50 Ways to Start Cultivating Happiness Today

Last updated on 9/10/2020. As of this update, this article has been viewed 19,590 times since it was first published!


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Readers often ask questions about “finding” happiness. The answer is that we don’t find happiness; we live it. Happiness (i.e., flourishing, fulfillment, and life-satisfaction) is the by-product of our daily decisions and activities. Unhappiness is often a by-product of the situations we create or have failed to address.*

Regardless of the specific causes of unfulfilment, many people eventually realize that if they want their situations to change, they are the ones who must work to change it.

In “Your First Step Toward a Beautiful Life,” I discussed the strategy of visualizing a blank slate. The blank slate symbolizes the process of letting go of old lifestyle patterns. This visualization helps us to redesign our lives, unencumbered by mental clutter from the past.

So if step one is to start with a blank slate, then the next obvious question is, then what?

The next task is to cultivate happiness. We can accomplish this by adding consciously reinvented layers of our lives to the slate. Although we all have areas we need to focus on more, I have compiled the following list of suggestions to help you begin the process.

This list is not exhaustive. Once you start the process, add items that are most relevant for you. There isn’t a specific order to follow, but I believe a good place to start is with a rediscovery of self.

SELF

  1. Learn about yourself through introspection.
  2. Define your core values and beliefs.
  3. Set your own priorities and direction.
  4. Love, value, and forgive yourself.
  5. Prioritize self-care (adequate sleep, healthy diet, relaxation, etc.).
  6. Live authentically.
  7. Live within your means.

RELATIONSHIPS

  1. Teach others how to treat you by loving and respecting yourself.
  2. Cultivate positive, supportive, and reciprocating relationships.
  3. Seek relationships that cause your world to expand (your world should not feel smaller).
  4. Create healthy boundaries.
  5. Understand the differences between dependence, co-dependence, independence, and interdependence.
  6. Learn about and develop your emotional intelligence.
  7. Share your world with a pet.

PERSONAL ENVIRONMENT

  1. Simplify/organize your surroundings (get rid of excess).
  2. Design/create a personal sanctuary.
  3. Furnish your environment with inspiring materials (books, art, music, etc.).

EXPERIENCES

  1. Be willing to learn and experience new things.
  2. Volunteer for a social cause.
  3. Seek peak experiences/Create a bucket list.
  4. Accept personal challenges (run a marathon).
  5. Don’t wait for someday(start enjoying life today).

EMOTIONS

  1. Resist pessimistic thinking.
  2. Keep things in perspective.
  3. Accept that you can only control yourself and your own reactions.
  4. Don’t sweat the small stuff and choose your battles.
  5. Focus on the present (let go of the past, don’t worry about the future).
  6. Smile more.
  7. Increase your opportunities to laugh and share humor.
  8. Don’t allow negative moments to snowball.

STRIVINGS

  1. Develop your creative skills and talents.
  2. Find what you love to do and make it your life’s work.
  3. Set and work toward meaningful personal goals.
  4. Challenge your self-limiting beliefs (you can achieve more than you think).
  5. Seek improvement over perfection.
  6. Appreciate/celebrate your accomplishments and personal milestones.
  7. Redefine your beliefs about success (don’t confuse material acquisitions with success).
  8. Give yourself permission to change your mind or direction when something isn’t working.
  9. Remember to enjoy the journey as much as the ultimate destination.

CENTEREDNESS

  1. Treat peace of mind as a priority.
  2. Know that peace, love, and happiness are all generated from within.
  3. Learn to channel your awareness and attention (where your attention goes, energy flows).
  4. Learn to re-center and replenish using relaxation or meditation techniques.
  5. Seek moments of solitude.
  6. Practice gratitude.

PERSONAL RESILIENCE

  1. Recognize that change is natural and inevitable; be flexible and less resistant to it.
  2. When things change, embrace the new normal.
  3. Develop confidence in your ability to respond to stress and crises.
  4. Look for active ways to solve problems.
  5. Identify with yourself as a survivor, not a victim.

