According to Wikipedia the term happiness is used in the context of life satisfaction, subjective well-being, eudaimonia, flourishing and well-being... Which is all well and good but what if we can harness happiness? What if I told you that you can?
I am a big believer that happiness is a choice we make. Yes, I understand fully there are factors beyond our control such as mental health and illness that factor in. I live with anxiety and panic disorder - I am not ashamed. I wear it like the super hero cape that it is. Everyday I work at happiness because it is my choice - the choice to change my mindset.
Here are my 5 tools I use to harness happiness:
5. Your Life is Enough: Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
The action of comparison is easy in theory. However, comparison is all around us, everyday. We might not even realize when we are in the action comparing and it might even be a subconscious thought. Social Media plays a big role in the 'Comparison Factor', advertising has force fed us to believe that if we don't have something, we need to get it ASAP, and it was there even in our development as children - especially if there were siblings.
“Enjoy your own life... ...without comparing it with that of another.” – Marquis de Condorcet
So how do we stop comparing? How do we change something especially if its something we don't even think about doing and that we have been doing it for 20, 30, 40... years??
PRACTICE and POSITIVITY. When we notice ourselves glancing over our social media feed, endlessly scrolling on Instagram wishing you looked a certain way, had something someone else has, or just an overall bummy feeling - WITNESS IT. Witness it and let it go. Which brings me to the next habit.
4. Witness Your Judgement Without Judgement and Let It Go!
This is a BIG ONE! Releasing judgement can go hand and hand with comparison. However, judgement can stand all on it own. The beauty of life is that we have to ability to LET GO ...and we can do this with our own judgment in a positive and healing way.
The idea is once we have and recognize a judgmental thought - we witness it and let it go. The main factor in this equation is that we do not judge ourselves or get angry that we are thinking that way. You just say "Oh, this thought is judgmental. Ok. I see this thought. I witness it. I witness how I feel in this moment of judgement. I witness this and I let it go." Then in that moment look for something ( a feeling, thought, moment...) where you are looking through the lens with love.
Notice what it feels like to be in judgment. Place no judgement on yourself for thinking 'negative' because it is not negative, it is not anything or any such feeling because it does not serve you. Let it go.
"Witnessing your judgment is a brave and sacred act of love" - Gabrielle Bernstein
3. Be Kind
Sure, this seems like the obvious thing people should do in general but kindness to others deeply effects our own happiness.
Doing small gestures - like allowing a car to turn first at an intersection, giving a nod or wave at a passerby - can go much farther than you would think. Your happiness will definitely improve when you choose kindness.
The action of being kind not only impacts your own happiness but creates a trickle down effect, subconsciously, for others. Being kind to YOURSELF is also a major player in this.
Notice the language that you speak to yourself. Just as in #4 on this list - witness it and let it go. Tell yourself how beautiful you are on the regular, give praise to yourself for the little things you do. Take notice of your "I AM" statements. Do you often say negative "I AM" statements to yourself? Changing your language to speaking to yourself with kindness will drastically change you mindset.
Something I like to do is have affirmations cards or artwork around my home. I often do a "Pep Talk" meditation when I need and have one on my meditation album available for download. Check it out HERE.
2. Let Go! - Release Control and Expectations
Let go, trust in yourself and all outcomes, and allow yourself to be happy and free. True happiness comes from the power of letting go. Surrender.
Surrendering is not about giving up, handing power over, or failing.
First, let go of the negative thought patterns about the word surrender and the ideas we place on ourselves and others with surrendering. (Refer to #4 on this list: witness judgement without judgment and let go.) Those negative thought patterns of our past can creep up into the thought patterns of today. Witness them, witness the actions and thoughts that come with them, and let go.
"Letting go gives us freedom and freedom is the only condition for happiness." - Thich Nhat Hanh
You do not have as much control over life as you would like to think. Recognizing how little control you have calls out the one power you do have: CHOICE! You have the power to choose your attitudes and thoughts. When your perspectives change, your attitudes change. When your feelings about yourself change, then everything changes. You will instantly start to feel an immediate shift as soon as you put this practice into play.
