Old fashioned street lamps, park benches, books, praying, connecting with an old friend, raindrops, snowflakes, clouds, the trees outside my window, helping others, taking pictures, painting or creating anything (e.g., DIY crafts, makeup and nail art) and writing: these are some of my favourite things. I’ll give you a moment to make a list of your happy places or things. You can include objects, physical places, memories or activities – basically anything that usually succeeds in making you smile. I hope you that you came up with a list. Read on to learn about some tools that we can use to create, or add to, our list of happy places.
As a (mostly) closet introvert, I have to remind myself to go out, see people and make memories. As easy and relaxing as it is to stay home and watch Netflix all day, I know that is not what I’m going to recall fondly 5 years from now. A challenge I see in our generation is having a bad memory, so I find myself writing down important things and going back to them once in a while. Looking back at my old blogs, pictures, diaries and e-mails to my friends helps me remember the memories I have made and motivates me to make new ones.
We can use memory to our advantage by revisiting our ‘happy places’ in our mind. If you love hiking, close your eyes and remember the scent of nature around you, the sound of the wind and the tiredness in your legs you kept overcoming in your climb. Take yourself back to your favourite beach. Think about your favourite character from a novel or movie, and think about what they would do in a given situation. Another powerful use of memory is to make a list of your achievements or proud moments when you feel like you can’t do anything right. Then keep this list safe so you can come back to it later.
Remembering memories can either bring us down or cheer us up, depending on how we frame them in our mind. Do we miss the bygone days or do we smile that they happened? All the risks that we took by wearing flared jeans, trying to be friends with the wrong crowd or missing a class to lend a shoulder to a friend we still keep in touch with are all good memories. Even if we consider some memories a mistake, they have taught us valuable lessons. Interestingly, it is easier to remember memories that are related to the emotional state we are currently in. Happy times remind us of happy memories, an embarrassing incident reminds us of other embarrassing times and feeling sad helps us remember other sad events. So all we have to do is smile and happy thoughts will come to us. Simple, right? 🙂
On a practical note, we should remember that it’s okay not to be happy at all times. Mindfulness teaches us to be content even in unhappy times, because it takes away the negative emotions (like judgement and self-loathing) attached to it. Once we accept our present and live through it, two things happen: one, we become more capable of dealing with similar situations and two, we don’t stress more than necessary because we’re only fighting our circumstances and not ourselves along with it. For example, if you’re feeling lonely, accept that it’s okay to feel lonely and that it makes you sad, but stop yourself before thinking that you are pathetic for being lonely or comparing yourself to others.
Tying our happiness to very specific objects and goals can be counter-productive. Remember the time you really really wanted that dress or a job promotion? Now try to remember how long did that keep you happy? Even the happiness from winning the lottery may not last very long, as people habitually return to their happiness level that they are used to. We feel content and happy when we achieve our goals after working hard to get them, but reaching the actual goal does not guarantee lasting happiness, and that’s the best case scenario. Often our goals keep changing, which can lead to a lifelong waiting period. Worst case, if we are unable to achieve our goals we feel bad or if it takes us some time to get to our goals, we spend a lot of time in limbo waiting for happiness to come one day.
Giving to others and helping people also tends to make us happier than material things. Taking the Careers class in 10th grade and making very objective short and long term goals taught us how to be successful in our professional life, but in order to live a successful personal and social life, we also need mind goals. What can we do everyday to be more happy and content? We need to make a list of what makes us feel good. To keep a healthy mind, this list would look something like this for most people:
- Going to sleep early and waking up early
- Making a list of main things to do today
- Drinking water and eating healthy natural food
- Exercising & showering
- Entertaining positive thoughts
- Staying mindful (by paying attention to each moment without judgment)
- Being understanding and showing kindness towards others
- Forgiving self and others for whatever happened today
- Making a list of lessons learned and the highlights of today
In short, without actively changing how we see and react to our life events, we can’t magically fly to a happy place. Happiness is not a destination or a reward that we get after years of trying; it is a journey that we embark on daily. Getting that promotion, getting married or winning the lottery all sound nice to most people, but they can also result in increased stress and without the proper tools in life, they may take us away from our happy place. On the other hand, a positive and grateful mind can help us be happy today at this moment without any further wait. We can learn to be happy instead of waiting for it and we can find many examples of that in people who may have much less in materialistic things or have disabilities, yet they live a happy and content life.