“Happiness is an inside job.”
—William Arthur Ward

*Note: This article discusses happiness from the standpoint of personal fulfillment. Therefore, this statement does not apply to situations involving mental and physical illness, victimization, or abuse. If you suffer from a physical or mental illness or are the victim of emotional or physical abuse, please seek professional medical and/or therapeutic support from a licensed practitioner. If you are having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please call the SAMHSA National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–8255.
   
**Image: Dave Nitsche

EMOTIONAL ECONOMICS: 4 Ways to Manage Our Inner Resources

Emotional Economics

As many of us learned in Econ 101, economics analyzes the allocation of resources. It addresses the reality that resources are scarce, and seeks to organize society so that it most efficiently utilizes those resources.

In economics, choosing to allocate resources toward a given activity creates an opportunity cost – the loss of an alternative. This means that we select one opportunity at the expense of another. This is why it is very important to allocate scarce resources toward the best opportunities, because once expended, we forgo the alternate opportunities.

Limited Inner Resources

Whether we realize it or not, our daily interactions consist of an expenditure of internal resources. Those resources exist in the form of energy – physical, mental and emotional. We are constantly managing the expenditure and replenishment of those resources, and if we aren’t careful we can end up in a state of deficit.

Interestingly, the word “economics” is derived from the ancient Greek word “oikonomia,” which translates as “household management.” When we consider the allocation of inner resources, household becomes analogous to the self.

Mental resources are those that contribute to planning, problem solving and other cognitive functions. Emotional resources refer to our emotional reactions to external events, as well as emotional well-being. Physical resources encompass our physiological systems and overall bodily health.

It is important to note that these resources do not exist in isolation; they are holistically interconnected. Therefore, over-expenditure in one area can negatively affect the other two areas. For example, over-expenditure of emotional resources can negatively affect mental resources. Once we experience a negative emotional event, an overall mood emerges which can disrupt other mental activities.

Biologically, research has shown that emotional upset can disrupt our cognitive processing. Consequently, when driven by emotion, our perceptions, judgment and concentration are negatively affected, and if the heightened emotional state persists, the body will become stressed. The physical stress response can cause detrimental changes and, over time, can manifest as exhaustion and illness.

We experience many competing interests which place demands on our internal resources. To stay healthy, we must acknowledge that our resources are limited, and take great care not to deplete them.

How Do We Accomplish This?

One way is to shift our perspective to one of emotional economy, focusing on the allocation of limited inner resources, and consciously considering opportunity costs. In other words, it’s the management of supply and demand.

Since we can’t really create more supply, one of the best ways to manage our inner resources is through conservation – preventing waste. Carefully considering opportunity costs will allow us to consciously choose the most effective expenditures, thus allowing us to conserve our efforts for the highest pursuits.

There are four ways to conserve our inner resources:

1. Employ Selective Engagement

Selective engagement means consciously selecting our activities and personal interactions. In other words, we can selectively engage in the interactions and activities that will provide the most benefit. Additionally, when it comes to managing conflict, it means choosing which battles to fight, rather than fighting them all.

Example: The night before a final exam, a college student learns that her roommate has been spreading rumors about her. Understandingly, she is upset by this violation of trust. At this point, there are two external demands which she must consider. She can confront her roommate, which carries the risk of a heightened emotional event, which could affect her ability to concentrate. Or she can study for her exam which will facilitate her accomplishment of a higher goal. Both choices involve an opportunity cost. However, considering economy, she should select the option that provides the greater benefit – which is studying for the exam.

Demands that involve negative interactions will drain our inner resources without offering a benefit. We should therefore look for ways to minimize or eliminate the time we spend interacting with negative people.

2. Practice Verbal Restraint

During conflict, take time to collect your thoughts. Don’t be provoked into emotional responses. Think before you speak, and say only what is necessary. The goal of any discussion or argument should be resolution, so if you see that things are not moving toward resolution, or communication is devolving into an emotional shouting match, conserve your resources by disengaging.

