As a confirmed curmudgeon (seriously, even when I was a much younger woman), I’ve always assumed that happy people were just jolly types who went along untouched by the daily drudgery that served as confirmation to me that life was made up of to-do lists, responsibilities, bills and other people’s agendas to fulfill.
And back when I was morbidly obese I also assumed that if I could just lose weight, I’d be happy.
Turns out, both of my assumptions were wrong.
Happiness truth #1: Happy people aren’t happy because nothing bad ever happens to them.
Happiness truth #2: Losing weight fixes nothing.
Having now maintained my 120-pound weight loss for many years I will say that I am a big believer in pursuing happiness, but I’ve come to realize that it’s kind of an inside job. That is to say, just like “motivation” is not an external force that washes over us and transforms us into some perfect version of ourselves that always makes good food choices and wants to go to the gym, “happiness” doesn’t come from specific life circumstances. Instead, it comes from being happy with who we are – completely independent of our circumstances, our checking account balance or even our BMI.
Now, maybe you’d already figured that out. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a little slow on the uptake. For me, coming to realize that I have the power to shape my own happiness has been life-changing.
Still, knowing that and truly feeling happy every day – especially for a lifelong malcontent – meant that I needed to put to practice some new habits.
Here are my top 7 habits for creating happiness in my life:
- Choose joy / find the silver lining / whatever you wanna call it: As the happiness gurus out there (Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, is my fave) will tell you, happiness is a choice. But it’s not a choice that comes naturally for a lot of us, especially when we’re stressed out by pressures at work, financial woes or health concerns. For me, practicing self-care (eating healthful, whole foods, moving my body every day, getting enough rest) and taming my demon dialogue of negative self-talk help me to see the day as partly sunny rather than mostly cloudy.
- Pick a mantra that speaks to you: Mine vary from day to day, based on what challenges I’m facing. Having go-to positive affirmations in my back pocket give me perspective on the little irritations that are part of everyday life. Some days it’s as simple as “You’ve got this.”
- Use a mindfulness trigger: Stress, operating on autopilot … these are our worst enemies when it comes to finding fulfillment. I’ve taken to wearing a bracelet with my favorite mantra on it as a constant reminder to slow down, breathe, find joy… whatever I need to be mindful of that day. (True confession: during the holidays I find myself wearing more than one bracelet as an antidote to multiple stressors!)
- Turn off technology: Guilty as charged. I commit nearly every error there is in this category, yet turning off our phones and computers an hour before bedtime gives us the space to decompress from our daily stresses and ease into rest. And the other part of the equation here is the dark side of technology; there are times when social media, despite its claim to bring us connection, does exactly the opposite. More times than I can count I’ve turned off Facebook because it leaves me feeling isolated, left out and definitely uncool!
- Always assume that others are trying their best: Now’s when you thank your lucky stars you don’t work the returns counter in a retail store during the holidays. If you ever have then you know what I mean. Let’s cut them a break, shall we? They’ll feel better, we’ll feel better and there’s good karma all around. Namaste.
- Listen to your gut: The truth is, we almost always know the right thing to do, in every situation. I always know I’m in trouble when I start surveying everybody around me (ie “What do you think…?” or “What would you do …?”). Having said that, doing the right thing isn’t always the easy thing or the fun thing, but it’s the answer that’s there, quietly waiting for us to tune in to our intuition. I remind myself: trust your inner wisdom and then follow through.
- (Need I say it???) Exercise: You knew I was gonna say that, didn’t you? It’s not just true in research and studies … it’s actually true in practice! I have an unnaturally high anxiety level. I don’t know why I do, but I’ve learned that exercising (nearly) every day is anti-stress, anti-worry artillery for me. I like to say: I don’t workout for the calorie-burn; I workout for the anxiety-burn.
Happiness so much more than a state of mind; it’ a skill. It takes practice.
And it’s about to be put to the test as we sit on the cusp of another joyous – but stress-filled – holiday season. As for me, too many holidays past ended in a flurry of wrapping paper and unfulfilled expectations. All too often this led to unplanned, unhealthy eating (White chocolate eggnog truffles anyone? Ahem.) followed by bitter remorse and a sense of failure.
Been there, ate that.
Busting some of my happiness myths and proactively cultivating joy and “happiness habits” mean that I no longer stuff down my gloominess with food and I can see the sunshine peeking out on even the rainiest Northwest day.