These past few years have been a struggle for me personally and professionally. I have endured incredible stresses, disappointments and challenges and throughout it all, I have tried to find that secret recipe toward achieving true happiness in my life.
While I have made advancements toward finding contentment, they have not been easy wins. Much of my journey has required making changes and some of them were really big, scary, drastic changes such as a starting a new job or moving to a new neighborhood and home, while others have been small but meaningful adjustments like altering my commute to work or changing my bedding so as to create a room more conducive to relaxation and sleep. No matter the degree of modifications I have had to make in my life, all of them have contributed to the bigger goal of creating more joy, less stress, fewer toxins and more peace and contentment.
Thankfully, for the first time ever in my adult life, I do believe I can finally say that I’ve figured it all out—at least for the time being. Happiness is not attained through one big, seismic change, but rather through many small, gradual ones, and it doesn’t happen over night, and the need to make these changes doesn’t ever really stop. Even now, during what I can say has been the happiest stretch of several months in my life, I am always finding ways to improve my lifestyle to ensure the happiness I have been feeling continues.
I really enjoyed this article on the 11 Habits of Truly Happy People. I have adopted many (although not all) of these behaviors and feel they really have made a difference in terms of improving the quality of my life. In particular, numbers 2, 3, 4 and 6 have been integral, life-changing habits for me.
But I’d like to add some of my own to the list in the hopes that others also on the journey to finding contentment may find my experience helpful:
Stop comparing your life to others’. In the age of social media, this is a very difficult thing to do, but it really is not a new challenge. Keeping up with the Jones’ has always been a vice within our society, but as soon as you find a way to release that need to compare, life becomes so much happier. It might be hard to do at first, but it is absolutely very possible to simply stop caring. I think it’s great that my friend has a bigger, newer home than me, but my smaller, older home fits my needs just fine. I have less cleaning to do, lower electricity bills and a cozier ambiance that comfortably houses two of us and a cat. It’s clean, it’s safe, it’s quiet, and I’ve made it into a place that I consider to be peaceful, beautiful and inviting. What more could I ask for?
Don’t beat yourself up. As someone who has an extreme Type A personality, this has been a life-long struggle for me. But I’m getting better at this, and my ability to do so has greatly improved not only my mental health but also the overall quality of my life. So I’m running 15 minutes late to my dentist appointment. Not a big deal. It’s not the end of the world, the universe will simply have to adjust to my tardiness. The worst that can happen is that I simply have to reschedule. Missed my bus transfer on the way to work? It’s okay. I’m not late to work everyday, people will have to be understanding and if they can’t be, then I need to re-evaluate the type of work environment I am operating in. Late responding to an email? The person expecting my immediate response will simply have to get over it. In my line of work, no lives will have been lost, thankfully. We all make mistakes, things happen that are out of our control and reality sometimes gets in the way. People might be upset with us, but all we can do is acknowledge the struggle, accept the outcome and move on. End of story.
Spend time outdoors. Depending on where you live, this can be difficult. There was a summer not too long ago when all it did was rain. Who wants to be outdoors in that kind of mess? I had many canceled tennis games and consequently, fewer opportunities to be outdoors. Then there was this most recent summer when we had multiple 90 plus degree days in a row, topped off with incredibly high humidity rates. No thank you, I’d rather stay indoors. During both periods of prolonged, extreme weather, I could literally feel the energy drain from my body. And when that happened, my motivation, good mood and happiness also faded away. But when the stars aligned and beautiful weather graced itself upon me once again, much like it has done lately, I’ve taken every chance I’ve had to spend some time outdoors. Whether it’s taking a 30-minute walk during my lunch break or a two-hour hike on the weekend, I will literally pencil in time during my packed schedule to rendezvous with the sun. And what an incredible difference it makes!
Read a book. TV, Netflix, movies and computer games—they are all entertaining but also very stimulating. To truly unwind from the stresses in my life, I have found reading a book the perfect escape from my worries. And whenever I read before going to bed, I find that I have a much more restful night’s sleep than if I don’t.
Do something creative. One of the most frustrating periods of my life has been the time when I could not do something creative. Part of my struggle was that I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was bored with adult coloring books. I enjoyed painting but felt it was too high-maintenance for my busy life and small home. But then I discovered jewelry making and design, and it has once again allowed me use that part of my brain that I tend to ignore during the work week. I get a very wholesome sense of satisfaction creating something from scratch. It definitely fills a hole within me and fills it up with something rewarding and energizing.
Be kind and generous. It’s amazing how difficult this can sometimes be. But it doesn’t have to be a Nobel Peace Prize gesture. It can be a simple “good morning,” to someone on the street or remembering to say “thank you” to the bus driver or parking attendant you see every day on the way to work. It could be giving to charity, buying a friend a cup of coffee or giving your seat up on the subway to someone who needs it more than you. Mostly this means doing little things that can make a big, positive difference.
Prayer and reflection. If you are a spiritual person, or someone open to experimenting with spirituality, prayer is a wonderful way to bring joy into your life. I spend each night reflecting on all that I am thankful for, and when I realize how very fortunate I am, I immediately feel happy. And when I go to bed feeling happy, I sleep much more soundly. And when I sleep much more soundly, I have a better start to my mornings. It’s cyclical, but it’s effective, and in a world that is not becoming any kinder, slower-paced or forgiving, I’ll take whatever breaks I can get.