May 2, 2013

How to Be Happy

Educate us on something you know alot about or are good at. 

Ah, happiness. You are that good friend who gets overlooked sometimes. If you disappeared we would all cry out for you to come back, but unfortunately, we take you for granted when you return. You don't hold it against us, but still. Something's got to change.

Beaches at sunset? Automatic happiness!
It might seem odd to proclaim to hold the secret to happiness, and I find it too simplistic (and unrealistic) to say that if you do X, Y, and Z, all of your worries will melt away. I don't know what your struggles are, and honestly, I don't know what will make you happy. But, friends, I do know what makes me happy, and that's really something. Here are my top three lessons:

Find something pleasant in ordinary moments. Too often, we are on autopilot. We rush from activity to activity, our movements robotic and our expressions dour. When this happens to me, I feel stressed, anxious, and drained. It's impossible to be mindful and present when your mind is on a million different things! When I made the decision to try slowing down my mind and opening my eyes, it was hard. Minds like to wander, and I had difficulty keeping myself in the moment. Sometimes, because I often talk to myself (not out loud! ... usually), I went so far as to prompt myself, "Okay, just notice something. What is good around you?" And you know something? It really works. Even if it's just for a moment, it works. 

Example: One of my jobs requires me to work occasional evenings, and my commute takes about an hour. Riding the metro late at night, I'm often exhausted. Each station blurs into the next, I get annoyed when people are loud, and I obsessively check my phone to pass the time. Then one day I realized that I was missing something beautiful. There's this moment, after several underground stations, that the train bursts out of Union Station and goes above ground. The noise and clatter of the tunnel slips away, and the dim platform lighting gives way to a beautiful night sky and the lights of downtown DC. Each time, it feels like we have emerged from something dark and terrible into something freeing and open. I used to completely miss that moment, that seemingly nothing of a moment, yet now it's my favorite part of the commute. No matter how stressful the day has been, that moment when I see the sky brings a smile to my face, and I can relax a little.

Accept that I can't control others, but I can control myself. This was a tough one for me. I can be, shall we say, a bit of a control freak. I like order, I like lists, and I like plans. However, life never really goes according to plan. This used to make me anxious and incredibly angry. Delayed flight? Sobbing tears. Boyfriend going to a party of someone I don't like? Sobbing tears. Thunderstorm canceled the last day of the carnival? Sobbing tears. After a while, it gets old. All of the crying and yelling in the world can't change what has already happened, so what's the point? Of course having emotions is okay. We can't really control those, either! But it's what I do with that reaction that matters most. How do I want to respond in a way that reflects my values and my intentions? Just asking myself that question lets me take a step back from heated situations and feel a lot calmer. It's easy to flip out when everything seems out of control. It's also easy to feel pretty good when you realize that you're in total control of what you want to do about it. 

Be grateful. Life can be craptacular sometimes. When it is, it's hard to see the good things that still exist. When things are really bad, it might even seem ridiculous to say, "Sure, I got fired, but at least my house didn't burn down!" or "It's too bad that my friend has cancer, but at least my Netflix arrived today!" It's okay to feel bad about bad things. It's also okay to feel good and grateful about good things.  Doing so might not "undo" the negative, but sometimes we lose sight of the wonderful things we have. It's worth it to me to remind myself of that. Some people keep a daily gratitude journal, and while I have never done that, every now and again I try to intentionally reflect on what I am grateful for. Maybe it was a good phone call with my mom, a quiet moment outside, or a particularly good caramel macchiato. They don't have to be monumental things, just things that I appreciate and value, no matter how small. It's amazing how quickly those small moments add up.

So that my secret to being happier. Is it perfect? No. I certainly don't follow through on some of these things all the time, though I do try to most of the time. These approaches helped me to shift the way I interact with my world, and it helps me feel more at peace. Learning to pay attention to what I need in order to flourish has been a long process that will persist throughout my life, but it's a worthwhile journey to go on. It's certainly been a rewarding one for me.

What about you? How do you create happiness in your life?

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