Life can be stressful. It can overwhelm and move so quickly there’s rarely time to stop and think. As adults we are pulled in many directions, often at the same time. It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle and let the weeks go by. When that happens often we are left wondering where the time goes. After months of feeling like I was on a nonstop carousel, I realized I was moving through my days robotically. I decided it was time to be more mindful of my actions and in touch with my thoughts. Here are some of the changes I made.
The first step was changing how I went to sleep. Most nights I would lie in bed holding my phone, scrolling through Twitter or playing a word game, with the news playing on the television in the background. At some point I would put the phone down, take my glasses off and close my eyes, all the while hearing about the horrors going on in the world. The cable news would talk about the hatred in the country, terror attacks, divisiveness in our government and more. The local news was even worse. Night after night hearing about robberies, rapes and other vicious attacks. Those were always the last things I heard as I drifted off to sleep. I needed to change the information penetrating my final thoughts of the day. Rather than feed my mind gory and disturbing images, I decided to start feeding it gratitude. My new process began with proper unwinding. First I take deep breaths in and out until I feel relaxed. Count slowly to four on the breath in, and again on the breath out. With each exhale feeling the body slow down just a bit. Once relaxed I make a list of the things I am grateful for. There are no right or wrong items. It can be people, feelings, nature, material items, work-related items, etc. As Marie Kondo says, if it sparks joy to you it has meaning.
Breathing exercises and gratitude lists helped in the evening, and daytime check-ins became equally as important as nighttime rituals. This, my next step toward choosing happiness, was most important. Daily thought check-ins can be scheduled or sporadic, and are vital toward maintaining positivity. This is how it works. Stop and contemplate the thoughts and actions since your last check-in. Have your comments to other people been mostly negative or positive? Have your thoughts been mostly pleasant and constructive? Are you pleased with the outcome of your thoughts and words? It is hard to be happy if you are surrounded by negativity.
Closely related to the daily check-ins but worthy of its own discussion, and an important step towards my true happiness was my decision to stop judging. For various reasons, whether we want to admit it or not, most of us are guilty of judging others unfairly. I heard once that if I release myself from this monster of negativity I will feel like a massive weight has been lifted, and I did. Try this experiment, when you see something you don’t agree with, instead of commenting about how wrong it is, turn the tables and wonder what could be right about the scenario. Allow for the possibility that your way isn’t the best way, or that it’s so wonderful that everyone has choices. Also when I am tempted to share something that is none of my business, I have a new mantra. I say to myself and to others, “It is not my story to tell.” This small, uncomplicated phrase has really helped me catch myself when I know something shallow or disagreeable may come out of my mouth. Sometimes it takes releasing our insecurities or jealousies to combat our judgemental or gossiping tendencies. It takes work but it’s a necessary battle in our fight for happiness. These are ugly traits and not worthy of our time or energy.
These changes definitely made me feel different, more at peace. I was ready to look toward the future. This is when you visualize what happiness is to you. Give this some serious thought. Now think about all the ways you unintentionally sabotage it. Eliminate what you can from that list and replace them with new things you can do to help you move in a forward direction. Try to create new habits that contribute positively to your daily routine. My new bedtime habits and anti-gossip mantra are two examples.
I’m still a work in progress. My journey started with breathing exercises, gratitude lists and daily thought check-ins. It then progressed to releasing myself from judging, jealousy and insecurity, and continued with visualizing my happiness and creating new habits that will help me achieve it. As many working adults can attest, the carousel of life goes round and round and up and down with no intermission. We are busy, fast-paced and overscheduled, and often not satisfied. But maybe it’s time to stop for a moment, consider ourselves and make some choices. I chose happiness, and you can too.