practicing happiness

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I think the world is a bit of a tough place to live in right now. There’s seemingly so much negativity, whether surrounding politics or societal pressure, or simply the changes in weather and season.

The conversation around living with mindfulness seems so relevant to me, but also a bit vague, right? What does it really mean?

I realized a few weeks ago that I wasn’t really having fun anymore. Of course I love my life and my family, but somehow I just couldn’t let go of this ball of tension that had been building inside of me since January. New years are supposed to signify new beginnings and a fresh start, but whether it was the election or general life stress, or anxiety, or whatever else (or everything!), it was weighing heavy on my mind. I needed to make a change.

I won’t say that things are 100% better right now, because I am always a work in progress, but since I started doing what I call “practicing happiness” I find that  I have a better balance and I’m certainly feeling like I’m on the mend.

I read an article on Big Think yesterday that really pinpointed some helpful tips to reduce anxiety and raise your spirits, and I think this is one of the more concrete ways to harness what is at the core of being mindful. I’m considering making flash cards for the tough moments since the points here really resonate 🙂

  1. Ask yourself “What am I grateful for?“. I’ve heard for years that keeping a gratitude journal can help to lift the mood, but honestly I’m not one for personal journaling, although recently I have been bullet journaling, which I’ll do another post about soon because it’s really fun. That being said, simply asking yourself what you’re grateful for “can boost serotonin. Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.”
  2. Name it. “Neuroscience says that just giving your darkness a name defuses it.” This really makes so much sense. It’s part of the reason that talking things out can also help diffuse situations, whatever the feelings there may be. If you’re feeling sad, say it. “Here’s the bottom line: describe an emotion in just a word or two, and it helps reduce the emotion.”
  3. Make a decision. The article notes that “one thing to try is making a decision about what’s got you worked up. It doesn’t even have to be the perfect decision; just a good one will do.” The focus on just making an ok decision, not necessarily the perfect one, ” activates more dorsolateral prefrontal areas, which helps you feel more in control.” So often, feelings like anxiety or sadness are about feeling out of control, that this should also help in those moments to regain a sense of control.
  4. Hug it out. Even something as simple as a hand shake can help, and if that’s not an option either, going for a massage is just as valuable. In a study, partners held hands while waiting for a “an expected electrical shock from researchers. The brain showed reduced activation in both the anterior cingulate cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — that is, less activity in the pain and worrying circuits.” Which means that just by holding hands, they worried less about the impending negativity.

So, if it’s TLDR for you, let’s keep it simple. Finding gratitude, naming feelings, making decisions and physical contact are all scientifically proven to boost mood and make you feel better.

I also started watching The Great British Bake Off on Netflix, which for some reason makes me so happy that it just naturally rubs off on everything else I do.

Find time to practice happiness. It’s worth it. You’re worth it.

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