Happiness is a subjective experience, and it can have different meanings to different people. As we strive for contentment in our lives, there are certain habits that anyone can use to increase our sense of well-being and fulfillment. Kristen offers these 10 habits that we can incorporate into our daily lives to cultivate more joy, contentment, and resilience.
1. GET PLENTY OF SUNSHINE
A client of mine who lived in a dreary climate was dealing with depression; a few weeks after moving to a new state, she reported feeling better. I asked her, "What do you think changed?" She said, "I realized I'm solar- powered." I loved that! Solar-powered! Being exposed to sunlight is so important for our mental health. The sun emulates a brightness, a lightness, that naturally boosts our moods. If we're feeling low, taking time to watch the sunrise or sunset can give us the lift we need.
2. PRACTICE GRATITUDE
I know it sounds cliche, but we hear the significance of gratitude repeated for a reason - it's true. Gratitude and negativity cannot co-exist in the same moment. The thought of gratitude is always stronger than any negative thought. When I catch myself in a negative thought spiral, I'll pause and state three things I'm grateful for. By intentionally interrupting the negative thought loop and inserting gratitude, my whole mental plane, and all ensuing thoughts, shift toward the positive.
3. MEET ESSENTIAL NEEDS: SLEEP, HYDRATION, NOURISHMENT
Drinking water and eating wholesome food is imperative for our physical and mental health. We have a tool in counseling, called HALT. The acronym stands for hungry, angry, lonely, tired. When we're feeling "off," we want to check in with these four states. It's amazing how many bad decisions or regrettable actions can be mitigated by simply making sure we're hydrated, well-fed, and properly rested. We have a higher probability of feeling happy after a good night's sleep, wholesome meal, or big glass of refreshing water. Having our basic needs met will not guarantee happiness, but not having them met makes happiness harder to achieve.
4. CHOOSE YOUR DOPAMINE FIXES WISELY
Dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters that makes us feel happy. It's known as the "feel-good" hormone. We get dopamine surges from a myriad of sources. Cheap sources of dopamine include: social media, sugar, and junk food. We want to limit these because they come with an unpleasant crash. Better sources of dopamine include diets rich in: fruits, veggies, and lean proteins, and exercise, meditation, enjoyable music, or playing with a pet.
5. LIMIT SOCIAL MEDIA
Too much social media can lead to comparison, avoidance, escapism, and isolation. Social media is addictive; and has insidious ramifications. By limiting social media, we free up time to engage with our environments in more meaningful ways.
6. KEEP GOOD COMPANY - EVEN IF IT'S JUST YOURSELF
Energy is contagious. Happy people promote happiness in other people. Surround yourself with good vibes. And, learn to enjoy your own company, spending time alone can be very therapeutic and rewarding.
7. LET GO
Sometimes life doesn't go our way; people disappoint us, and bad things happen. No one is exempt from adversity in life. It's normal to feel down after an unfortunate event, but we don't want to stay down. It's helpful to take inventory, find the lesson, and move forward. Some events require a longer processing or healing time, but throughout the process, it's best not to ruminate. Especially when it comes to trivial matters, we aim to keep perspective, most things aren't worth lamenting over.
8. BE KIND TO YOURSELF
We spend our entire lives with ourselves. If we're spending that much time with any one person, that person better be nice. We all have an inner critic, and she can be rude. As often as you can, catch your inner critic and replace her voice with a kinder voice. You'll feel happier for it.
9. GENEROUS INTERPRETATION
One of my professors taught me this. "Assume the most generous interpretation," which is another way of saying, "give people the benefit of the doubt." If someone says something vague, you get to decide how to interpret their meaning...Are they insulting me? Was that a compliment? Hmmm... When in doubt, assume the best about people. The generous interpretation is to assume people mean well.
Doing nice things for others enhances our sense of fulfillment and purpose. I was feeling gloomy the other day when I picked my daughter up from school. I saw her classmate and his grandfather standing outside waiting for the public bus. I offered to take them home. I felt a wave of positivity wash through me. I didn't know it at the time, but when I offered to do them a favor, selfishly, I was providing a service to make myself feel better. It worked!
It is important to remember that all feelings are valuable. Our culture tends to glorify "positive" emotions, such as happiness, and teaches us to avoid or escape from "negative" emotions. It's important to appreciate the truth - being human requires us to experience the full spectrum of emotional stats. Each emotion is temporary, and serves a purpose. It's to our advantage to remind ourselves that when we're in a lower state, emotions are transitory. I'm in full favor of promoting happiness; I just want to highlight that the aforementioned tools that promote happiness are actually tools that promote wellbeing from a holistic perspective. We can employ these tools, not only in an effort to achieve happiness, but to promote overall mental health in a broader sense.
Kristen Lillian Riordan has a Master's degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She is an author, board-certified Aurdeva Counselor, yoga teacher, and mom. She currently lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. Her books, Your Life is Medicine: Ayurveda for Yogis, and Love Fearlessly: The Soulmate Within can be found on Amazon. Her new book, Clueless & Wise: Pregnancy, Postpartum, and Early Motherhood will launch this Spring!