My boyfriend and I used to have a particular argument over and over again.
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You see, I was always searching, searching, searching for that thing that one thing, that golden ticket, that would make me happy. If not always, then at least most of the time.
He, on the other hand, having plowed through a considerable number of books on Buddhism, would counter that happiness shouldn’t be what I was seeking, but rather contentment and a sense of peace regardless of what else was going on in my life.
Many years later we’re married and I have to say he’s mostly brought me over to his side in the argument: Over-the-top happiness on a day-to-day basis isn’t a realistic expectation for me to have.
Every time I see a book on happiness, I’m interested in what it has to say. Every time I hear a podcast about the secrets of happiness, I listen closely.
Basically, I’m still searching for that holy grail of a mood-lifter, the thing that will keep me consistently blissful (even if my husband has his doubts).
I can’t say I’ve found it yet, but I can say, with complete certainty, that my level of contentment and calm is way, way higher than it used to be. I may not have all the answers for everyone, but I do have some good ideas for how you can begin improving the level of happiness in your own life.
1. Be Grateful
On my personal growth journey I’ve heard about the benefits of being grateful from Oprah to Dr. Andrew Weil to Brene Brown and beyond. They all seem to think there’s some sort of magic to gratitude, and at this point, I have to say I’m inclined to agree.
I notice that every time I’m grateful, I get an instant boost of positivity. The best way I’ve found to be grateful consistently is to write down three good things that happened, and why I’m grateful for them, in my journal every night before bed.
The cool thing is I never stop at three, because as soon as I start thinking about it, I find tons of things to be grateful for. This has leaked into my day-to-day life now, and my husband and I regularly discuss what’s good in our lives rather than what’s not so great.
2. Be Present
I was listening to the TED radio hour podcast a few days ago, and the topic was, surprise, happiness. One segment of the show discussed research that indicated we humans are most likely to be happy when we’re paying attention to what we’re doing.
In other words, if you’re on the train to work but your mind is not there, but instead on the 12 things you have to do as soon as you get there, you’re much less likely to be happy than the person next to you who is paying attention to her ride.
I get it, I really do: it’s hard to stay present. It’s hard to stay in the moment, especially when we’re used to having constant stimuli in the form of our phones or laptops or TVs all day long. It’s worth a try, though.
Set an alarm to go off once an hour on that mobile device that’s permanently at your side, and every time it dings, take a moment to focus on what you’re doing, whether it’s washing dishes, changing a dirty diaper, talking to a family member, or even surfing the web.
3. Be You
I actually think tuning into this may be the biggest happiness creator of them all.
To clarify what I mean, let me first tell you about what the opposite of “be you” means: Bending your values to suit the needs of others. Trying to please everyone even if it means going against your own deepest held beliefs. Staying in a job that involves doing lots of something you hate because you’re too afraid to do the thing you really want to do.
You can see why that would not make for a happy life, right?
To combat this, write down a list of everything you’d do and be if you had absolutely no fear about the repercussions. Don’t worry about what your mom would say, or your wife, or your boss. Don’t worry about making a living, either. Just freestyle about what makes you essentially you.
Next, pick an item from the list that sounds doable now, even in small doses, and start being true to yourself right now. I’ll wait.
Maybe there’s no such thing as happy all the time. But I’m going to keep working on it until I know for sure.