Are you happy?
I mean right this second. How do you feel? I’m talking about something totally unrelated to the events in your life – I’m asking how you feel inside, irrespective to your job, your love life, and your finances. I’m asking about your overall way of walking through the world. I’m talking about the ability to seize upon those moments of unexpected beauty or joy, and better your day with them.
Think for a minute about a child and a dog, like in the photo above. There was a moment of complete joy when they saw the water – they both took off running because the surprise of this unexpected little body of water on a trail excited them so much. When is the last time that you saw something so wonderful that you just kicked off your shoes and ran to embrace it?
If you don’t have moments like this, then maybe you need to rethink how you go about your days. If you aren’t basically happy, then perhaps you are going about this whole “life” thing wrong.
I’m generally a very cheerful person. I like to look on the bright side of everything and when I’m having a bad day, I like to distract myself with good things to turn it around. Some people find this light-hearted perspective eccentric at best, annoying or insane at worst. It isn’t that I am unaware that there are bad things happening in the world, in my life, or in the lives of others. I just don’t enjoy dwelling on the negativity – I like solutions.
I had a conversation with a close friend the other day and he told me, “I think the reason that some people think you’re crazy is because you are just so happy all the time.”
I replied, “How terrible is it that we live in a world where optimism is considered a sign of mental illness?”
So think about that…in a world where they give millions of people pills because they are depressed, going through life as a happy person is so abnormal that people think you’re unhinged and out of touch with reality. We live in a society in which misery is the status quo. Drama is the norm. Anxiety is the default emotion.
Joy is anarchy.
What a beautiful thing anarchy is. I’m not talking about the kind of anarchy that many envision, where people dressed in black gleefully burn down churches or government buildings. I’m talking about the kind of anarchy where you simply refuse to live your life by other people’s rules and sets of norms.
If you want to be happy, you have to stop allowing the world to inundate you with negativity. For me this is a conscious effort. My day job consists of spending a lot of time reading alternative news and keeping up with current events. I spend hours reading about bad cops, a government that overreaches, world depopulation measures, corporations that don’t care about human beings…the list goes on.
Because I spend hours a day immersed in this, I recharge by making my personal life one that nourishes my spirit. I make a conscious choice to keep the negativity out and invite the joy in. Years ago I was terribly depressed and life had really worn me down. I had extricated myself from the bad circumstances, but the negativity remained. I decided to embark on what I called “The Happiness Project” and my life changed for the better.
Am I 100% happy all of the time? Of course not. Crap happens in my life just like it does everyone else’s. But I do bounce back a lot faster than I did before because of the way I have chosen to live my life. My daily choices are my personal anti-depressants.
The Happiness Project
When I decided to focus on happiness, that meant I needed to evict unhappiness from as many facets of my life as possible. If you are really not happy with your life, and you don’t know why, perhaps some of the same culprits are at fault. We can’t get away from the world completely – we work, we deal with others who might not share our perspective, and let’s be honest, crap happens in all of our lives. But we can make our homes places of refuge and joy. We can focus on the positive and beautiful things in our spare time. We can choose to live a life of joyful anarchy. The things that make me happy may be very different than the ones that cheer you. This is just a starting point for you to design your own personal Happiness Project.
Entertainment is a huge factor in most of our lives. When we’ve had a bad day, many of us want to come home and wind down mindlessly with television or a movie. But what kind of influences are you inviting into your life with the choices you make?
When your entertainment brings you down, you need to rethink your viewing habits. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good mystery or thriller as much as the next person. But a constant mental diet of murder and mayhem isn’t healthy. People relate to the fictional characters and actually feel the emotions displayed on the screen. That is what good acting is all about – making others feel an emotion. While this is enjoyable in small doses when you are in the right mindset, immersing yourself in it every single day just isn’t a way to be happy.
Instead, if you opt to watch television or movies, switch the channel to something more uplifting. Watch old comedies (my youngest child loves Lucille Ball), watch people dance, savor a cooking show. Everything in life doesn’t have to be serious – when my kids were young we used to like things like America’s Funniest Home Videos. (Aside from the whole people-getting-hit-in-the-crotch part, none of us cared for that). What amuses me may not amuse you, but the point is – if you are being entertained, let it be something that makes you smile, especially on days that smiling is a little more difficult.
We are far more likely to have music playing than to passively watch something onscreen. Your musical choices can affect your mood greatly. Who hasn’t remembered a lost love when they hear a sad song? There is a lot of grim and angst-y music out there and those choices will do absolutely nothing for your state of mind.
I like things that make me feel like dancing or singing along. I like songs that talk about the good parts of love. A bouncy energetic beat does a lot more for me than something angry or dismal. You might like instrumentals or nature sounds. Pick what soothes your soul and makes you smile.
I have specific playlists that energize me, relax me, or just brighten my mood. You can find lots of these on Youtube or you can create your own. Plug your computer into the speakers and get ready to hear some happy jam.
