Are you happy right now? Chances are, you aren’t. Or maybe you’re not as happy as you want to be. Perhaps you are thinking “Well, I would be happy if… [insert a situation out of your control, a material item, or a habit you’ve been putting off].
I believe that you can be happy. It just takes simple changes. Implementing positive, mindful little habits is incredibly powerful. You might be doubtful. How can meditating solve all of my problems? Well, it won’t. You aren’t supposed to be happy all the freaking time. That would be weird. Life doesn’t work that way and I don’t think we would LIKE it if life worked that way! You need the sadness, fear, loneliness and anger to show you how beautiful the joy, relief, friendship, and harmony are. They are yin and yang.
However, if you are constantly in a state of dissatisfaction, it’s up to you to get back into balance. If you are constantly expecting the worst, judging yourself, judging everyone else, and getting worked up about things outside of your control - you are not living your best possible life!
Don’t put a “due date” on your happiness. Happiness shouldn’t be put off until your vacation, until exams are over, or until you get that new phone. Happiness is for here and now and for this evening and for tomorrow. Happiness is for you and me and everyone else.
Now, I’m not perfect. I catch myself being pessimistic quite frequently. It’s very easy (and sometimes fun) to complain, especially when you’re doing it with friends. Grumbling about a test, griping about an assignment, or criticizing a person. And it seems harmless because you’re enjoying yourself, right? But that poisonous attitude spills over into your daily life. When you’re sitting alone, at your desk, with a pile of homework, those same thoughts - “This is stupid, the teacher thinks this is the only class we have, how could she give us only two days, I hate this” - are not so fun anymore.
But I’m much happier now than I used to be. I’m happy because I made simple changes, and today I want to share with you what changes YOU can make to improve your own happiness :)
1. Keep a journal
When I was younger journaling seemed more like a hobby. It seemed like a way to record your life, have fun, and be artsy. It called to mind colorful markers, washi tape, and stickers. And of course a journal CAN be all of that if you want it to, but it has a much deeper impact. Journaling is like meditation. All of the thoughts that are swirling around in your head get to be silenced, organized, and dumped onto a page of paper. You get to visually see your thought patterns. And if you want to set an intention to change your thoughts, you can literally write down the new thoughts you want to replace them with. It’s like a contract with yourself!
I like to do this as part of my bedtime routine. I write about the day, how I felt about it, and what I could do to respond to hard situations better in the future. It gives you peace of mind when you go to sleep, and makes positive thinking a habit.
It really bothers me when people make fun of meditation. They’ll say something like “Haha, let’s meditate” *forms OK sign with fingers, closes eyes, and says “Ommm”*. Meditation is such a powerful tool. It’s not a crunchy, hippie thing. Lots of super successful people meditate to relieve stress and to stay mindful. Oprah meditates!
For beginners I think one of the best ways to start is with a breathing practice. Set a timer for 3-5 minutes, and sit comfortably and quietly with your eyes closed, breathing. Focus on your breath. Sometimes I like to imagine my breath as a blue light going into my body and then out. There are also a lot of resources online for meditation. You can find YouTube videos, or download apps. I have tried and enjoyed Headspace and Insight Timer. I also highly recommend the Zen Habits 44 Training Program. It can be hard to form into a habit, so you might try making it a part of your morning routine.
Meditation makes you find happiness in the here and now. Not thinking about happy times of the past or how we could have made them happier, not about happy things in the future or what stresses are coming our way, but sitting, peacefully, in this very moment, content and relaxed with where you are and what you have.
3. Repeat mantras
Mantras are words or phrases repeated to help you concentrate in meditation. But they can also be repeated throughout the day to help you remain mindful.
You might be thinking that this is too woo-woo for you, but just hear me out. Your mantra doesn’t have to be something like “I honor the divinity within myself” (source) (but it’s totally cool and awesome if it is!). It can be something as simple as “I give myself permission to slow down” (source). The goal here is to repeat these phrases, often. Because if you say something, well then ultimately, you are thinking it!
Think of it like laughing. Have you ever done that thing (maybe when you were a kid) where you pretended to laugh and then soon enough the fake laughter became authentic and you were cracking up and couldn’t stop? This is the same idea. Fake it ‘till you make it.
Write them down in your planner, stick them on a post-it note to your mirror, whatever will make you see them multiple times a day.
2. Make a plan to get back on track
For me, meditation and yoga chill me out. A few days ago I came home from the first day of school feeling completely drained, annoyed, and anxious about the pressures of the year facing me. After a snack, I went up to my room, pulled out my computer, and played a meditation (sign up for the full free program here). I sunk into the feeling of calm bliss and then transitioned into a yoga video (Yoga with Adriene). It got me moving, sweating, breathing, smiling, relaxing. I felt like a new person.
Now, maybe meditation and yoga aren’t your thang and that’s totally fine! Try different things and make note of what changes your mood and what doesn’t.
It’s very important to make sure that you don’t brush over the “or doesn’t” part of this because personally, I know that if I pull out my phone for a little bit of Instagram or Pinterest self-soothing, I spiral further down the hole of sadness and end up feeling like I’ve wasted time.
5. Catch and rephrase negative thoughts
As I mentioned before, no one is perfect, and negative thoughts are a part of life. You just have to acknowledge them, accept them, and use them to change your viewpoint. For example:
“Ugh I have so much studying to do for finals” becomes “I’ve been studying so hard, I’m sure to ace these finals and get the GPA I want!”
“It’s so cold and miserable outside” becomes “It’s a great day to get cozy inside and read a book or watch a movie”
“This event will be so stressful” becomes “I’ll get to meet so many new people and explore a cool place at this fun event!”
You don’t always have to add an exclamation point when you are positivi-fying something, haha! But you get the idea. Find the good side, find the viewpoint that makes your heart feel a little bit lighter and your soul a little more hopeful. Eventually this will become easier and easier, like strengthening a muscle. A positivity muscle :)
How do you change your thought patterns and stay positive in the face of stress?
I hope you have a wonderful weekend!