5 Happiness Habits
"We like the ups and downs of life.
We like our suffering because it's so good when it ceases for a while."
- Matthieu Ricard ( paraphrasing French philosophers generally )
Like many in the audience listening to Matthieu Ricard's enlighted TED Talk, I laughed upon hearing the French philosopher's version of happiness. Reveling in the lows to accent the highs sounded more like self-inflicted torment than a recipe for blissful living in my books. I was relieved to feel this way as I knew all too well that this had not always been the case.
I spent a good part of my twenties believing that highs and lows were not only normal, but synonymous with living life to the fullest. The idea of adopting a stable and steady approach seemed artificial and B-O-R-I-N-G. Even when I first started suspecting that a life of emotional extremes might not be as fulfilling as I originally had thought, I considered it impossible for me to change. Ups and downs, I thought, were simply part of my emotional make-up. Who was I to deny nature?!
Moving on from the strangle-hold of that belief has been a fairly haphazard process. I'm seeking out new ways of feeling and acting almost as if to replace the old thought patterns, reactions and other relics left over from when I was trying to derive happiness by experiencing ups and downs. I've decided to call whatever new thing I come up with a "happiness habit".
"Happiness habits" lay the foundation for experiencing greater happiness. They help me deepen my feeling of satisfaction when on neutral while letting go of emotions related to living highs and lows. These are my favourites to date:
1. Get Out of Your Mind
Highs and lows are created in our minds so it's important to develop new habits around what we spend time thinking about. When our minds are racing, it's not possible to experience true happiness. Ultimately, we need to encourage our minds to rest in the here and now.
To get out of my mind, I offer myself two options. Either I take action to change the situation or I let it go. When I catch myself over thinking this decision for whatever reason, I place more value on playing defence against my overwhelming tendency to over think and favour dropping the issue. I trust myself to come back to the question when the time is right to take action.
2. Relax: It's Just Feedback
Relax, breath, count to ten, and take a chill-pill.... we've heard it all before. What transformed these otherwise empty words into something that I could action was to follow them up with "it's just feedback". That simple phrase reminds me that any emotion I am feeling is a reaction to data that I took in. The data is neither inherently good or bad. It's what I make of it so might as well use it to inform future actions.
The best instances to practice this new habit is when I am on the receiving end of someone else's emotions to which I have reacted. Instead of dwelling on my emotions or trying to figure out what filter I used to interpret what happened, I turn my attention to the facts without judgement. I then look for the opportunity to use only the facts as a guidepost for my actions moving forward. In cases where the feedback is repetitive, I actually visualize a graph against which I am plotting my course.
3. Treat Yourself to a Mindful Routine
Routines offer something constant to lean on when the pull of emotional overload seems too attractive or distractive. Mindful routines that release happy hormones are antidote to highs and lows. I started adopting a couple of routines that made me feel good about myself and which I had to engage in daily or at least 4 times a week (frequency is important). They have become check-in points for myself that help me get back on track when I was stuck in an old pattern or way of thinking.
My most effective routine has been running. If I find myself in a tizzy over something, the routine of putting on my running shoes going on a jog brings me back to neutral. Not only does my run provide me with an opportunity to clear my mind regularly, it also brings me an enduring sense of pleasant satisfaction.
4. Spend Emotional Energy Only Where It Counts
We all have a bounded amount of mental, physical and emotional energy to spend each day. We need to actively choose to spend this energy on things that support our well-being rather than exhaust ourselves on thrills. I've found that it's easier to implement this habit since identifying a few things that are important to me to keep me on track when weighing my options.
Here's an example. Someone aggressively bumps into me on the street and doesn't apologize. This is a huge pet peeve of mine and I immediately start to feel anger. I catch myself and acknowledge what's happening. I then ask myself whether it's worth spending my emotional energy here. I take a decision that I would prefer to conserve my energy so that I can go for a run at the end of the day and meet the larger objective of training for the marathon which I know will make me feel great.
5. Be Grateful for Small Miracles
Taking the time to be grateful helps us to recognize all that is wonderful and lovely in our lives. It's an important habit which is made even more powerful when geared to appreciating instances where the universe has offered us exactly what we wanted or needed without us making any efforts. It teaches us that life is good to us regardless of whether we've gone all out emotionally (up or down).