People and Pets
The people you surround yourself with can bring you up or bring you down. While we can’t choose our families, we can choose to limit our interaction with negative people. We have to realize that it is in some people’s nature to be negative and this cannot be changed. So that you can maintain your positivity, occasionally there are people that you just have to avoid or keep at a distance. You can still love them, but perhaps you just can’t spend the same amount of time with them that you once did. When someone makes you feel bad more often than they make you feel good, it is only common sense to brace yourself for interactions, and keep them brief.
I don’t even have a phone (you have no idea how strange people find this) because I only want people in my home and headspace that I specifically invite there. To me, the telephone is the most intrusive invention that has ever been created. Whatever you happen to be doing: hanging out with your kids, eating dinner, scrubbing grout, staring at the wall – it interrupts you, insisting that you respond by repeatedly ringing at you. And the cell phone? Good heavens, I cannot imagine carrying a device with me that allows people to contact me at all times. Noooooo.
On the other hand, there are all of those other wonderful people out there. I love, and I am loved. The people I choose to share my life with are wonderful. They are loving, positive happy folks with a similar outlook on life. They add to my joy instead of taking away from it. My favorite family members and dearest friends support me, even when my next plan seems a little bit nuts. They smile when I smile. Our conversations aren’t full of complaints, but of ideas and plans and funny observations and silly segues. They actually want to hear the hilarious stories I tell about my kids that might have someone else saying, “Enough already!” The ones I love feed my happiness. You all know who you are, and I love you, whether you are near to me or far away on the other side of the planet. (Thank goodness for the internet so even the furthest of my loved ones can be close!)
My animals make me happy too. Nothing says “welcome home” like a dog who is equally ecstatic about your return whether you’ve been gone five hours or five minutes. My cat likes to snuggle up against me on the sofa and purr the rare moments when I’m actually sitting still. My home and heart are so much more full for having them in it. Even when the dog just rolled in the mud.
Everyone has something that has an “aww” factor for them. I call these “cute buttons.” For example, pictures of laughing babies never fail to make me smile. Something about those big toothless grins and the pure joy! Fat little clumsy puppies, goats (they’re hysterical), a line of baby ducks following their mama as fast as their wee legs will carry them – all of these things make me feel instant happiness. For you it could be a peaceful water scene, kittens in shoes, or watching the birds scare off the squirrel at the bird-feeder located outside your window.
Collect your cute buttons in one place for times that you need a lift. Maybe it is a link to a favorite Youtube channel, a page you “like” on Facebook, or a Pinterest board. (I started a Happiness Project board right here – please feel free to follow along!) Make a collage. Create a bulletin board or hang cheerful pictures on your fridge. Collect funny sayings. Share funny memes with your friends on social media.
Now when I say let food make you happy, I don’t mean you should go eat a bag of Doritos with a pound of processed cheese dip. In fact I mean just the opposite. Many foods and additives actually trigger depression. (Read this article by Aaron Dykes to learn how this happens.) Other foods increase your mental well-being and nourish you. (Read this article to learn more about what foods are natural anti-depressants)
It goes deeper than just choosing these optimal foods though. By putting bad things in your body, you become unhealthy, lethargic, and overweight. Who can be happy when they feel like that? By choosing good foods, you become a healthier person. When you feel good physically, you nearly always feel better mentally.
When I’m in a bad mood, nothing improves it faster than going outside. There is some scientific validation behind this. Exercise increases your endorphins (the feel-good hormone) and sunshine is the best source of Vitamin D around. Vitamin D is essential to your mental well-being but most of us avoid the sun like we’re vampires because there are so many health warnings out there, scaring us indoors.
What kinds of things do you like to do outdoors? I like to go for a walk, go hiking, go swimming in the pond, dig my bare toes into the dirt in my garden, go to the beach with my kids, or just sit outside and listen to the birds chirp. I like to lay on my back and look for constellations, I like to hear the wind gently blowing my chimes, and I like to be in places so very quiet that I can hear the whisper of snowflakes falling to the ground.
Finally, your home should be your sanctuary. It should be your joyful escape from the stresses of the everyday world. Whether it’s a tiny little cabin, an ordinary apartment, a mansion, or anything in between, you should feel like the world has been shut out when you close the door behind you. It should smell good, feel good, look good and sound good. Maybe you need everything to be perfectly organized. Maybe your decor style is more like mine – I like to call it “Creative Clutter”. Whatever makes you feel creative, joyful or peaceful…that is what your home should be.
Decorate your home with sayings you find inspirational. Surround yourself with joy. Paint an ugly piece of furniture a beautiful color. Celebrate the things you love. We finally have a place where we can have a room totally dedicated to books! Bring the outside in. Make the most of the views outside your windows with flowers planted. Hang wind chimes to give voice to the breeze. Add small dollops of beauty in every room. Decorate with good memories. Inspire yourself with hobbies, places you want to travel to, or the supplies to quickly indulge your creativity. We have an ongoing magnetic Scrabble game on our refrigerator. This is very individual – just make your home the place where you feel the best of any other place in this world.
What makes you happy?
Okay, your assignment now is this.
Be mindful of your happiness. Design your own happiness project. What will you eliminate or limit in your life? What will you add? What negative could you take away and what positive would you replace it with?
Check back – we’ll be adding things that make us happy on a regular basis.
Share your ideas in the comments below. Joy is anarchy – how will you resist?