“Happiness” is a loaded word: It’s loaded with expectations, hope, yearning, confusion…. You get the idea. What makes happiness feel so elusive usually has more to do with how you relate to the concept than with how you really feel. Here are a few simple adjustments that can help you unleash the happiness within yourself.
1. Be present
Awareness is the springboard from which we can appreciate the world around us. Set reminders in your phone throughout the day to pause and check in with yourself. By stepping into a space of curiosity you will discover an increased ability to notice happiness in everyday life.
2. Harness difficulty
As long as you’re alive, challenges will find you. Sometimes you probably even create challenges for yourself—we all do. Instead of getting down on yourself, try thinking of difficult moments as opportunities to ask yourself: How can I be kinder to myself right now?
3. Get connected
Connection is more than an experience—it’s also a skill that we can strengthen with small gestures. Try smiling at a stranger, tell a friend you appreciate them, or tell a loved one how much they mean to you. Create connection in the small moments of life.
4. Turn meaning into action
What in life really matters to you? Is it family, compassion, good friends, the environment? Take these values and turn them into verbs. If you value family, make a plan to put phones aside during dinner. If it’s the environment, consider volunteering with an organization.
5. Find purpose
Getting involved in something outside ourselves has the power to infuse our daily lives with meaning amid the drudgery. Every day, ask yourself these three questions:
1. What do I care about beyond myself?
2. What action can I take today that aligns with this?
3. In the long run, how will my actions affect the world?
Practice and repeat this over time and watch your sense of purpose grow.
6. Be generous
There is no experience more uplifting than giving. Practice being generous: tip the server a bit more than usual, give more to charity this month, or offer more of your time to friends, family, and strangers.
7. Forgive and let go
Lily Tomlin once said, “Forgiveness means letting go of the hope for a better past.” Letting go is hard. It’s also easy—we let go every single night when we go to bed. When we hold onto our mistakes or the mistakes of others, it only serves to stress us out, which has negative impacts on our minds, bodies, and relationships. Ask yourself, “Am I ready to let go of this burden?” If so, try breathing in and acknowledging the pain you feel, breathing out and releasing the burden.
8. Overhaul your habits
We’ve all got habits we’d like to kick and if we could, we’d feel a lot happier. The key here is to focus on the reward you seek from any given habit. For instance, many of us snack on junk food to soothe stress. In that case, ask yourself: What else can you do in times of stress that is soothing?
Getting a hug can feel soothing. So can placing your hand on your heart. Practice understanding the rewards you seek from your habits, so over time you can develop healthier ones.
9. Nurture positivity
Most of us have a hard time receiving compliments and entertaining positive beliefs, especially when we’re stressed or unhappy. Choose a positive belief such as “I am skilled” and ask yourself:
1. Is it true? If your answer is “No,” then ask yourself:
2. Would someone else say it is true? Chances are, yes. Now, follow with:
3. If you were to accept this possibility, how would you feel?
If you then start experiencing any positive feelings, allow yourself to savor them for a few moments.
10. Make your body happy
If you look at a map of the nervous system, you’ll see it goes from the brain throughout the entire body—there is no separation. A healthier body means a healthier brain.
Listen to your body and notice how it needs to be treated, moved, and fed. Bringing more mindfulness to your body is a recipe for overall well-being.
11. Keep track of your joys
At the end of each day we are usually aware of the long list of bad things that happened. What if, instead, you focused on the joys? Make a list or write a journal entry about the things that bring you joy each day. It could be a smile a kind stranger gave you, the sweet smell of a flower you passed on the street, or the presence of a trusted friend or pet. The more you take note of what brings you joy, the more joy you’ll find in your everyday life.
Forgive, Investigate, and Invite
To uncover happiness we need to accept what’s difficult and learn to savor the good. But the truth is we often dwell in excessively negative thinking and self-judgment. When you lose sight of your intentions, remember to forgive yourself. Investigate what pulled you off track without judging yourself, and then invite yourself to begin again.
This article also appeared in the August 2016 issue of Mindful magazine.