Cultivating Happiness

fledgling flowersIn today’s complicated world with all the strife, tragedy and (let’s get real) bullshit, it is not unusual to feel helpless, outraged, depressed or overwhelmed. Life is full of challenges and it is not easy to stand up against society, the government, or even our boss. There are so many things, great and small, that are simply out of our control yet affect us daily or on a deep level. Like most people, I wish for world peace, equality, social justice, and to heal our planet. But each day it feels like we are going in the wrong direction. And, again, like too many people, my day job is not something I love and my duties and compensation structure have changed dramatically. My dogs are fighting all the time. Why can’t they just get along?! Some days it is an immense challenge to manage my feelings. I’m sure most of you can relate, having experienced the same or similar situations. What makes it even worse is that many of these are situations where we have little power to change. So, we’re left feeling sad, frustrated, and angry. And, even if we can mitigate or modify things in some manner, change takes time. So, what can we do to cope when life gets overwhelming or crazy?

Many people look for something – sex, drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, music, exercise – to distract themselves from it all. Of course we want to feel better, especially if there is nothing that can be done now that will dramatically alter a situation for the better. I’m not here to judge anyone. I’ve tried all those methods (and more), with varying degrees of success. But, in the long run, not all strategies will continue to provide the same level of relief and some of these ways of coping can end up causing more serious problems than we were avoiding in the first place. Thankfully there are better strategies that will create more lasting, positive change, even if they don’t solve the world’s, or our workplace, problems.

A therapist told me that lasting happiness is not something that just happens to us. We must actively work to create enduring pleasure and contentment in our lives. Taking direct action of our choosing towards something we want, in itself, will alleviate some of the stress and strife we experience. There may be many things we cannot change in life, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t change. Or that we can’t experience joy and satisfaction. Following are a few suggestions for creating lasting happiness. The more we persevere in our efforts, the greater the rewards.

  1. Cultivate your dreams like they are a garden. Plant them. Water them. Feed them. Talk to them and love them. Give them plenty of sunlight and oxygen. Bring them to life and prune as needed, like a rosebush in winter, so they will continue to flourish over time. In order to combat the conflicts and worries of life, we need to do things we love. Not everyone can earn a living doing what they love, so we must make time for what makes us happy. What dreams do you want to bring to life?
  2. Do things that make you happy. I like to wear dresses. I love the comfort, feel, and how they look. I prefer my day-to-day life to be as easy and stress-free as possible. So, I spend time designing and creating systems that make my life easier. I focus on how best to implement new routines and how to make them a habit. That is another thing that makes me happy. I get to use my brain and make tasks smoother. I love writing and enjoy editing and helping others express themselves better, so I make time to write, to publish a blog, to submit poems for publication, and to edit books, articles, and dissertations for others. I often receive some service (i.e. massage or acupuncture) in exchange that allows me to experience a more comfortable life, physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. One thing I love as much as writing, analyzing, and planning is comfort. Working toward my comfort – whether that is buying flowers, growing plants in my house, eliminating clutter or feeling more flexible in my body – is taking direct action towards something that makes me feel good. What makes you happy?
  3. Attend to your health. It is difficult to be positive or experience happiness when we feel poorly. Aches, pains, upset digestive systems, headaches can leave us feeling tired, bloated, frustrated and sad, sapping energy needed to work towards happiness. Eating nourishing food, moving our bodies, sleeping at least 7 hours every night, and spending time in nature will go a long way to making us feel better and stronger. And that will provide more energy to take further actions toward our own happiness. This is one area that is particularly challenging for me. If it is for you, too, try not to be hard on yourself. Small steps are usually easier to sustain than big leaps, which don’t always produce the results we want and can undermine our motivation and desire to change. Practicing patience and self-compassion will help you stay the course. Change, like life, is a process rather than a destination. What can you do in this moment to foster better health?
  4. Surround yourself with good, like-minded people who will sail with you through the best of times and love you through the periods of greatest discord. It is critical to know that we are not alone in our feelings and struggles. Being understood and supported makes challenging times easier to bear. Remembering all the good things and people in your life will also sustain you. Strategically place photographs and other reminders – like post-its on a mirror or a quotation near your laptop (mine says “Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”) – will also make an impact. The special people in our lives make us feel worthwhile and remind us that we are better and stronger than any stupid bullshit. They help us learn that, even if we can’t change the world, we can change ourselves, how we feel, and how we perceive life.  And that changes everything. Strong, lasting relationships are key to happiness and must be fostered. All relationships take work, but they are well worth it with the right people. Don’t be afraid to let go of negative people or those that aren’t supportive. You can always find good people if you look. Who are you grateful for?

When so much of life is out of our direct control, consistently taking actions that greatly impact how we feel will not only cultivate lasting happiness but will provide us with a sense of empowerment. This begins with realizing that our choices and behavior are our own to do with as we please and that they have a direct impact on how we feel and experience life. Acting in our best interest will foster the joy, satisfaction, and contentment that we all crave. What are some things you do to cultivate happiness?

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