Last night, to introduce The Happy Wall (opening this weekend!) and kick off the holiday season, I gave a little talk about Finding Happiness. It was, well, happy! At least, it made ME happy. I hope it had the same effect on my super-awesome audience. 😉
In the talk, I went over six of the key habits that helped me get happier, and the science behind them. These are some of the most powerful ways we can change the way we feel. And trust me, this stuff WERKS.
To recap for everyone who’s interested, here they are: six practices that will help make you happier:
1. Exercise, preferably outdoors.
The power of physical activity, combined with Mother Nature’s awesomeness (and the delightful nectar known as Vitamin D) cannot be overstated. A study by Harvard Health Publications found that exercise can be as effective for mild to moderate depression as taking antidepressants. That’s HUGE in a world that leads us to believe we need pills to make us better. Exercise has a wealth of benefits for physical and mental health, and there are thousands of ways to do it. In other words, it doesn’t have to involve making yourself miserable via the Stairmaster. Walk, swim, climb trees, ride your bike, whatever. Just find something you enjoy and DO IT.
2. Find your community.
It’s hard to find happiness when you’re spending all your time navel gazing. You can brood and stew and ponder about happiness all you want, but you’re missing a HUGE piece of the puzzle: other people. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of inner work involved on the path to happiness, but bonds with other humans are a must. The happiest people have strong social ties and prioritize friendships. For me, this involved getting out of my comfort zone (introverts unite!) and pushing myself to attend events and engage with other people as much as I could stand. Find causes you care about, do things you enjoy, GET OUT OF THE HOUSE and you’ll find your tribe.
3. Change the way you think.
This is probably the most difficult of the practices to actually accomplish. We’ve been thinking a certain way for a long time — a lifetime, even. Changing those ingrained, negative thought patterns ain’t easy. But is IS possible. By identifying our negative (and irrational) thoughts, we can find more realistic, positive thoughts to replace them. The best way to do this is through CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). Lots of therapists practice it, but you can adopt the basic principles on your own. Dr. David Burns came up with a list of cognitive distortions, things like all or nothing thinking, mind reading, overgeneralization, etc. Write down the automatic negative thoughts that blow through your brain, then check them against the list of cognitive distortions and identify why they’re wrong. Next, create better thoughts to practice in their place. Over time, positive thinking will become habitual, and that’s when everything starts to change.
4. Embrace self-compassion.
Kristin Neff, self-compassion pioneer, says there are three aspects of this important practice: self-kindness, feeling a sense of common humanity with others and being mindful. I can’t overemphasize the importance of this. It’s hard to be happy when you’ve got a bully in our brain. We need to learn to treat ourselves with the same care and consideration we’d offer to anyone we love. We deserve nothing less. Not to mention, research shows self-compassion makes us MORE conducive to positive change than being hard on ourselves — despite common wisdom to the contrary.
5. Meditate and be mindful.
Meditation is powerful. SUPER powerful. I call it the wonder drug that isn’t a drug. It’s positive benefits include better sleep, lower blood pressure, reduced stress and anxiety, fewer negative emotions, weight loss, better memory, more creativity and more. Plus, it’s easier to meditate than most people think, and doesn’t require a massive time commitment, either. In five minutes a day, you can watch your life start to change. I recommend guided meditations, because they ease the process along. Oprah and Deepak Chopra do them regularly (and they’re FREE) — and you can download a whole host of free meditations online, too. In addition, meditation facilitates mindfulness, which is an important practice to bring to your day-to-day life. Mindfulness basically refers to bringing presence and non-judgment to each moment as it comes. It’s the definition of peace. It makes time slow down, and ceases the pointless chatter chirping in our brains. Harder than it sounds, but well worth the effort.
6. Practice gratitude.
When we live in a state of gratitude, we live in a state of constant surprise and bliss. We see EVERYTHING as a gift — because everything is. And while human beings tend to become accustomed to what’s routine (thereby losing a sense of gratefulness), we can facilitate our own gratitude on a regular basis. The best way? Through a gratitude journal. This is a super-simple process that can be done in 10 or 15 minutes a day. Before going to bed, write down three things you’re grateful for: anything, no matter how small. Over time, this leads to major increases in our happiness levels, as well as better sleep. How awesome is that?