3 Simple Steps Towards a Happier Life

It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or how much money you do or don’t have, we are all after the often elusive thing we call happiness. The secret (which isn’t so secret) is that “happiness comes from within”, it isn’t something that can be hunted down and caught. The problem is that KNOWING “happiness comes from within” and REALIZING it are two very different things. Unfortunately, a large portion of people never reach this realization and they find themselves going in circles, thinking things like “if only I have a, b, and c, I could finally be happy!”. More often than not, in the effort to attain a, b, and c, more challenges arise. Then, when we reach our goals, we suddenly tell ourselves “well, now i have a, b, and c but now I see I also need x, y, and z to be happy!”.This is the endless cycle that far too many people are needlessly caught in. We have all heard that true happiness is a state of mind that is not dependent on any external factors but this is something few people understand. You can’t understand it until you experience it and you can only do so having generated that state of mind, which today’s world makes quite the struggle. As I said in my last post, there is a solution to every problem. I would like to share with you 3 things that I did to generate the conditions for happiness within my own mind during a very difficult period in my life. I have found each of these suggestions effective and I think you will too. I recommend doing them every single day.

1.) Take 5 minutes each day to laugh

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First, let’s start with the physical benefits of laughter. Laughter relieves physical tension and stress, decreases stress hormones, which boosts the immune system, triggers the release of endorphins (the body’s all-natural feel good substances), and improves blood flow. Psychologically, the effects of laughter are a no-brainer. If you are laughing, you are, even if momentarily, not sad, depressed, or anxious. I have never met anyone who doesn’t enjoy laughing. Many of us probably wish we could laugh more but most people think that humor is usually circumstantial and, thus, hard to work into a daily routine. FALSE! Aside from funny TV shows and movies, which some people don’t have time to watch, we live in an age with a fantastic resource for humor: YouTube. All you have to do to make yourself laugh is take 5 minutes, go to YouTube and search something like “funny viral videos” and enjoy. Another great resource, if you don’t want to laugh at the expense of others, is http://www.animalsbeingdicks.com. Check it out! If you make time to laugh every day then you will be well on your way to living a happier life and you will start to see the humor and joy in even the mundane.

2.) Sing

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Singing is yet another activity that is not only beneficial to the mind but also to the body. Singing has been shown to reduce the levels of stress hormones in the blood stream, relieve anxiety, elevate endorphins, expand the lungs and improve breath control, as well as promote cardiovascular health. I typically sing in the shower or as I am walking around from point A to point B. I only sing love songs because those are the songs that make me feel the best and I often pretend the person I love can hear me, which makes me feel great and strengthens my bond to him. They don’t always have to be happy songs. For some people, it is hard to open up to others and be emotionally vulnerable. In this case, singing a sad song can be its own form of an emotional release/self-therapy session. Don’t be afraid to really feel what the song is trying to convey. We evolved to have feelings for a reason so make time to let yourself feel; just don’t get sucked into wallowing! Also, singing (whether or not others can hear you) is a great way to build self-esteem and confidence. It doesn’t matter if you are American Idol material or have a horrible voice, remember, you are singing for YOU!

3.) START A GRATITUDE JOURNAL

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It has been my experience that when you truly start being grateful for the things you have the universe sends you more to be grateful for. Why does it make any sense to be given something (good or bad) if we can’t handle what we already have? Get a notebook and start a gratitude journal. There are only two rules. The first is that you MUST write three things you are grateful for at the end of each day. The second is that you can’t EVER write the same thing twice. At first, this seems easy because it is. To start, people write down the obvious things: family, friends, healthy, money, car, food, shelter, etc. As time goes by, it gets increasingly difficult to think of things you are grateful for. This is good! If you can push through this part, after a while you will find that you don’t have to think so hard. Having spent some time really straining to think about what we are grateful for we begin to truly LEARN how to make gratitude second nature. Over time, it becomes an automatic process. For those of you with smartphones, there’s a grate app called Gratitude Journal. I have personally used it and I loved it.

In summary, to begin to create the conditions for true happiness within your own mind: laugh, sing, and practice being grateful each day. Try it for a week and you will see how quickly your world begins to change. It’s not that the world is changing, you are!

