Ah — happiness! That elusive, golden ring that so many of us seek. Day in and day out, we strive for the perfect circumstances that will finally make us feel those blissful few seconds of radiant joy. Happiness!
And nearly as suddenly as it arrives — it fades away. We are back in the murky existence of everyday living. We gradually return to seeking the next high that will provide us with that burst of elation. For some, that high comes in a bottle. For others, a credit card swipe. Others yet, a daring activity, an award, a number on a bathroom scale.
Happiness is fleeting, as the old adage says. But there are certain things that we can actively undertake in order to entice happiness to linger a little longer.
1. Learn to be present
When we are children, we spend relatively little time reflecting on the past or daydreaming about what lies ahead. We are more present to the flow of events around us — and by being so, we relish more about our lives. We are aware of the tread of the hundreds of diminutive feet of the caterpillar. We drink in the shape of clouds. We taste ice cream in its rich fullness. We are here for the experiences.
As adults, we spend much time in states of regret, longing, or fantasizing. We rehash the past, plan for the future, and forget to live. We neglect the present as the gift that it is. By taking time to regularly let go of our machinations (and return to the here-and-now), we can heighten our experience of joy.
Spiritual traditions throughout time have lauded the benefits of being present to the moment at hand — a.k.a. mindfulness. From Taoists to Buddhists to Hindus, they have said that true wellbeing exists in the now. So, are you taking time every day to train your brain and come back to the space your body occupies? Are you working to be here and simultaneously nowhere else? Can you sit still with your thoughts and witness the passing of the hands of the clock?
2. Express Gratitude
Gratitude is a marvelous thing. The more you strive to cultivate it, the more that unbidden wells up. When we choose to dwell in gratitude, we naturally find more things in our life for which we can be thankful.
I realize that there is always hardship — but there is also always joy. They are two sides of the same coin. We can choose to see experiences as a let-down, or we can see them as something worth celebrating. There is ultimately nothing good nor bad, but thinking makes them seem so (or, at least, Hamlet said something similar).
So, how can you choose to see the bright side of a cloudy situation? This isn’t being a Pollyanna — forgetting the genuine strife that exists — it’s about knowing that happiness is a choice. We get to choose whether to celebrate or mourn. We are all rowing through these troubled waters of 2020 together — so we might as well choose to see that which is worth cherishing? There is still so much for which to be grateful — we are living in one of the most abundant times in human history.
3. Cultivate a Sense of Awe
Have you taken time recently to stop and admire a tree? Or a smell a rose bush? When we are young, we are in awe of everything. The world is new, fresh, and exuberant. As we age, however, we acquire a jadedness about things we have seen before. We become blasé about the remarkable wonders of the world.
In reality, our planet is an endlessly fascinating place. The trillions of little synchronicities that have to align in order for a flower to bloom, a blade of grass to grow, a muscle contract, or a ladybug to poop…is mind-boggling.
A recent study has shown that people who actively try to cultivate a sense of awe as they walk outside are happier, less depressed, and develop a healthier sense of selfhood (even beyond those who already spend time outside — a brain boost in and of itself!). So take some time to step into the outdoors and purposefully marvel in awe at the tremendous sights surrounding you.
4. Surround Yourself with Love
Who are the people closest to you in your life? Do you spend enough time with them? Do you genuinely celebrate one another? Do you cheer on each other’s accomplishments? Do you bandage each other’s wounds when you fall and get scraped up by the rough edges of living?
Who is your tribe? Are they there for you? Are they people with whom you’d genuinely want to be associated? Are they individuals who inspire you and serve as role models for the type of person you’d like to grow into being? If no, perhaps it’s time for trimming the friendship tree.
In 1938, Harvard began a study that continues to this day. They followed and studied students over the course of their lives and tracked their levels of happiness. What was the biggest finding? It wasn’t degrees earned, income, genes, or heritage that correlated with a joyful life — it was positive primary relationships. According to Harvard, “Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives. […] People’s level of satisfaction with their relationships at age 50 was a better predictor of physical health than their cholesterol levels.”
5. Play More
Be silly. Make art. Enact games. Express yourself. Dance like no one is watching. If you’re serious all the time — it will be hard to connect with joy. If you wildly create in a way that is meaningfully self-expressive, it’ll be much easier to be happy. Paint. Dance. Walk on your hands. Each of us are artists — but most of us were told in childhood that we weren’t very good at it. Forget those critics! Create because you want to. Create because you are alive — and being silly and playful is an active demonstration of the joy in living.
6. Forgive Yourself and Others
It’s hard to fly when you’ve got weights holding you down. Regret, feelings of betrayal and anger…these are all leaden tethers. Until you can forgive yourself and others for the shortcomings you experience, you’ll struggle. So…truly let go. Move on. It was never really about you anyways — whoever harmed you was caught up in their own stuff. And, if you need to forgive yourself, remind yourself that (at that time) you probably did the best you could. Hindsight is much clearer — and if you knew then what you know now, you’d probably have chosen differently.
7. Be Absurd
Those people striving to fit in, to be normal — are never happy. They are too concerned with what others think. Be ridiculously you — be fabulous. You can only live your own life — no one else’s. So don’t worry about their opinions. Be authentic, radiant, and wild.
Don’t strive to keep up with the Joneses…or the Kardashians. Be unique. Be kooky. Be the crazy lady with fifteen cats. “If you’re always trying to be normal, you’ll never know how amazing you could be,” says poet Maya Angelou. Do the absurd thing by being remarkably you.
With those seven tools, you will find a happier, more full version of life waiting around the corner. 2020 is challenging — but it’s also an impetus to evolve. Be present — express gratitude — cultivate awe — surround yourself with love — play — forgive — be unique. And through these things, we will together thrive.
If you enjoyed this article, please check out my upcoming book: Journey to the Ecstatic Self today.