Last week, everyone in my family slept late. Normally, not a big deal, but on a school day, it’s problematic and stressful. Of course we forgot to make school lunches the night before, my six-year-old remembered she had homework while eating cereal, and in four hours I was hosting fifteen of my four-year olds classmates in an afternoon of holiday traditions. This was not the morning to sleep late. Thankfully my three daughters made the bus, but my youngest daughter was fifteen minutes late to Preschool. As we walked through the parking lot to the entrance of the school, my daughter opened her mouth, stopped walking, and began catching the light snow twirling and twisting down from the sky. As I held her hand, I gently pulled her arm and asked her to hurry up, we were already late. She did not move, completely entranced catching snowflakes in her mouth. I caught myself. How would one minute of catching snowflakes make a difference if we were already fifteen minutes late? Instead of rushing her into school, I watched her delight in the snowflakes landing on her tongue, with the tickle of the melting precipitation. She was in the midst of experiencing joy and now, I was as well.
During this time of year, stress is plentiful and slowing down to appreciate and experience joy seems near impossible. Take a moment and ask yourself, “When was the last time I experienced joy and happiness?” If you can’t remember or it’s been a while, please continue reading below to find out how to increase happiness and joy in your life.
I recently read Cultivating Lasting Happiness: A 7-Step Guide to Mindfulness, by Terry Fralich, a therapist and former attorney, taught by some of the most amazing teachers of our time, the Dalai Lama and Jon Kabat-Zin. In his book, Terry outlines six obstacles that block or get in the way of experiencing joy and happiness.
The Six Obstacles of Experiencing Happiness are:
- Happiness Should Happen to Us. When we have the belief that happiness just happens automatically, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Life has stress and struggles regardless of gender, occupation, race, and socioeconomic status. Fralich reminds his readers, being a good person does not guarantee happiness.
- “If Only…” Then I Would be Happy. Many of us get caught thinking our happiness lies in the manifestation of our wishes and dreams coming true. While the initial attainment of a fulfilled desire brings excitement and contentment, in a short time these reactions fade and we move onto new ‘if only’s.’ If you want to read about ‘if only I win the lottery’ please go here to read about lottery winners and happiness.
- An Overactive Mind. As parents, we are often busy running from one place to the next, with a constant ticker tape agenda running through our minds. We think, we worry, we plan, leaving little time to sit in quiet and stillness without distracting thoughts. Consequently, overactive minds reduce the opportunity to notice and experience joy.
- Myths of Our Conditioning. In this obstacle, Terry explains how our first understanding about the world happens through our family and early childhood experiences. Our family members shape and influence how we embrace, approach, allow and create happiness.
- Stress in our Lives. The demands of everyday life, as well as the stress in our nation and throughout the globe, can seem overwhelming at times. Stress, both small and more chronic, can significantly impact one’s experience of joy and happiness.
- The Unavoidable Challenges of Life. As Terry points out, by being human, we are subject to core challenges such as illness, loss, loneliness and disappointment over the span of our lifetime. By accepting these challenges of life, we are more able to work with managing these conditions.
Now that I have outlined the obstacles to happiness and joy, here are eight ways to increase joy and happiness n your life.
- Reflect on What Brings You Joy. What makes you happy? What brings you joy? Spend a few minutes thinking about each and either make a mental list of such activities or write down several ways you experience or would like to experience joy and happiness.
- Create moments of Joy. According to Fralich, author of Cultivating Happiness, one obstacle to experiencing happiness is thinking that it just happens passively. Create moments of happiness and joy by scheduling it in your day. If happiness to you would be a vacation, try to scale back to an achievable moment you can incorporate into your daily routine. Perhaps you have photos from this vacation or enjoyed a certain drink or food while listening to music associated with your time away. You can create moments of happiness within your home by looking through photos and listening to music. We often put ourselves last on the to do list of the day. Schedule small amounts of time, even fifteen minutes a day, to engage in activities which bring you joy and happiness.
- Look for Joy and Happiness in Small Moments. There are big events in life when we experience joy; the birth of a child, an achievement of a hard-earned goal, a relaxing vacation or trip. Becoming aware of smaller moments of joy can significantly increase one’s sense of happiness and contentment. Perhaps a moment of joy is watching your children play or going for a walk and noticing nature around you or simply sitting in quiet enjoying a cup of tea. However you define happiness, slow down and look for the small examples of happiness in your life.
- Create Joy for Someone Else. Giving to others and those we care about often brings about joy and a sense of happiness. When we care for other people we feel good about bringing something positive to someone else’s life.
- Experience Life. Many of us get caught up in being so productive, we leave little time to enjoy and experience life. Slow down, take a deep breath and allow yourself to be in the moment without being overly productive. Instead of using your smart phone when ever there is down time or filling every waking moment with productivity, allow yourself to connect to the important people in your life. Allow yourself to slowly eat and enjoy a meal or savor a piece of chocolate or embrace in a hug with a loved one more than a moment; rather than moving onto the next thing to do, take in the moment in front of you.
- Learn From Your Children. Have you ever noticed how children are fantastic about being in the moment? Watch your children and follow their lead. Observe how they can be in the moment enjoying only what is in front of them.
- Keep Track of Joy and Happiness. Whether you journal, write it in the notes section of your smart phone, take a photo or simply allow the moment to sink in for later recall, find a way to hold onto the joyful moments. Over time, small positive moments add up and can change the way you perceive happiness.
- Limit Multitasking. A sure way to reduce joy and happiness is through the distractions of multitasking. When we are engaged in another activity, it is hard to be present and attuned to other events unfolding around us. By limiting multitasking, we can create opportunities to allow our senses to take in fully moments of joy and happiness.
As the year draws to a close and celebrations with family and friends fill the calendar, remember to look for and create joyful moments in your life.
© Copyright Dr. Claire Nicogossian 2014