I believe our natural settings are laziness, intolerance, pessimism, jealousy, self-seeking, and that these settings are harboring on our emotional states, so we must train ourselves to seek happiness, and that happiness is a choice we must consciously make. It’s not always the “easiest” choice, and while it does require some work, choosing happiness makes our lives richer, our purposes more apparent, our energy last longer, our days more productive. It’s a state of mind, and it’s the small, daily habits and shifts in mindsets that contributes to happiness:
Start every morning on a good note: In my hallway, I hung a bulletin board that I tack up pictures of my friends, awards I’ve received, tickets to places I’ve been, etc., and every morning, as I am brushing my teeth, I gaze at the board to remind myself of what an awesome life I have, and what awesome opportunities I am afforded. I also have a list of goals that I look at to remind myself of the path I’m headed towards. On my way to school in the morning, I blast my pump up music. I lay out my outfits, prep my lunch, put my bags together the night before so I am not in a rush. This year, I’ve made it a habit to arrive to work just a bit early, so I have a few moments to settle in before the chaos of the day erupts. Starting my morning off on a good note inevitably infiltrates the rest of my day, and sets that up for success.
Refuel on my weekends: Of course, throughout the week, I’m forced to be around people I don’t particularly like, engage in conversations I would prefer not to, and do tasks that I find meaningless. I think, as humans, its actually very unnatural, because society forces us to be around people and do things we don’t like; we are forced to live next to people, work next to people, stand at bus stops next to people that don’t agree with our own lifestyle choices. So, I make sure to fill my weekends with people I do enjoy, conversations I remember, and tasks that are meaningful. I make sure to attend my favorite yoga class, block out time for my favorite people, schedule a nap and some time by myself. When I set my weekends up like this, I usually start Monday on a high, which trickles into Tuesday and Wednesday, and by Thursday, I’m feeling like it’s time to be refueled again; the good news is, the weekend is now just around the corner, and my happiness meter will soon be rejuvenated.
Take care of my needs: I’m never my best self when I am weathered down; when I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m emotional, bad things happen, and I’m never as happy as I am when I do take care of my needs. Of course, there are times in our lives that we cannot eat as soon as our stomachs rumble, or times when we do not get enough sleep because we are up, late finishing a project, or tragedy strikes. And, in those cases, I’m reminded of my humanness (which is to be in a constant state of suffering), and I try to address those needs as quickly as possible. I keep snacks everywhere to prevent hangry-ness. I stick to my sleeping schedule. I purge my emotions so that I can be my best, happiest self the most amount of time possible.
Do only those things that serve me: Stalking that ex boyfriend’s social media, worrying about what other people are saying about me, putting myself in potentially hazardous and caustic situations don’t serve me. Thinking ill about others, talking about issues I can’t solve, going to places that don’t interest me don’t serve me. So, if it’s not adding to my overall enjoyment of the world, or it’s not enhancing my intelligence in any way, I’m not interested in it.
Compliment others: As a people, we don’t do a good enough job of complimenting others. I think it comes from power plays; by offering someone else a compliment, I’m therefore humbling myself, and allowing myself to be “below” their stature, and if I’m already insecure about my own stature, it’s could be too costly to my ego to recognize something good in someone else. But, I’m not really in the stage of my life where power plays are important to me, so when I see someone doing something I appreciate, wearing something I find stylish, coming up with an insightful or creative idea, I don’t see why I shouldn’t speak my mind.
Avoid negative energy: You would be amazed at how draining being around negative energy really is–complaining, gossiping, being jealous, catching up in others affairs, worrying about issues you can’t solve, ruminating on ill serving topics, etc. Whenever I feel a conversation derailing towards negative energy, I either try to steer it towards a more positive direction, and if that doesn’t work, find a way to jump ship. We train people how to interact with us, so if I send the message that I do not indulge in those topics, eventually, people will stop coming to me with their negative energy, and instead, seek me out for positive conversation.
Make exercise a priority: I’m a 9 PM gymer, for the mere fact that it helps to shut off my brain before I am propelled into my slumber. There certainly times when my day is SO FULL, I don’t quite seem to have the energy for the gym. But, I always remind myself that I sleep much better when I exercise, my joints aren’t quite as stiff, my emotions more regulated, and my mind is often more clear. So, no matter what kind of day I’ve had, I always make sure to exercise; I’m never disappointed that I went to the gym instead of straight home. But, I am often disappointed when I don’t go to the gym.
