It seems like everywhere you turn these days, someone is discussing the idea of happiness. Gurus – spiritual and otherwise – promise to help you achieve it. Books outline strategies for finding and maintaining it. Surveys seek to answer who is happiest, where they live and what they do for a living.
The Secret proposes that you simply have to think positively and positivity will follow. And yet, with all these methods for determining/ensuring your own well-being – specifically, a happy state of mind – floating out there in the greater consciousness, few of us describe ourselves as being genuinely happy. Why is this?
The good news is
It’s not because some of these theories/methods/strategies aren’t effective or don’t work. They can! It’s just that happiness is defined individually and there are many individual paths taken to get to it. Their lack of effectiveness can simply be attributed to our inability to escape rational thought. That’s right – logic (the very thing we spend time trying to cultivate in order to solve our problems) can get in the way of contentment – no matter how you define it or seek to achieve it.
Of course this doesn’t mean you should abandon all reasonable, rational thought if you want to find your so-called nirvana. Life, after all, does require some logic. However, those who report being happiest often attribute their overall state to something altogether different – they say they’re happy because they have faith. Not in any specific spiritual tradition or religion, necessarily, but in the fact that ultimately, everything is going to be okay.
In the moment
Happy people worry less about the future and dwell less frequently in the past. As such, they live their lives in the present. An ancient goal and a difficult task – whether you’re seeking money, peace, a partner to share your life with, a combination of these things, or anything else for that matter. But one common factor reported among those who say that they are in fact, happy, most of the time is the ability to stop – occasionally at least – and smell the roses.
So how then, in the hustle and bustle of modern life – where the bills are rising, wages are stagnating and people seem to be growing more and more disconnected thanks in part to technology and our misplaced emphasis on material acquisitions – can you put fear aside and settle into something divine?The answer(s) may be easier said than implored, but the following steps will definitely help put you on the path to an easier – and happier – existence. The best part is, you’ve already got all the tools you need at your immediate disposal.
1) Listen to your gut – not your head.
Now, granted, not all of us are psychic, but all of us do have a certain amount of intuition. And part of being happy entails learning to listen to it. Rather than getting caught up in the rat race inside our own heads (bills to pay, responsibilities to heed, rules to follow… trying to keep it all straight is enough to stress anyone out!), cultivate your gut feelings. Then abide by them. You will never steer yourself wrong, once you’ve mastered telling the difference between outside influences and inner-wisdom. Call it god’s gift, a sixth sense, whatever you want. Animals have instincts for a reason – and we human animals do too.
2) On that note, breathe.
While it’s easy to make note of our link to other living things, unlike most animals (who exist in their natural environments) society and its demands have muddied human processing powers in this department. So, if you’re going to learn to interpret your instincts, you’ve got to start by connecting to yourself. Happy people, after all, report a strong sense of self as well as a fundamental connection to the universe.
The easiest way to cultivate both of these connections, believe it or not, is to just breathe. It may sound simplistic, but the very breath that gives us life also has the power to center us. It’s at the core of yoga and meditation and has been scientifically linked to overall well-being. If you practice some form of attention to breath (through yoga, meditation, guided relaxation or simply taking a few minutes out each day to clear your mind and feel the air you breathe as it goes in and out of your nostrils), you will find yourself more grounded, which brings clarity. Things rarely seem so bad when you’re operating from a place of calm.
3) Separate your negative thoughts from reality… and let them go.
Now that you’re calm and connected (in your natural state – or at least what it should be!), it’s time to take an inventory. You may need to do this frequently with the rapid pace of daily life. With your head clear and your breath even, zero in on the thoughts that recur for you. Make a list. What are your fears, your worries, your desires and the doubts you experience about them? From these things, what rings true and what is the result of external experience? If you grew up being told you couldn’t do something – is that true, or based on someone else’s fear or thought pattern?
For better or worse, we often let ourselves become the sum total of our experiences. But if we take what we can from our experiences and then let them go – choosing to live in the energy of pure possibility (what we were before external life got to us!), we open ourselves up to a different kind of existence. While it cannot, by the very nature of life, be absent from practicality, it need not be dictated by it. Which is the very place from which hope… and in hope, happiness grows.
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