essence. The problem is, as adults, we are often discouraged from nurturing our creative muscle. We believe it’s not a practical skill so we don’t cultivate our creative potential. We even come to believe that we are not the “creative type”. But the truth is, we all have the innate ability to be creative. It’s basic to our human development as children, and crucial to our psychological health and overall wellbeing as adults. In fact, higher levels of creativity have been linked with lower levels of stress and more satisfying relationships.
Think back to when you were a child. Your whole world was a manifestation of your creativity and imagination. The paintings displayed on the refrigerator art gallery. The crafts. The stories you made up and then acted out. The songs you sang. Everything you did as a child was a form of creative expression.
There are so many ways to be creative. Creativity is not just limited to the arts. Pretty much anything can be a way to be creative if you’re giving the action attention and imagination. Think of creative expression as a journey rather than a goal. And instead of judging yourself and how your creativity is manifesting, immerse yourself in the process. It’s not about being good at something but about becoming a better version of You. And the more you engage in creative expression, the more You you will become.
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