Think of it this way: You have somewhere you have to be at a certain time. You are all ready with time to spare. For this scenario let's say you are traveling by car, driving to your destination. Your getting on the freeway and midway through you come upon a traffic jam. Now, there is no way you can control this. You can not see what is going on, you check the local radio stations for any mentions of what is causing the traffic or maybe they will give a detour but to no avail - nothing is mention. You are stuck, not moving, and no clue when traffic may clear. What can you do? How can you react? This is life. In the 'game of life' we can not control the board or how the dice rolls. What we can do is choose how we respond. We can let go of the control - the need to find a control.
In this scenario of the traffic jam I am sure anger is the first emotion. You were ready - with time to spare! ... and here you are stuck! You want to control the situation, maybe thoughts of honking your horn pass through your mind... but honestly - what will that do. It is when you release that control everything begins to shift.
With control comes expectations. You expect to be at a certain place at a certain time and things to go a certain way. It didn't. You can not change that.
So you might be late, it is out of your hands. Feeling anger or being upset, trying to control the situation will not clear the road blocks. Let go. Put on an audio book, or favorite song. Take these moments to breath, maybe even do a meditation in your car. You have the power of choice and the choice to let go of the control. ...and knowing that - letting go of control - is a power all in its own.
"You must learn to let go. Release the stress. You were never in control anyway.” - Steve Maraboli, Life, The Truth, and Being Free
At first, the journey into letting go of control can be very destabilizing. Just keep coming back. Practice these steps mentioned in the blog. It is important to let go of the judgment you place of yourself if you do have negative thought patterns or actions towards the need to control. Be assured, you’ll discover that letting go of control and expectations is the space where everything starts to shift.
Of course, this means you can still plan or create positive habits, but knowing when plans shift that it is ok. Just go with flow and it bring happiness.
1. An Attitude of Gratitude
We have this wonderful ability of choice. We can turn our mental focus to the positive by shifting our feelings and expressing gratitude. In situations that are really difficult, try to think: what about this experience are you grateful for? Not only can we use gratitude to change a negative mindset, we can remind ourselves of the many things we have everyday that we are thankful for.
The simple act of being grateful generates positive emotions, like contentment and joy, which research shows can undo the grip of negative emotions such as anxiety.
"In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships." - Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical
Keeping a daily gratitude journal helps greatly. The act of writing down a thought makes it more tangible, more real. I keep a journal in which I write in every night. What started years ago just writing three things I was grateful before bed turned into writing about my day and listing ten or more things (usually more). Sometimes my lists has items really profound like witnessing a beautiful sunset over the ocean... but a lot of little things we often don't give a second thought make the lists like running water, internet service, a delicious meal, a roof over my head... Life is all about the little things and expressing gratitude for each and everyone of them can profoundly shift your perspective. Appreciate all the little things life has to offer.
BONUS: Nature is Nurturing!
Nature Can Make You Kinder, Happier, and More Creative - It is true!
As more scientific studies are being done, the evidence is clear: being in nature has a profound positive impact on our brains. It elevates our mood, helps relieve stress and anxiety, it increases our creativity, our attention span, and improves our relationships.
"People have been discussing their profound experiences in nature for the last several 100 years—from Thoreau to John Muir to many other writers. Now we are seeing changes in the brain and changes in the body that suggest we are physically and mentally more healthy when we are interacting with nature." - David Strayer, of the University of Utah
Sometimes the weather doesn't always agree but even taking a nice drive, train or bus ride can change a mood. Pair that with your favorite tunes and you are golden!
If the weather is cooperating then take in all the nature you can. Take a moment and just listen to the sounds around you. Touch the grass, trees, even just feel the air on your skin. Look around you, at the sky, even the simple movement of the wind through the trees.
In the winter months you can do the same, just layer up with a cozy jacket and scarf. When you come back inside reward yourself with some hot cocoa or a cup of joe.