I’ve had a bit of writer’s block recently . . . unsure of what the topic of my next blog post should be. But as usual, the universe has a habit of sending signals and messages that often point to a solution. If my Facebook feed is anything to go by, the hot topic of the moment (and one I’ve been contemplating for a while) is how to be truly ‘happy’.
I put ‘happy’ in inverted commas because happiness has become bound up with notions of joyfulness & cheeriness, and let’s face it that’s a pretty high bar for anyone to achieve on a daily basis. On the contrary, happiness is only one of a huge range of emotions that we are programmed to feel. One of my favourite quotes is from social researcher and author, Hugh Mackay, on Happiness:
“Don’t chase it. Let it surprise you with its occasional, blissful visitations. Sadness, frustration and bewilderment are as authentic as happiness: if we’re to be fully human, we need to experience the lot.”
I’m no philosopher but to me the difference is a state of ‘being’ as opposed to a ‘feeling’. I may feel acute sadness at the untimely passing of my kitten, angry at the injustices of the world, and grief over the loss of my unborn child, but I know that these feelings will eventually pass. By the same token, I might feel blissfully happy on my wedding day, joyful at the birth of a new niece or nephew, or content as I walk or swim at the beach. But these feelings too will pass.
What remains and is constant is our underlying state of ‘being’, and what 20 years of yoga and (more recently) meditation has taught me is that we are totally in control of that state of being, whatever shitty or shiny stuff life throws at us. So to add my two-penneth worth to the discussion on how to be happy, here are my top 5 tips:
1. Know yourSELF
"To thine own self be true" ~ William Shakespeare
Statistics suggest that we are happiest in our early years (up to our late teens) and in our later years (after the kids have left home). So what happens to the 30 odd years in-between? It’s no surprise that as we take on an increasing number of roles and responsibilities (spouse, parent, employer, employee, care giver) we identify ourselves more and more with those roles and lose touch a little with who we really are.
In our desire to be a good husband/wife/parent/employee/boss we regularly compromise our own needs, and over a long period of time we forget what makes us truly, deeply happy. Being SELFish occasionally is not about not caring for others, it is about practicing self-love. Only by making time to re-connect with our true selves, and honouring our own heart's desires, will we be truly happy and better able to serve others.
2. Do something every day that makes your heart sing
“If you want happiness to bloom within you, simply water the seeds.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
We all get burdened down with daily tasks and responsibilities, and it’s easy to de-prioritise things that bring us joy when more ‘urgent’ demands are upon us. But if we agree that our own happiness is of utmost importance, then more urgent but less important tasks can wait while we fill up the self-love bucket.
In the early years of my yoga practice I realised that whatever was going on externally (work stress/relationship issues) I would always leave a yoga class with a sense of wellbeing and peace. Of course it didn’t always last long . . . but as my practice grew, so did the light inside me, and I began to recognise other practices and activities that made my light shine brighter and my heart sing. The more I focused on these areas of my life, the nicer person I became.
Make time in your day to do at least one thing that brings you joy. It might be attending a yoga class, taking a walk or run in nature, listening to a favourite piece of music, or putting your feet up with a magazine and a cup of tea. Your family and friends will thank you for it!
3. Be compassionate towards others
"If you want others to be happy practice compassion: if you want yourself to be happy practice compassion." ~ The Dalai Lama
This has been a bit of a game changer for me in recent years. In the past I would regularly get my back up at the slightest sign of conflict or aggression, go on the defensive and react as if I was under attack. Now I try to imagine what might be going on with the other person; what stresses or strains they might be under, personally or professionally, that are driving their behavior, and try to respond compassionately. As a result I am calmer, less stressed, and the situation is often diffused. And the other person involved hopefully feels better too.
Equally, random acts of kindness and compassion that bring a little bit of joy or relief to others, will also fill your own reserves and are sure to be returned. Try picking up some Kindness Cards and paying for a strangers coffee, sending flowers to someone you know is having a tough time, or placing chocolates on a work colleague's desk anonymously. In the words of William Wordsworth, “Those best parts of a good life: little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.”
4. Be grateful
“No matter what the situation is . . . close your eyes and think of all the things you could be grateful for in your life right now.” ~ Deepak Chopra
Research has proven that people who focus on the positive things in their lives, rather dwelling on problems, are generally happier and more productive.
If you’re reading this blog the chances are you already rich (relative to 95% of the world’s population), have a roof over your head, food in your belly, and live in a free, safe, abundant society. We are blessed to have won the lottery of life, and have an endless list of things to be grateful for, and yet our first world problems continue to burden and often break us.
Try this 21 day challenge and for 3 weeks write down 3 things your are grateful for each day. It could be as simple as having a hot shower on a cold morning, or something more meaningful to you. Our problems or worries might not go away entirely, but they might seem less burdensome.
5. Live in the present
"What day is it?" asked Pooh. "It's today," squeaked Piglet. "My favourite day." said Pooh ~ AA Milne
Being present or living in the moment can be incredibly challenging when our monkey minds are forever dwelling upon the past or projecting into the future. Yet we all know that there’s absolutely nothing we can do to change the past, and even the biggest control freak can be totally caught out by unexpected events tomorrow.
Our only reality is the present one. Which isn’t to say we shouldn’t plan for the future, but let’s all stop believing life is going to get better when we find the perfect relationship, get the better job, more money, a bigger house . . . or reflecting on how much better life was when we had less responsibility, financial freedom and fewer wrinkles!
Nothing is ever perfect, and it never will be. Or on the flip side, everything is perfect and just as it should be. The only constant is change, and whatever our present reality is, tomorrow it will be different, or our perception of it will be different. Remember the Ego says, “Once everything falls into place I will find peace,” while the Spirit says, “Find peace and everything will fall into place.” (Marianne Williamson).
As always I'd love to hear your own stories or tips on how you feed your soul and find inner happiness. Comments welcome below!