Happiness is a topic that’s fascinated me for years. So much so that I wrote my senior thesis in college on it. I could certainly write another thesis here and use all sorts of evidence from books to research, but for once I want to share what I learned from personal experiences. If there’s anything I took away from reading Siddhartha it’s that experiences can teach invaluable lessons. And I want to reveal these to you so you can start feeling happier today.
“Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened” — Hellen Keller
Mind: You can’t turn a corner without seeing advice on positive thinking and how to abolish negative thoughts. But positive thinking is impossible to attain by sheer willpower. The only thing you will get out of this is frustrated because the trick isn’t rooted in abolishing negative thoughts. In fact, when you repress negative thoughts they don’t disappear. They instead come out in the shape of anxieties even stronger than the negative thoughts you were trying so hard to suppress.
I learned this the hard way a few years back. I was having a stressful time (see “The Quarter-Life Crisis”) and was really trying to push off processing my feelings. I filled up every moment of my day with distractions, which was easy because I had too much on my plate as it was. But for the first time in my life I started having anxiety attacks. But I found that when I spent time fighting the anxiety, it didn’t lessen. This is because it was just a mask for much deeper fears and concerns I was running away from. Only once I took the time to think about and process the reasons behind my stress did my anxiety attacks (miraculously!) disappear.
So if you’re feeling sad, stressed or negative, instead of putting energy into trying to fight yourself, why not try instead to address your feelings and accept them? I’m not saying you have to act on your feelings, but just accepting them internally and realizing no emotion is bad, though perhaps uncomfortable, is half the battle. And processing them will help you move on quicker from any of the uncomfortable feelings you wish to avoid in the first place. Often stress or anxiety is just a symptom of a much less obvious issue. And as cheesy as it may sound, self-acceptance and self-compassion really are at the root of happiness.
Body-Diet: This may not be very obvious, but eating habits play a really important role in overall mood. I remember doing an experiment as a teenager where I decided that as long as my weight stayed the same, I’d eat whatever I wanted. This odd experiment (probably some form of teenage rebellion as my family is quite health conscious) obviously led to eating more junk food and less fresh whole foods than I later learned is optimal. The thing that struck me the most wasn’t how my looks changed, though my complexion definitely didn’t improve, but how I felt: sluggish, tired, generally down. I have since mostly reformed my ways but when I still sometimes indulge in junk food my body reacts strongly with those same feelings. Although occasional indulgences are fun, I’ve come to realize how important good nutrition is for boosting your mood. In addition to the “runner’s high”, maybe we should also incorporate the “smoothie high” into our lexicon. Just a thought.
Body-Exercise: Speaking of runner’s high, there was a time in my life where I burned out from competitive gymnastics and quit, but hadn’t yet found my passion in fitness, dance and yoga. In that transitional period, I stopped working out four times a week and although I initially reveled in having more free time, my mood slowly began to dip. I felt moodier and more lethargic. Things I used to do easily, like running to catch the train or carrying groceries, became more tiring. I wasn’t quite sure whether this was only due to lack of exercise, but once I started working out again my mood immediately began to turn around. Although for the first few weeks it was hard building up muscle and regaining my cardiovascular endurance, after a while I started feeling overall lighter, more energetic and happier.
Lifestyle: I’ve been living in New York City for a while now, and as you probably know, the pace of life is extremely fast here. There’s a lot of pressure to work hard, long hours and to always keep an eye on your inbox. There was a point where I was just doing too much: too much work, too many social engagements, not enough sleep and not enough time to just enjoy the simple things in life. I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling so unsettled, after all I was being very productive and moving forward; then a memory hit me. On my gap year in Australia, I would often take a whole afternoon to just go to a nice cafe by myself, get a coffee and read. And though I wasn’t technically being as productive as I could be, I never felt happier. I don’t advocate for slacking off, I just advocate for balance. I always feel my happiest when I am productive but also take the time to enjoy what I’m doing. My quality of sleep improves and my worries diminish; I don’t sweat the small stuff as much and I don’t get frustrated as easily. If your life seems perfect on paper but you’re going from one event to the next without really taking the time to soak it in, then what’s the point?
I haven’t quite found the balance yet, but I try to be as mindful as possible. I hope these experiences spoke to you in some way and hope you’ll be able to get something out of them. Or maybe someone you know, who’s struggling with these, would like to know they’re not alone. If so, please share and subscribe to get more updates on wellness, travel and lifestyle.
Originally published at medium.com