Creating Happiness in 2019

These past several weeks I have spent a lot of time in reflection; reading, writing, contemplating. It’s been immensely uncomfortable, at times, offering up two panic attacks and a handful of scary dark paths, but also giving me quite a bit of freedom, creativity, and many fascinating thoughts.

so much of what we do is an attempt to return to the simplicity of childhood

One of the things that I’ve realized is that so much of what we do is an attempt to return to the simplicity of childhood. It is why we drink, smoke pot, take drugs, read books, troll news, watch TV, drink tea, enjoy sunsets and gorgeous views, or play video games. It is to give our minds the opportunity to relax, release, and regress back to joy and internal peace.  We’re trying to recreate the sort of release we sought out and experienced as children by getting lost in fantasies and daydreams.

For me, 2018 was a year of work and an immense quantity of tasks. Balance took a backseat to stress and anxiety. I took zero time for reflection until these past several weeks, pushing myself immensely hard to deliver, to produce, to achieve, to improve. I tackled 2018 with a feeling of near-desperation.

Last year I allowed fear to take over. I was focused on my fear of failure, fear of not meeting expectations. And we all know that what we focus on grows. I invited stress chemicals into my body. And these fight or flight chemicals do not leave room for creative thinking. Flooding the body with a cocktail of stress chemicals like cortisol only permits fight or flight. This creates a vicious cycle where, by giving in to fear and worry we get more fear and more reasons to worry.

I watch this in those around me as well. It’s an almost frantic need to not allow ourselves to think, but rather to keep going,  keep doing, keep acting, keep running our minds around and around on a mental hamster wheel. Even in times of leisure, choosing mentally taxing activities like crossword puzzles, trivia, TV, video games, over anything resembling contemplation.

I’m not big into New Year’s resolutions as this statistically has been shown to be ineffective at building long-term behavioral change. But these last several weeks of reflection have shown me how much I worry, and how much I focused on the negative in this last year. And how, by focusing on the challenges, and problems I have reduced my ability to think of options and solutions.

I choose to live life that I’m proud to look back on, and I’m not proud of how much I focused on fear and worry last year. Instead, this year, I am embracing and reestablishing three patterns for creating happiness.

#1 Gratitude

When my brain starts to go down that path of worry, I have begun to note this, write down the worry and when I’m going to address it and with whom (when convenient), and turn to a gratitude practice for one to two minutes. Gratitude has the complete opposite effect of stress and worry. It floods our brains with dopamine and allows us to branch out into more creative and positive thinking. I always practice gratitude during my morning shower - thinking of at least 5 things I’m grateful for, and let my mind really linger on that person, that pet, that item, or moment. But this adds more gratitude to my plate, and helps ease away the negativity of worries.

#2 Stillness

Instead of using every spare moment to read, watch TV, or play video games, I am going to continue to practice stillness. I begin this practice several weeks ago with the encouragement of my coach. Being still and noticing my body. Just noticing my aches and pains and appreciating each area that doesn’t hurt. Staying in my body. Noticing my breath. Noticing the sounds around me. Noticing what I can see around me. Noticing the smoothness of my cat’s fur under my hand and the sound of his purring.

#3 Daydreaming

Daydreaming is different than stillness, but equally valuable and beneficial. Daydreaming is letting your mind wander, letting thoughts come unbidden and seeing where they go, allowing your brain a bit of a vacation. This can be hard to do, especially without the aid of alcohol or marijuana, and it can also take you down dark path as I’ve discovered over the past few weeks. But embracing the dark is valuable in its own right. And beyond that, it allows you to retrieve memories long forgotten, explore new paths and neurological pathways, and give your brain an incredibly valuable respite.

The Greeks used to talk about honorable leisure. The importance of idle. This practice has allowed me to calm the jittery voice in my brain that always tells me I should be doing something, acting, achieving. This practice is me giving myself permission to be still in my body, and take my mind on a journey. And this can be done throughout the day as the opportunity presents itself. You can give yourself five minutes here, 10 minutes there I’ve been enjoying this practice as I put my son down to sleep. He snuggles up next to me and as his breath deepens I allow my mind to wander at will.

These three items are ones I’ve incorporated into my own daily practice over the past several weeks. I went from feeling my cup of happiness and resilience was nearly empty. In my head I imagined a rounded green glass mug with dregs of resilience in the bottom. Maybe 12% full. using these practices I’ve refilled my cup. Not all the way, and it goes up and down with the days and new inputs, but I feel like it’s way more than half full. Maybe 85% full. It’s allowed me to power through a number of challenges in 2019 with a lot more ease and positivity.    

What are you incorporating into your routine to help maintain peace of mind in 2019?