Happiness is a finicky emotion. Sometimes, something as simple as a text from a loved one can put a smile on our face for the rest of the day, while other times we find ourselves in a perpetual funk and feel like we need a total life overhaul to fix it. Unfortunately, what works for one person doesn’t always translate to another, but there are strategies we can use to take back control of our lives and our happiness. Whether you’re feeling like you’re in a slump lately (say, the past two years?) or you just want to stay on top of your mental health and well-being, here are four easy rituals you can start today to begin reclaiming your happiness.
1. Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness is a term that is making huge waves recently across a number of different fields - but what does that even mean? Mindfulness is the deliberate effort to focus your thoughts on one thing, like your breath for instance, to allow yourself to momentarily forget about the many stressors and worries you have going on in your life. A few short minutes of mindfulness per day can give your brain the chance to rest and recharge so that by the end of the practice, you are able to focus more on tasks and have mental energy to continue your day.
Humans, as a whole, are more stressed than we have ever been and that’s why so many people are looking for ways to help manage it so they can get back to enjoying life. CEOs, professional athletes, and elementary school teachers report significant improvements in happiness and productivity after subscribing to a consistent mindfulness meditation practice. Mental stress can speed up the heart and raise your blood pressure, while meditation can actually reverse the physiological signs of stress (Harvard Health Publishing, 2020). Scientific studies of Indian yoga teachers show that meditation can reduce the breathing rate resulting in diminishing the body’s oxygen consumption, lower blood adrenaline levels, and change skin temperature - which makes sense, as these are opposite symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Although it can be as simple as setting aside five minutes to close your eyes and focus on your breathing, sometimes we need a little gentle guidance to get the ball rolling. So, if you don’t know where to start, there are literally thousands of mindfulness apps to choose from that will walk you through the process step-by-step. A couple of our personal favorites are “Headspace” and “Calm.” You can also type in “5-minute meditations” on YouTube and try a few guided breathing exercises to help you focus and reset.
2. Go For A Run
I know what you’re thinking, “you said this was a list of “mind” rituals!”, but hear me out. On top of being a great form of physical exercise, running also affects our brains (and minds) in incredible ways. You may have heard avid exercisers talking about the proverbial, “runner’s high” they experience after a hard run and scoffed at the claim, but there is actually science behind these findings.
Strenuous exercise increases our body’s production of endocannabinoids (a naturally occurring substance with similar effects to cannabis) in the bloodstream (John Hopkins Medical). That relaxed, almost euphoric feeling ardent runners report after a hard workout is because they’ve just improved their mood, reduced anxiety, and promoted an overall calming effect. Although it may be tough to force yourself to lace up your shoes and take those first few steps out the door, pretty soon your mind (and body) will be thanking you. Start with even just fifteen minutes of exercise, and increase slowly as you can.
3. Take Time Away From Technology
Whether you need to take a step back from the constant influx of anxiety-inducing media, comparing your life to the “perfect” highlight reel of other people's lives, or you just need to give your eyes a break from harmful blue lights, putting your phone down and closing your laptop can have really positive effects on your mood (no surprise there). There is no denying that technology has made our lives easier in a lot of obvious ways, but it has also contributed to some of the highest anxiety levels in recorded human history (Developmental Science, 2019).
The incredible advancements in technology just in the past decade have made us more accessible than we have ever been before. Long gone are the days when employees left the office at 5pm on a Friday and didn’t worry about work until 9am Monday morning. We have become so accustomed to checking our phones to look for new texts, missed calls, emails, or social media tags, that we are essentially constantly on the clock, available to be reached at any time of the day. That carries with it the perfect equation to equal unmanageable amounts of stress. So whether you need to set usage timers on apps, turn off notifications after a certain time every evenings, or leave your phone in a different room when you go to sleep, taking daily breaks from technology is something we can all benefit from. It's building an essential boundary for others (and ourselves) to respect. We focus a lot on our phones, but this includes laptops, tablets, and televisions as well. Reading a book, getting coffee with a friend, or going for a walk outside are all great ways to unplug from the digital world and give your mind (and your eyes) a much needed rest.
Taking a break from technology will also give you time to explore different interests or hobbies you may have forgotten you had, or would have never have discovered if you hadn’t looked up from your phone.
Often when people hear the term “journaling” they think of pre-teens writing “Dear Diary” followed by some profoundly embarrassing secret or confession of a deep-seated crush that they would simply die if anyone ever found out about. In reality, journaling is a much broader term that includes all kinds of writing (including embarrassing secrets and confessions).
One form of journaling that I am a personal fan of is called “free-writing”, which is where you set a certain time, or a number of pages to complete, and then just write continuously until your reach the goal without worrying about whether the content makes sense, flows, or if it’s interesting in the slightest. Free-writing is a tactic some writers use to brainstorm ideas when they need to cure “writer's block”, and for that same reason, it can also be a great journaling tool. When we write without thinking and just let our thoughts flow through us onto the paper, we often unleash feelings, ideas, stressors, and expectations that we didn’t consciously realize we were carrying.
Once we become aware of these stressors we can better understand them and start to tackle the problems appropriately. Of course, not every day is going to result in some profound realization of underlying anxiety. Some days you may find yourself writing out your grocery list, things you need to accomplish for the day, or things you’re thankful for which are all great practices too. Handwriting, in general, is a great exercise to challenge our brains in a healthy way that many of us stop doing once we’ve left school.
If being left to your own devices doesn’t sound appealing and you’d rather be prompted to get your creative juices flowing, there are a number of guided journals at the bookstore that focus on anything from self-reflection to practising gratitude, so find what works best for you and put pencil to paper.