As much as I've tried, and maybe you have too, we cannot buy our way from suffering to happiness. I can spend inordinate amounts of time looking at websites and magazines, pondering something to "treat" myself with, but there comes a point when I must note my whole house is filled with things for which I thought to myself "I'll be happy when I have____________." Ditto for my life achievements. I'm very pleased with what I've managed to do in my time on this planet, but it's not the stuff that moves the happiness needle long-term. Otherwise the A+ from my Home Economics class when I was eleven would still be making me smile with enduring self-worth.
Contentment, joy, satisfaction.... these are states of mind not states of having. So one eventually realises that positive frames of mind aren't reliably achieved through acquisition, achievement, or promotion. While these things do boost us in the short-term, they don't keep us in an ongoing state of happiness and cheer, and so the search then continues for the next thing to acquire/achieve/receive. In all honesty, once we have enough for out basic needs, adding more doesn't create a rise in happiness or emotional well-being (1).
Ok. So if you're wondering where this leads you, and how you can reliably cultivate a good inner state, there are some ideas out there. It's not a one-size-fits-all, so try as many as you can and see which ones really work best for you. Try ones that you find yourself cynical of or notice resistance to. Those are especially insightful if you can do them with an open mind.
1. Enjoy the sunshine.
While we don't need it to create vitamin D -- supplements do the job just as well -- research shows that supplementing does little to protect you from Seasonal Affective Disorder. For that you need actual sunshine. Likewise, studies show that your serotonin is higher on sunnier days. There's no consensus on how much you need, but start experimenting and see what feels really really good to you. Your instincts are good. You'll know when you feel the boost.
2. Press pause.
Either enrol in a yoga or meditation class online, find a local group, or if your self-discipline is strong set 5-30 minutes aside at the same time each day to just sit and breathe. Taking the time to just be with yourself and learning qualities of mindfulness and savouring are some of the smartest things you can do to build the "inner muscles" of contentment.
3. Press mute.
Social media accounts that make you feel less than or envious trigger comparisons and anxiety. Pick up your phone now, unfollow all the accounts that make you feel "not enough". Only follow things that make you feel happy and connected and content with where you are in your life.
4. Cocktail your bath.
Epsom salts, essential oils (just a few drops), bubbles, you name it. All of these things are wonderful at helping you soak happier and unwind. Go easy on the oils because too much can have the opposite effect. 1-5 drops at most. Then suds up and enjoy. Play a podcast if you prefer the company.
5. Make moments of calm.
Put a red dot on your steering wheel, wallet, computer screen, wherever, and anytime you see it take a big calming breath. See it as a moment to be still. Red might seem like an alarming choice, but you want it to be a colour you notice, and red appears on everything from traffic lights to stop signs.
What are your thoughts? Any go-tos that you could add to this list? Comment below to share with everyone.
(1) D. Kahneman and A. Deaton, "High Income Improves Evaluation of Life but Not Emotional Well-Being," Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, USA 107:38 (2010), 16489-93.
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