There are times in our lives when happiness doesn't even feel like an option.
When any amount of 'Cheer up! Things could get worse!' and the accompanying smirks, are enough to send you screaming from the room.
When waking up in the morning is greeted, not by sighs of gratitude at how lucky we are to have a comfortable bed, hot running water etc., but groans at the thought of what happened yesterday and what's coming up today.
I found myself in this place a few months ago.
As a family we were going through some heavy stuff with one of our teenage daughters and my underlying emotional state was worry and fear. Despite my naturally positive disposition I caught myself starting each morning with thoughts of dread and reluctance to even begin the day. Then I’d move through my day with a grey cloud hovering over me, with negative thoughts and a grim expression. Smiling felt like too much effort and rather fake if I tried it.
Well, I’d been there before and knew that the only way to change my predominant mood was to get very proactive.
But why even bother?
Why attempt to pursue happiness? Isn’t that just fluffy and New Age and deluded?
Here are just a few reasons why I believe that happiness is beneficial:
1. I feel better, more energized and lighter.
2. I get more done, I’m much more productive.
3. I’m nicer to the people around me.
4. I share my creations, the results of my gifts and talents.
5. I spread happiness – smiles are definitely contagious.
6. I light up the world rather than adding to the darkness.
What reasons would you add?
The Three Pillars.
I believe there are three pillars to creating and embracing more happiness:
1. Acknowledge and clear ‘negative’ emotions.
2. Move your body and your energy.
3. Play happiness mindset games.
Pillar #1: Acknowledge and clear ‘negative’ emotions.
A while back I discovered it wasn’t enough to ‘think positive’ or try to plaster a smile on my face when I was feeling emotionally wounded; sad, angry or under the weather.
No. Instead of just ignoring my emotions (like a child being told to smile or pull him/herself together and stop sulking or being given a lollipop to distract them) I now know to lean into them, really recognize that ‘yes, I am furious, fed up, misunderstood, whatever it is’ and that that’s OK.
This is where EFT tapping is so useful. It’s not just a question of ranting to a friend over a bottle of wine and ending up with an emotional hangover (and maybe even physical too, to add to your misery). No, with EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) I can actually clear the emotions and let them go.
Pillar #2: Move your body and your energy.
Moving physically while thinking of it as moving energetically is a very powerful exercise.
I look on it like being in a house with different rooms and each room is a different emotional state. When I am in my unhappy/sad room it can be very difficult, even impossible at times, to get out. Just being told ‘be happy’ doesn’t work. In fact, it’s rather insulting. No, I have to move; get up, walk across the room, turn a key and unlock the door so I can go across the hall into the ‘happy room’.
This translates into physical activity.
Here are a few that I use every day, preferably starting first thing in the morning (or the day gets away from me.)
1. Deep breathing.
I love Sondra Ray’s book ‘The Only Diet There Is’ which is all about self-love. And the only physical exercise she recommends is deep breathing. Just that. No 10k runs or 100 situps. Just breathing. You can do it!!
2. Qi Gong.
This Chinese exercise system combines breathing, flowing movement, meditation and body coordination. It gets me moving gently right after waking and has a magical effect on my mood and energy, setting me up for the day. I love how the exercises embody happiness states such as gratitude, feeling connected and being in the flow. I do 10-20 minutes with Youtube videos each day.
3. Yoga. Again, just a tiny amount and it really satisfies my body’s craving for a good stretch, and opening up and shaking out my joints.
4. Walking. I live in the centre of Madrid without a car. I walk a lot. Sometimes with my Stepometer (the 10,000 steps a day thing), sometimes not. It feels great.
You will already have or can find out what works for you. It doesn’t have to be much – my favourite piece of advice is
‘Everyday, do more than nothing!’
Pillar #3: Play happiness mindgames.
This pillar is vital for resetting your R.A.S – your Reticular Activation System, (that device in your brain that has you spotting red VWs over and over when you just bought one) – to looking out for happiness instead of finding reasons to be miserable.
I have many different mental exercises that I use, depending on the situation and the challenge it presents.
For when I’m feeling grumpy and unappreciative: the Gratitude A-Z.
Lacking self-confidence or feeling self-doubt: the No Matter What I Do exercise.
Feeling cross with others: the For Whatever Reason game.
Distracted and distant: the Engage, Don’t Prove, mindset.
(Scroll down to find out how to access all these games…and much more.)
Our natural tendency – due to our ancestral negative bias – is to look out for disaster, run horror movies in our heads (very tempting with children in the house!) and talk about what’s not going well in our lives.
And that needs retraining if we are to feel happier.
I truly believe that embracing happiness is important work.
As Anne Frank said (and, really, if she can write this just about anyone can):
‘Whoever is happy will make others happy too.’