Most people associate happiness with a pursuit — finding the perfect job, the perfect life partner, or even the perfect handbag. But what if happiness is already a part of you and you just don’t know it? What if happiness is simply about changing your state of mind?
James Baraz, a Buddhist meditation teacher and co-author of Awakening Joy, believes that true contentment doesn’t involve an external search, rather it’s a cultivated practice. By making a conscious effort to think optimistically, you can bring more positive energy into your life.
Changing your thought habits is like learning a new route home from work; you purposely form new neural connections and pathways, and it eventually becomes your new default setting. “The saying is, ‘Neurons that fire together, wire together,’ ” explains Baraz. “The more you practice looking for the good, the better you get at it. You can choose to be happy.” Want to give it a try? Baraz offers these tips:
- Look for the good. A rough day at the office or being stuck in traffic can make joy a hard emotion to hold on to. But by purposely focusing on positive things, you’ll realize how much good there is in your life. “Happy people are not happy all the time,” says Baraz. “They can sit with the hard stuff in life, but they’re also engaged and open to the goodness that’s all around them.” He adds, “Anytime someone opens the door for you or gives you a smile, think of it as life saying, ‘You deserve this.’ ”
- Anchor blissful moments. Whenever you experience a period of contentment — while listening to your favorite song or snuggling with your dog, for example — take 30 seconds to notice how your body feels and remember that feeling. By reliving that moment, you’re causing those neurons to fire repeatedly and cementing those healthy emotions, which can help you return to this state when faced with stress or anxiety. “The more you practice this and are present for those moments, the more it naturally becomes where your mind gravitates to,” says Baraz. Set aside 30 seconds six times a day for two weeks to recall a feel-good memory, and you will notice a dramatic change in your level of well-being.
- Pay yourself compliments. Stand in front of a mirror, look yourself in the eyes, and verbally express at least three personal qualities you treasure, such as “I really care about others,” “I give great hugs,” or “I’m a terrific dancer.” The exercise is about recognizing that you’re a good person and seeing yourself in a more loving light, which boosts self-esteem and happiness. “So much of our well-being hinges on external cues and what other people think of us,” explains Baraz. “Someone smiles at you and you feel great, or someone yawns and you feel boring. The more we have a sense of who we are internally, the less we’re scanning our environment for validation. Being comfortable in your own skin and feeling good about who you are allows your goodness to shine through.”
- Spread the joy. The next time you witness someone achieving goals you’ve set for yourself, instead of feeling jealous or sad about what you don’t yet have, share in their happiness. “There’s no limit when it comes to joy,” says Baraz. “If they’re happy, that doesn’t mean there’s less joy available for you.” Get in the habit of thinking positively with this exercise: Close your eyes. Imagine someone you love smiling or laughing. Take in those good feelings and send them out to that person by saying to yourself, “May your happiness continue” or “May your happiness grow.” Think of other people you would like to send this energy to and notice how your own good feelings bloom. Now imagine all of those people in a cheering section for you, shouting words of encouragement and love, and take in that feeling of support. Relish in the pleasure gained from another person’s joy, and experience your own happiness—magnified. –Rachel Grumman
The Editor’s Review:
I love the fact that this article stresses the importance of knowing one’s self. When you know and love yourself you aren’t “scanning the environment for validation.” Also, being truly happy for another individual instead of envious and jealous is so important. These are traits that need cultivation. The more you work on these the easier they become and the more enjoyable your life can be.