Happiness does not have to be elusive. We don’t have to wait until we get that big house or make our first million. There are things that we can do every day to improve our mood. But where do we begin?
There are thousands of books on how to attain happiness. There are countless blogs on how to make it a part of our life. There is even a department in Psychology that focuses on this positive affect. Though most of these writings on joy seem to give us great ideas, they can be difficult to implement. It can be hard to create new habits and organize them into our busy schedules. One author tells us that we need to be grateful, another says we must be outgoing, while another tells us to try something new. Some authors even argue that our levels of happiness are predetermined by genetics. So which one is it?
Well, probably all of these are connected to our emotional well-being. But there is some good news—although our happiness is affected by our differences there are a few things that seem to work for most of us. I have compiled a list of seven popular ways of cultivating happiness and turned them into a weekly calendar that implements the research into an easy lifestyle.
Mindful Monday—Don’t let Mondays get you down. Remind yourself that life is not just about deadlines and responsibilities, but it is about connecting with yourself and others. Take time to sit quietly for five minutes to half an hour. Meditate with an open heart and a blank mind. Let your body sink into pure relaxation. You can grab a candle in your favorite color and light it for a focal point during your meditation. Then dab a bit of lavender oil on your chest for a calming effect. Try using other scents to inspire you. Rosemary and juniper have a clean and awakening effect on the mind. Remember to take time for yourself throughout the week.
Grati-Tuesday—Every happiness guru knows that gratitude goes a long way to making you smile. Take ten minutes today to write down all the things you are grateful for. This list can include gratefulness for a kind friend, a raise at work, or a nice cozy pair of slippers. The important part of being grateful is to remember all of the little things that are awesome, but often go unnoticed. It may be difficult if you’re going through hard times, but it is important to remind yourself that you are alive, and that means it can always get better.
Get Lost in Work Wednesday—Do you have a productive hobby or a passion that makes you completely lose track of time? Have you ever sat down to paint and forgot to eat for ten hours? Or maybe you love organizing your closets so much that you do it several times a year. Positive Psychologists have studied the effects of “flow” on our levels of happiness. They have found that you can increase your joy by getting lost in what you love. You should engage weekly in whatever you enjoy doing that puts you in a state of “flow.” There is a great TED talk on the concept here, but if you want the quick definition it simply means “hyper focus in any activity.” For best results there are three essential elements to creating a moment of “flow.” Firstly, you need to find an activity that you enjoy doing, simply for the sake of doing it. Then, the activity should have a goal or a tangible way to test progress. Lastly, you should be skilled at the activity so that you feel competent at your work.
Thankful Thursday—Take a few minutes to thank someone personally for some kind favor they have done for you. Maybe your spouse picked up your dry cleaning or the man who cuts your hair did an exceptional job. It is nice to write them a thank-you note so that they have something to hold on to when they are feeling underappreciated. This is also a great way to strengthen your social ties with others. Reaching out to someone at the workplace can also boost morale. You would be surprised how few people get thanked for the work they do every day. But the positive effects don’t end there; people who thank others for their efforts are often happier than their neighbors and they are also seen as kinder people. Not bad for a few minutes of your time!
Forgiveness Friday—Are you having a hard time letting go of your friend’s response to your new shirt? Or maybe you are struggling to forgive yourself for failing and dropping out of college. Holding onto painful resentment and shame is destructive to your body and mind. You must stop reliving the pain over and over in your head. Whether you need to forgive yourself or someone else there are ways to let go of these feelings of anger and disappointment. So how does forgiveness work?
For the smaller infractions, acts of carelessness and insensitivity, remind yourself that no one is perfect. All of us have harmed someone we care about at one time or another. Then imagine the person who has caused you discomfort while meditating on positive aspects of their relationship with you. Maybe you remember how they listened to you grumble when your workplace brought in an “efficiency expert,” or how they prodded you to try skiing for the first time. It is crucial to envision your life with the depth and richness that this person brings to you. Then breathe and let go.
But some things are not so easily forgiven. For those deeper pains, like a teacher’s destructive remarks or an ex’s cheating; remind yourself that someone else’s bad behavior should not ruin your life. They may, or may not have, intended to harm you so deeply. There is rarely a way to know exactly what was going through their mind at the time. So replaying the scene over and over, with the strong belief that they wanted to harm you, just reinforces those negative feelings. Once you let go of the “they did it on purpose” attitude, you can attempt to meditate on forgiveness and understanding. But be gentle with yourself, as it may take quite a few months to reach forgiveness. Although you may not want this person in your life because of their toxic behavior, you can at least let go of the old pains they have caused. Forgiveness is about healing you. Choosing to forgive is not accepting their bad actions, but it releases you from the chains of anger. It frees you to live and love again.
But forgiveness is not just for others; forgiving yourself for past mistakes is necessary to moving on. We have all messed up and had to deal with the consequences, but we don’t have to hold on to the shame and disappointment forever. These negative experiences can help us make better decisions in the future, but only if we take the time to process them and truly let go. It is important to meditate on self-love when you are trying to forgive yourself. Recognize the circumstances that surrounded your bad decision or behavior. Know that you did the best you could at that moment, but that you can do better now. List all of the good choices and actions you have made recently and recognize how you can make it right. Then breathe and release it. Remember to show yourself the same level of compassion you would show others.
Social Saturday—To maintain a vibrant life it is important to stay connected with others. This is true even for introverts. Close relationships should be maintained daily, but Saturday is a perfect time to reconnect with those that were too busy to talk during the week. Studies show that our level of happiness is often linked to the level of connectedness we feel in our relationships; so spend some quality time together. Call your sister in Toledo, grab a coffee with your neighbor, or plan a dinner party with friends. Life is for living! Can you remember all the hours spent on folding laundry? Probably not, but most of us remember the times we shared with others.
Funday Sunday—Our minds need novelty to stay active and engaged. Do something today that you have never done before. Maybe there is a new dish at your favorite restaurant you have been meaning to try. Part your hair on the other side. Visit a museum or historical landmark. Find a new route to work. Or go crazy and dress up in a style you have never worn. You don’t need to spend a ton of money, there are many thrift shops that can help you find an affordable new look for under $20. Live it up! A quick change in your life is often enough to shake off the blues.
This whole amazing world can be a great adventure with the right attitude. We are not destined to be unhappy and unfulfilled forever. Research shows that happiness is not dependent on our physical circumstances or our bank accounts. Once our basic needs for comfort and security have been met we can manipulate our levels of contentment. These simple suggestions can be repeated weekly to help grow joy in your life. You can build stronger relationships and spend time doing what you love. Be brave enough to take a chance and make some changes in your life. You won’t regret it!