Close your eyes and visualize happiness. What do you see? Does it take the form of money, a person, a relationship — good health?
Many of us have all of these things and are still unhappy. Others have none of these and yet radiate joy. How can this be?
When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 25, I was forced to redesign my personal image of happiness.
Fifteen years later, I’ve finally stopped wasting time trying to be happy.
There is a better way to cultivate daily inner peace …
Here are six practical steps you can take, starting today:
1.) Limit your social media usage. We all know that social media platforms can suck time, but they can also sap self-worth. Social media posts only show one side of a situation, and it’s often the most beautiful, profitable and desirable side.
As a result, we subconsciously compare ourselves negatively against others and are left feeling worthless and underachieving. And because we primarily follow accounts in accordance with our own social values, a heavy dose of social media engagement can also leave us angry or disheartened over a political or social cause. Curb this energy vampire by limiting your scroll time and only follow profiles who leave you uplifted and recharged at the end of a session.
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Ruthlessly control what comments, images and headlines you invite directly into your day.
2.) Give what you want to receive. Do you know the zen riddle about the man and the stove? The stove says to the man: Give me wood and I’ll give you fire. The man, says: Oh no, you give me fire first, then I’ll give you wood. A silly riddle, but this is a good reminder that we must give first in order to receive.
The world reflects back to us our thoughts and actions. When we learn to trust that giving sets receiving in motion, we reap enormous rewards. If you want to be loved, love someone, everyone. If you want respect, show respect.
If you want honesty, speak the truth. If you want kindness, be kind to everyone, even those difficult people who come into our lives and challenge us to behave as our best selves. Put down your phone when you are sharing a meal with someone. Maintain eye contact. Give 100 percent of your focus to the person or people with whom you spend your time — and experience the abundance of the universe flow into your life.
3.) Drop your resistance. Resisting what is and where you are shines a spotlight on negativity. Acceptance alters the light’s course to shine on the beauty of a situation. Every situation has both positive and negative attributes. Life is complex, and very few things can be classified as all good or all bad. Perspective plays a part. Choose to see the good. Unhappy in your current job?
Make a list of the skills you’ve gleaned and why you are now more qualified for that next opportunity. Stifled in your current relationship? Fully embrace this feeling — although uncomfortable, it shines a light on your options. Resistance is dark and lonely and hides possibilities. Acceptance generates light to reveal help and opportunities that were previously hidden.
4.) Build your community. In all of the award acceptance speeches I’ve ever heard, not one recipient has ever said, “No one to thank here — I did this all myself!” Success takes a village.
Every day was a struggle until I put as much focus into building my team as I put into perfecting my product.
Are you cultivating yours? Start simply and expand outward. Invite your neighbor over for coffee. Make eye contact with your local barista and waitstaff at your favorite local hangouts. Before dismissing these interactions as superficial small talk, realize that life is made of these small day-to-day interactions.
In weightier situations, like family and work, ask for help. As a one-woman show for many years within my own business, every day was a struggle until I put as much focus into building my team as I put into perfecting my product. Now I see success and community are infinitely bound together. Building your tribe alleviates burnout and magnifies success.
5.) Meditate. Alone time and inward reflection are necessary. Meditation doesn’t necessarily mean sitting cross-legged on the floor surrounded by candles and incense. It may, but simplicity is equally effective and less intimidating. Download a meditation timer app (I currently use Zenso, but there are many options) and begin with three minutes of quiet time.
If the silence is too daunting for you, play a piece of meditation music that is three minutes long, and use that as your timer. Sit comfortably with a straight spine and focus on each inhale and exhale through your nose. You can do this at home in the morning and evening or at work at your desk in between phone calls and meetings.
Stop grasping at happiness. Cultivate a life well-lived instead.
6.) Exercise regularly. Dropping into our physical forms through movement pulls us out of our heads, where our problems live. I never connected with running or gym workouts, so a hot yoga class is where I feel most alive in my body and furthest away from daily problems. Yoga stretches me physically and emotionally beyond my perceived limits, strengthens my body and my will power, supplies fresh blood to the brain and gets endorphins pulsing through my bloodstream. A daily dose melts away stress, alleviates anger, and imparts a fresh perspective on old problems.
Yoga works for me. Discover what works for you.
As long as we identify with happiness existing outside of ourselves, we will never experience true fulfillment. Stop grasping at happiness. Cultivate a life well-lived instead.
Lara Alexiou is the author of “Become the Architect of Your Body, Mind and Soul” and owner of Steamtown Yoga. She has been helping people transform their lives through the Eastern Healing Arts for nearly two decades. Visit her online at www.steamtownyoga.com/books.