These five simple practices can help you be happy. Some are backed up by science and some have just stood the test of time.
It can be hard to find time to do things that help us to be happy. But these practices take just a few minutes. Over time, they can improve our levels of optimism, peace and joy.
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.
This simple tool can make you look at the world in a different way. It helps you to focus on the positive in your life instead of the negative. This changes how you feel about your life. You realize 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 begin to feel blessed, grateful and happy.
Practice 2: Awareness
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 realize that the thoughts your mind comes up with are not necessarily true. When you can let go of thoughts instead of obsessing over them, it automatically helps you be happy.
Practice 3: The Golden Rule
The Golden Rule appears in some form in nearly all religions and philosophies. The idea is that we should love our neighbors 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, criticize 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 generalizations 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. Spend time helping others, and yourself, be happy.
Practice 4: A day of rest
Most of us would struggle to achieve a whole day off every week. However, there are sound reasons why we should. A day of rest gives us time for contemplation of our lives. It gives our bodies and minds a chance to rest and recuperate. It can also provide an opportunity 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.
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 during the week is great for this activity. It is highly personal so spend some time thinking about what would help you to be happy. 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 realize how short, precious and amazing life is.
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? Would it say you were too tired to follow your dream of being a painter, or to travel or to grow a beautiful scented herb garden? Or would it say you were too worried about your job, the bills and the childcare to ever let your hair down, laugh, or be silly?
These simply practices take very little time. However, they are enough to change our thinking and shift us into a more positive frame of mind. Take time for one or two of these practices every day to increase your sense of peace and joy.