Additionally, when it comes to communication, consider the fact that sometimes less is more. At times, it is better to listen and consider, versus providing a rebuttal or having the last word.

“Sometimes one creates a dynamic impression by saying something, and sometimes one creates as significant an impression by remaining silent.”
~Dalai Lama~

3. Stop

At times, it becomes important to focus on allowing instead of controlling. You will expend much less energy when you allow things to unfold naturally (i.e. patience and acceptance) than attempting to micromanage each and every detail.

If something isn’t working – i.e., a relationship or goal-oriented activity – simply stop. Allow the situation to exist as it is without trying to force it to happen. You can’t control anything (or anyone) outside of yourself, so it is a waste of inner resources to continue your efforts.

4. Replenish

When you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed, take time to slow things down. Think of the cache (temporary memory) of a computer. As you browse the internet, the cache saves each new page so that it can be quickly accessed once you visit again. However, as the cache reaches capacity, the browser speed slows down. The only way to remedy this situation is to clear the cache. As we go about our daily activities, we add more and more items to our inner cache. In the same way that the computer’s browser speed is affected, we also can become overloaded. Taking a time-out for meditation, deep breathing, or even a power nap, will help us to clear our mental cache.

See the following video for a quick, effective meditation technique:

Conscious awareness of emotional economy can help us to manage our interactions more effectively. Through selective engagement, verbal restraint, ceased control, and replenishment, we can conserve our resources for the most beneficial pursuits, and potentially enjoy increased focused (due to more energy) while doing them.

Personal Reflections:

  • Do you often feel a sense of emotional overload due to competing demands?
  • How do you think the strategies above would change your situation?

*Image: Dusit Panyakhom 

Two Compelling Reasons to Stop Settling for Less

“The biggest human temptation
is to settle for too little.”
~Thomas Merton~

Whether referring to career, relationships, or general life, we all have undoubtedly received this admonishment: Never settle for less. If asked why, the most likely answer would be, “because I deserve more.” However, from a semantic standpoint, there are even more compelling reasons to stop settling.

Consider the word settle in its literal sense:

  1. To come to rest
  2. A gradual sinking to a lower level

Maturation (growth) requires a conscious effort of managing progressively complicated challenges. Settling for less can lead us to live in an unconscious manner – as if sleepwalking – accepting the safety and comfort of routine over the discomfort of actively venturing into uncharted territory (fear of the unknown). In other words, choosing to settle for less can cause stagnation, thus impeding our own progress.

A second consequence of settling is personal regression. Settling can be a symptom of unwillingness to progress to higher levels due to a fear of failure. Choosing to accept less is not only a choice to remain at a certain level, but it can also unintentionally cause us to regress to earlier stages of development, often expressed through a preference to remain engaged in low-demand relationships and activities.

Stagnation can be likened to being stuck in traffic, not able to move forward or backward, while regression can be compared to the atrophy that occurs when a muscle is not being used.

Mentally, physically and spiritually, we need to flex our muscles for growth. Normally, growth occurs as a result of overcoming progressive levels of resistance. The more we flex, the more competent we become; and the more resistance we undertake, the stronger and more developed we become. Mastery of a lower level will normally trigger progression to the next higher level. But when we settle for less, we are essentially choosing to remove resistance (challenge) from our lives, which is essential for growth. Stagnation halts progress, and regression causes us to gradually lose ground.

In every aspect of our lives, we really do ourselves a disservice by settling. Although settling may feel comfortable initially, eventually dissatisfaction and/or apathy can set in. At the very least, we need to feel a sense of satisfaction to remain sufficiently motivated to continue in a situation. And at the other end of the spectrum, passion is what propels us to higher levels of achievement and fulfillment.

So, if you’re feeling “stuck” or unchallenged, perhaps it is time to consider the areas in your life in which you may be settling for less, and make the changes necessary to reestablish active engagement and growth.

Personal Reflections:

  • Do you recognize any areas in your life in which you are settling?