In last week’s post I talked about how happiness is an inside job…that it must start inside ourselves in order to be real, authentic, and lasting. I also talked about how mindfulness, awareness, discernment and practice can be used as steps toward choosing a positive, happy outlook on a daily basis. The keys are choice and persistence. We have to choose to be happy (mindfully be aware of our choices and discern new ones when needed) and continually work at choosing happiness on a daily basis (practice). All of that may make good sense, but how do we sustain that happiness, contentment, and feeling of peace? What are some practical tools to help us be more mindful of our choices, to discern happier choices and to practice making the choice to be happy, content and peaceful regularly?
Hence, Part 2 of The Inside Job. I wanted to share some tools I have used and found to be helpful in my quest to choose happiness no matter the situation. To be sure, choosing happiness is not always an easy thing to do. There are so many things working against on any given day. But I have found that with practice (using the tools shared below), reflection (being honest with ourselves about the choices we are making, especially when we are not choosing happiness), and a desire to want to be a better person every day, we can reach a point where happiness becomes more of an automatic response…that it becomes our go to choice most of the time.
One last thought before I share the tools/techniques – this is not about escaping/not facing negative or bad situations. To be clear, this is about how to help yourself reach a point in which you can consciously choose happiness, contentment and peace despite the situation and circumstance surrounding you on any given day. It’s about putting things into perspective, recognizing your blessings, and choosing positive feelings over negative ones. In order to do so successfully, you have to deal with those negative feelings…reflect upon them…face them. And these are some tools to help you do just that.
Some practical tools for choosing happiness over other negative options:
- Breathing – Just stopping and breathing can really refocus your attention and perspective. It turns your attention to your breath instead of whatever else is happening in your world at that moment. I like this tool because you can do it anywhere, anytime, for any amount of time and it is extremely impactful to your mindset. I find it most helpful in situations in which I feel stress, anxiety, or anger surfacing. Specifically, what I do is close my eyes (if possible), take a deep breath (for a count of 4), hold the breath for a moment at the top of the inhalation, then exhale (for a count of 4)…and I repeat that as many times as I am able to or need to (depending on the circumstances). Try it once – you will immediately notice you feel calmer and clearer…a great place to then reassess your situation and make a choice of happiness over stress or anger.
- Light Meditation – This is one of my favorites as it not only helps me to refocus my attention and perspective, it also gives me a feeling of warmth and support. (That might sound a little strange, but I think once you try it you will understand what I mean.) I find this technique most helpful when I sense stress, anxiety, or a strong feeling of inadequacy or doubt coming on. Like breathing, you can do it anywhere, anytime, and for any amount of time. I prefer to do this technique at home or in my office with the door closed so I can close my eyes and really relax and focus on the light meditation, but you can modify it for use just about anywhere. Once my eyes are closed, I breath normally and just envision a beautiful yellow light above my head (some people prefer to envision a white light, or a light of some other color – the color of the light should resonate with you…honor the color that comes up for you when you do this technique). I visualize that yellow light to be almost like the consistency of honey as it slowly pours down over me, eventually covering my entire body. The more time you have for this mediation, the slower you can envision the light flowing over you (or you can envision it covering your whole body multiple times as well). As I visualize it flowing over your body I “feel” its warmth…its “protection”. I literally think about the light washing away those other, unwanted feelings – I envision those feelings falling away from my body and into the ground beneath me. At the end, not only do I feel calmer, but I feel supported as well, thus being in a place from which I can choose happiness and peace over the stress, anxiety, inadequacy or doubt I may have been feeling before.
- Take a walk – We have all heard it said that you should “go take a walk to cool off” when in the heat of an argument or disagreement, and with good reason. It is excellent advice. Removing yourself from the situation that has you worked up is a great first step to calming down and making better choices (no good choices are made in the heat of the moment when your emotions are ruled by anger or frustration). Walking away allows you to refocus, reprioritize, and/or reevaluate. This is an especially wonderful tool for when you are feeling angry, frustrated, anxious or blocked in some way. The downside to this tool is that you may not always be in a situation/location where you are able to take a walk (in which case I would suggest “mentally” taking a walk while focusing on your breathing). While there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way to take a walk, I would suggest combining your walk with one of the other tools listed here so you do not spend you walk fixated on the thing that caused you to need the walk in the first place. Fixating on the situation that brought those negative feelings about will likely only prove to perpetuate those same feelings. When we say take a walk, we really mean take a walk both physically and mentally (away from the situation causing the negative feelings you are experiencing). Separate yourself from it all so you can calm down, think more clearly, and make the choice to be happy.
- Read something inspirational – Whether it is a single quote or a passage from a book, reading something inspirational can transform your outlook almost instantly. This is one of my favorite tools for when I am feeling stuck, uncreative, unmotivated, or uninspired. Like most of the techniques shared here, you can do this anywhere, anytime, and for any amount of time. Smartphones make finding inspiration quick and easy when you are on the go, while at home you may have a specific book you turn to when you need a little pick me up. Whatever works for you…wherever you find inspiration (be it in word, art, music, etc.), go there when you need to reignite your passion, creativity, etc. – because when you are in those places you will find that sense of happiness (your choice of happiness becomes much easier at that point).
- Reflect on the blessings in your life – Whenever I feel like the universe is conspiring against me…like nothing I do is right…like my life just plain sucks, this is my go to technique. By taking even just a few seconds to reflect on all the blessings in my life I can very quickly put into perspective whatever is happening in my life at that moment. I also keep a daily gratitude journal because I have found that taking a few seconds each day to be grateful for something different each day frames my mindset for the day…and if/when I find myself going down that rabbit hole of negativity I can either look at my journal for an instant reminder or quickly recall what I wrote earlier in the day. We so quickly forget all the things we have to be grateful for, despite what bad things are happening in our lives. Reflecting on our blessings helps us choose happiness and contentment each day.
- Talk with a trusted friend or loved one whom you find to be positive and/or inspirational – Sometimes we get ourselves to a place from which we need help returning. A trusted friend or loved one who is known for their positive or inspirational outlook is perhaps the best one to help us in these situations. When we can’t see any blessings in our lives to be thankful for, they can point some out for us. When inspirational quotes just aren’t able to inspire us, they often can rephrase them such that they resonate with us. They can tell us to take a few slow, deep breaths to calm down when we aren’t able to do that on our own. Sometimes just being able to talk the situation out with a neutral party (who has a positive attitude/outlook) can help us build the bridge between that negative place we find ourselves and the ability to choose happiness in that situation. Be careful though not to use this technique as a complaint session, as that is not the intent here. Again, if you have chosen the right person to talk with they can help bring you back on track.
Note – These are but a sampling of many possible ways you might choose to bring yourself our of negative thinking and into positive, happy, peaceful thinking. These are some of the techniques that have worked for me, but it is important for you to find what resonates with you. You may find that different situations call for the use of different techniques, and that is okay. Remember, the goal is to bring yourself to a place where you can choose happiness, contentment, and peace despite the current situation and/or events. If there are other things you find work well for you, please share them in the Comments section of this blog, as others will likely benefit from your sharing as well.
The Buddha once said, “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” I believe there is so much truth in these words. When you reach that point when happiness is your thought, you will be happy.