Take time to reflect: My drive home from work is dedicated towards reflecting on that day: what went well, what did not go well, which relationships must I mend tomorrow. Before I fall asleep at night, I think about which goals I’ve accomplished, which tasks I must tackle tomorrow. On Sundays at church, I spend communion, reflecting on all the ways God has worked through my life that week. I think about all the wonderful people I’m surrounded by, all the experience I’ve been granted, all the things I’ve overcome. As humans, we do a lot of things, and I find it isn’t until these moments of reflection that we find meaning within our life events, purpose behind our existence, joy, happiness, direction, change.
Forgive myself: When I’m in these moments of reflection, I inevitable think about situations I should have handled better. Like, that tone in my voice probably came out a little snottier than I intended, and I probably should not have made that comment, and I probably should not have cut that car off. But instead of feeling guilty and leading myself into self-destructive thoughts, I always try to forgive myself–perhaps, at the moment I was in, I really did not know any better–and re-frame it so that, if that situation comes up again, I react in a more graceful, selfless, humble way (in counseling, its called CBT–Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). I can’t really hate myself if I didn’t know any better at the time.
Indulge in the happiness of others: I’m at this interesting point in my life where all of my friends are either getting married or having babies–two very jubilant life events, and I feel very fortunate to witness these life altering moments for them. I love just sitting back, enjoying all those who came together for their wedding (and then laughing when the groom blows a snot bubble during their first kiss). I love hearing the excitement in my friends when they meet their Prince Charmings. I love watching my friends interact with their children, and how much selflessness comes with being a parent. I love watching my students finally succeed on a vocab test, or writing assignment. I love being in the room when my dancer finally lands her quad. When we are not happy with ourselves, it’s often difficult for us to see others happy, but I believe happiness IS contagious, so if I can indulge in the happiness of others, celebrate their accomplishments and life events, it has to rub off on me too.
Let go of attachments and expectations: It’s when we have attachments to things and expectations of others that we find ourselves disappointed, because people never quite amount to how WE would do things (right, because as humans, it’s actually very difficult to verbalize exactly what we want and how we feel). For example, whenever we have people over to our house, I always make sure to invite everyone. But, I never have expectations that people show up; I know I’m going to have a great time regardless, even if I dance party by myself, and I love it when others join, but am not disappointed when they don’t. No expectations equals no terms for disappointment.
Do what makes ME feel good: I mean, if it comes at the expense of others, then I obviously should refrain from some behaviors. But, at the end of the day, its my experience of the world (not anyone else’s) so I shall do whatever makes me happy. For example today, I felt captivated by the song in the grocery store, and I wanted to strut up and down the aisles. Some days, it makes me really happy to wear my Oscar Wilde t-shirt. Other days, I want to write on my blog, analyze t.v shows, and read books–those are all things that make me happy, and I should do those things, as long as they don’t trump someone else’s path towards happiness.
Over-Communicate: Most of our arguments and conflicts with people stem from miscommunication. We forget to tell them we won’t be coming home tonight, they plan a surprise dinner for us, and are hurt when it’s not eaten. We avoid telling others we don’t like it when they complain about money matters to us, play passive aggressive, and then cause tension. And, these arguments with others are draining on my energy, taxing on my ego, and move me further away from that desired state of happiness. As an English major, I’m trained to communicate—I know that the feeling of anger is different than the feeling of frustration, or disappointment, or guilt—so I always try to over communicate my schedules, my motives, my breaking points to others to avoid some of those weighty conflicts and disagreements.
Focus on the good things that happen: Certainly bad things are happening everywhere. People are always going to be crappy, mean, selfish. The weather will never be how we like it, there will always be crazy drivers on the road, we always have to park further away from the grocery store than we’d prefer. But, I have the choice to focus on those negative, energy draining thoughts, OR I have the choice to shift my thinking towards something more positive. Perhaps I drove behind a slow poke, making me late to my appointment, but then I could also focus on the fact that I hit all the green lights. Perhaps the snow does make my commute to school longer, but I can also focus on how that longer commute allows me more time for reflection. Bad things will never stop occurring, but I have the ability to choose which things to focus on, and which ones to plead ignorance to.
Pet puppies, hang out with kids, and spend time outside: And, if I reach the end of my day and have not been immersed in a moment of happiness, I pet my puppies or find a kid to hang out with. These two entities have not been hardened by the world, so watching my puppies bounce around in the snow, or watching a kid run joyfully on the playground always helps to remind me of being in that innocent, unburdened state. And, I always try to find as much time outside as possible; there is just something freeing, relaxing, and inducing about being breathing in fresh air.