There’s lots of suggestions for practices that will make you happier and more peaceful – these five either have scientific studies to back them up or have simply stood the test of time and common sense. They are also simple and easy to incorporate into a busy life.
Practice 1: The Gratitude Journal
Psychologists have suggested that the gratitude journal is one of the most powerful tools for transforming the way we feel about our lives. It’s the most simple, yet effective exercise you can do to begin switching from the busy, fearful mind, to one of optimism and peace.
I like to write three things I am grateful for in the morning and three positive things that have happened during the day in the evening. This simple tool can make you look at the world in a different way, you begin focusing on the positive in your life instead of the negative and this changes how you feel about your life. You realise that perhaps things aren’t as crappy as you sometimes think they are. You begin to notice the positive things in your life: relationships, houses, food in the cupboard, money in the bank to pay bills, gardens, Sunday mornings, warm evenings, cosy fires, clothes to wear, books to read, art materials, pretty china, nice shoes, healthcare, good roads, street lighting, friendly shop assistants and so much more. And as you focus on these things, your heart lifts a little and you truly do begin to feel blessed and grateful.
Something else magical happens when you begin a gratitude journal, the things that you find to record seem to grow. Soon you can’t limit yourself to three things, there are dozens of things to be grateful for every day! This may be just a mental shift or perhaps there is truth in the idea that the universe gives back to you what you give out. Either way, this is my favourite way of starting and ending the day.
Practice 2: Becoming more aware of your thoughts
To find peace and joy it is essential to watch how the busy mind works, notice how it cycles around negative issues and becomes obsessed with particular thought patterns. Observe how it can miss noticing the beauty of a sunset because it is still raking over a comment someone made that it found unacceptable. Just noticing is enough. You will find that simply watching it begins to give you some perspective and you will soon realise that the thoughts your mind comes up with are not necessarily true. Changing your thinking is just one way you can change your life. Einstein reputedly said that “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results”. So try changing your thinking and see if your life begins to change.
Practice 3: The Golden Rule
Most people know a version of the Golden Rule which appears in some form in nearly all religions and philosophies. The idea is that we should love our neighbours as ourselves and do to others as we would wish them to do to us. I’ve always thought that this is a lesson in being kind to others—and it is. But there is another piece of advice in the rule, too—we should love ourselves, we should treat ourselves nicely, with respect and consideration. When you make a ‘mistake’ and your inner critic starts to complain, put you down, criticise and generally make you feel bad, think about how you would talk to a friend who had made a similar mistake. You would never call him or her useless, you would focus on the mistake and never make generalisations about the whole person based on their mistake—so don’t do this to yourself. Treat yourself with the same courtesy, compassion and kindness that you would anyone else you care about.
Practice 4: A day (or at least an hour) of rest
Most of us would struggle to fully achieve the day of rest that many religions advocate. However, there are sound reasonings behind its recommendation. A day of rest gives us time for contemplation of our lives, it gives both our bodies and minds a chance to rest and recuperate and it can be an important time to connect with families, friends and our community.
Although a whole day of rest may seem an impossible challenge, it is well worth taking a part of a day each week to create a rest ritual. This could be a couple of hours on a Friday evening in preparation for the weekend or on a Sunday evening to prepare for the week ahead. It can of course be at any time of the week depending on your commitments and schedule.
If your busy mind tries to hijack your attempts at recuperation, remind it that these practices will make you more productive in the rest of the week. Anything that helps you to recover from the general work and stress that can creep up in the week is great for this activity. It is highly personal so spend some time thinking what would help you to feel restored in mind and body. Then mark the time in your diary and keep it sacred.
Practice 5: The eulogy exercise
This may sound a little morbid, but there is nothing like contemplating your own mortality to make you realise how short, precious and amazing life is. Imagine someone is reading the eulogy at your funeral. What would you be wanting them to say about your relationships, your attitude to life, your achievements? Would you want to be described as positive, fun loving and caring. Would you want your family and friends to say you always had time for them? Would you want them to describe how you followed your dreams, had fun and made the most of your precious life? Would you want them to describe how you always had the latest car or TV and mention your recent promotion or pay rise? Would you want them to say, ‘Well, she was always very busy!’
Although no one would be as impolite as to give a negative eulogy, imagine what a truthful one might be if it was made right now. Would it say you were too stressed out to have fun, too busy to relax and spend quality time with your family, too tired to follow your dream of being a painter, or to travel or to grow a beautiful scented herb garden. Would it say you were too worried about your job, the bills and the childcare to ever let your hair down, laugh, be silly or move towards your dreams. I know life is stressful. There are a million things you have to take care of, you have financial fears and all kinds of other fears. I don’t mean to be critical, or hard on you, Im just trying to jolt you out of your current fear-based mindset and let you look at life in a different way to see what might be done to make the ride a little more enjoyable.