How to Save the World Working Retail

As children, most of us had the innocent yet firm conviction that we would grow up to be something super cool like a fireman, astronaut, marine biologist, doctor, or even the President. Regardless of the profession, I am sure we all imagined that we would be making a difference in our communities, maybe even the world. My own youthful aspirations were grounded in a desire to help other living things. First, I wanted to be a veterinarian, then a doctor, then a psychotherapist. Sadly, a string of poor life choices took me far off the path towards cultivating what I thought at the time would be a respectable, rewarding, and well paying career. I eventually found my way out of my own metaphorical forest with the desire to help others still intact, however; the journey out meant that I had to rebuild my life from the ground up.

Far removed from the world of science academia that I had spent most of my education and first job post-college in, I sought work in retail to get back on my feet. I now work as a salesperson selling loose leaf tea and tea paraphernalia. Tea happens to be my biggest hobby so, I will admit, it is a bit of a niche job but it is certainly not where I thought I would be at the age of twenty seven with a great education under my belt. The store I work in is located in a busy mall. One day, I passed by a young couple sitting together in one of the lounge chairs. The girl was sitting in her boyfriend’s lap, his hand on her thigh, her arm around his neck, and in each of their other hands was a smartphone to which their faces were glued. It struck me as both sad and disturbing; even though they were physically close to one another, their attention and minds looked worlds apart. When I passed them again on the way back, not much had changed.

By just watching people, I have come to know the root cause of most of humanity’s suffering to be the systematic degradation of human connection. The worst part is, we are allowing it to happen. To illustrate my point, let me ask a simple question. How many people do you know who would rather text message than pick up the phone and talk to you? Are you one of them? Sure, technology offers us the ability to do things more quickly and to “multitask” but at what cost does it come? I often wonder if we are trading meaningful connection for convenience. It’s true that an increasing number of people prefer texting to talking. Many people choose online shopping, where you can pick out your desired item and have it delivered right to your front door with a few clicks, instead of having to visit a local store. You never have to talk to a salesperson. Now, most fast-food restaurants have apps where you can place your order ahead of time and pick it right up when you arrive, with minimal customer-employee contact. Social media allows you to stay in contact with many people but do you ever wonder if staying so “connected” and “social” is actually decreasing the quality of the relationships you have? Do you REALLY have that many friends? What does “friend” even mean anymore? What happened to quality over quantity?

I don’t think technology is inherently evil. It is allowing me to write this blog post online for others to read and (hopefully) benefit from, after all. It doesn’t seem to me that we are using it with the discretion we should be though. There is no emogi that delivers the same experience as actually seeing another person smile. Texting should never be a sufficient proxy for hearing the warmth in someone’s voice when they tell you “I miss you”. Seeing an LOL on your message screen will NEVER be as gratifying as hearing that you have ACTUALLY made someone laugh. In our attempt to go faster and faster and get more done, it dawns on me that we are leaving something behind: our humanity. Connecting with others in simple and meaningful ways is a concept that is becoming increasingly aversive and strange to people. As human connection becomes more foreign, it is easier to discriminate; it is easier to judge; it is easier to ignore suffering; it is easier to commit acts of violence; it is easier to take a human life.

We as a society can’t just do away with technology. We cannot move backwards, only forwards. Barring some cataclysm, we will never be separated from the technology that has become so deeply embedded in our culture as a species, however; I like to think that there is a solution to every problem and this one is no exception. Back in the 1960’s and 70’s it was easy for a movement to have a single figurehead or vanguard but that is in the past; we now live in the age of social networking. It is easy to think that, unless you are in a profession that is known for helping people, you can’t do much to change the world. I used to be one of those people but now have a different view. I think the only way to reinstate genuine and regular moments of human connection into our lives is to simply keep that as a conscious goal no matter what we are doing. That means making small acts of kindness a mainstay in our daily routines. That means we can do our part to “save the world” no matter what we do. That means everyone makes a difference.

Now, instead of seeing my work in retail as just a sales job that pays the bills; I try to use it as an opportunity to make a small difference in other peoples lives as well. No matter what kind of day I am having, I work hard to remind myself with each and every person I see that I have no idea how easy or difficult their lives are; I can’t possibly know what they are going through, and I just might be the kindest face they see all day so I better make it count. I try to not only perform my job duties but engage them in a memorable conversation, educate them about a product I am passionate about (tea), and send them out the door smiling and having laughed a few times whether they purchase something or not. I have found that this practice is not just the greatest contributing factor to my success as a salesperson but also the reason why I love to go to work. I feel like I do more than just earn a paycheck; I am doing what I can to make difference. No matter what you do, try to look at it not in terms of why you do it for yourself but why you do it for others. You never know, one day, you could save a life simply by smiling, saying hello, and doing your job.