- 1. Stop waiting to be happy.
- 2. Add happiness to your life, right now.
- 3. Make self-care part of your routine.
- 4. Get in a joyful state of mind.
- 5. Stop worrying.
- 6. Appreciate the small things.
- 7. Surround yourself with positive people.
- 8. Laugh more.
- 9. Love more.
- 10. Find bliss in a bucket list.
- 11. Plan your happiness.
- How to Find Joy… Even When Life Is Feeling Awful
- Learning to Enjoy Things
- When Anxiety Makes It Hard to Enjoy Things
- If You’re Not Enjoying life, You’re Doing it Wrong
- To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all. — Oscar Wilde
- Closing thoughts
1. Stop waiting to be happy.
The good news is there are always fresh opportunities to be happy. Imagine life is like Grand Central Station, where happy times arrive around the clock. Chances are the opportunity to be happy has already arrived. Sometimes it’s right in front of you. For whatever reason, you are unable to shift your focus to notice and appreciate it.
Regardless of what is going on around you, you can feel happier, be productive, attract success and enjoy yourself during the process. When you shift your focus and the way you think, your perspective changes. When shift happens, your life changes. So get your shift together.
2. Add happiness to your life, right now.
Can you see it? You live on a tropical island. You get up when you like and you do what you want. Some guy named Jeeves brings breakfast. From a reclined position on your balcony, all you can see is the ocean and your feet. Ah, the life of the young and retired.
We all dream of being happy someday. Until then, we are overworked, overstressed and under-happy. The dream doesn’t seem possible without a lottery win or a call from a wealthy uncle in poor health. But what fun is life if we aren’t happy about it?
The good news is, you can add happiness to your life now. Just a few serotonin-producing activities can reduce stress and make the wait for Utopia easier to bear.
3. Make self-care part of your routine.
Being able to take a moment for yourself in order to hit the reset button is something we all need to do every once in a while. But here’s the thing: Taking a timeout to give yourself a moment of respite or relaxation or indulgence is only part of the battle. We carve out time for happy hour, but it ends up being less than happy because you’re thinking about the last couple of emails you didn’t get to in order to be there. How can anyone binge watch Netflix stress-free with piles of dirty laundry lurking next to the TV? Can you really go to town on that box of salted caramels knowing you haven’t been to the dentist in 18 months? Or when you still haven’t ordered a wedding gift for your college roommate and it’s been two years since the wedding?
One of the surest ways to let that self-care time shine is to make sure you’re not stressing about miscellaneous, small-ball to-do’s while you’re trying to check the eff out. Get yourself sorted so that your “me time” can be as effective as possible.
4. Get in a joyful state of mind.
A joyful life is the best existence we can hope to achieve. It’s the kind of life that produces positive vibes and feel-good energy, and encourages us to look to the future with high hopes. Pure joy might seem like a fleeting emotion, but even if you only feel it for a moment in time, you can hold onto it. You can relish in it.
5. Stop worrying.
Happiness works much like love, in mysterious ways. However, science and psychology tell us that brain chemistry alters emotion. But in order to activate those chemicals, we have to talk about habits first.
There is a formula to happiness, and it lies in changing thought patterns. Your patterns—what you do and think and say every day—determine how happy you are. It’s got nothing to do with what’s around you, but everything to do with how your brain works—that inner voice. Happiness is not within your grasp because it is, quite literally, within you.
6. Appreciate the small things.
We all have them; those small moments or things that often go unnoticed or unappreciated because we think they’re either insignificant or we take them for granted because we live in a culture that celebrates big accomplishments. But what if we made it a habit to embrace and celebrate the small things? Real life is happening all around us while we’re waiting for the big thing we hope is going to give us some sort of inner peace, contentment or joy. The truth is that often the things that matter most are the small ones.
7. Surround yourself with positive people.
One big mistake people make is not realizing that happiness is an individual choice. But every choice is influenced by the people in our lives. If you change your life influencers for the better, you can dramatically increase your chances for happiness and success.
In my research, I’ve found that positive social connection is the greatest predictor of long-term happiness. Welcoming a positive new influencer into your world can be one of the most important choices for happiness you make.
8. Laugh more.
Breaking news: Laughing makes you feel good. OK, maybe this isn’t so surprising. But try to think about the last time you really laughed—chances are, it may have been some time ago. Preoccupied with all of our grownup responsibilities, we adults just don’t giggle as often as we did when we were kids.
We should, though! Laughing has been shown to reduce stress, enhance immunity, improve blood flow and strengthen relationships.
9. Love more.
“‘What is Real?’ asked the rabbit.”
“‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you.’”
In 1922 Margery Williams tackled a particularly complex topic in her now beloved children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit. On its journey to discovering what it means to be Real, the Velveteen Rabbit learns that, in the end, it’s to have someone love you and to be able to accept that love in return.
The classic illustrations and touching lesson offer a comforting bedtime read. But as we age, we’re taught that being Real means paying attention in school, landing a good job, earning a steady income, settling down with a family and preparing for retirement. As adults, we smile nostalgically at the simpler times. Because we know life is more complicated than just loving and being loved.
10. Find bliss in a bucket list.
Each time I complete one of these checked boxes, there is a moment. Sometimes it only lasts a flash of a second, but on the lucky days it lingers for minutes or hours. It’s a moment, a fleeting moment, where I can honestly say that I’ve found bliss. It’s every part of you, from your fingers to your toes nearly bursting with light and full with purpose. It’s the amazement, pride, triumph and an overwhelming sensation of the purest self-love. It’s your entire perspective changing after seeing the world from a different lens. It’s the feeling of feeling completely in the moment. It’s being alive.
11. Plan your happiness.
We put money in our 401(k)s. We take calcium supplements. We exercise. We hope these precautions will protect us as we age. But as we safeguard our money, bones and blood pressure, we forget to safeguard the one thing that can make a difference in the quality of our lives as we get older: our happiness.
Decades of positive psychology research has shown high levels of subjective well-being (the combination of overall life satisfaction and in-the-moment positive feelings) can translate into better physical health and a longer life. In a 2011 report from the International Association of Applied Psychology, Edward Diener, Ph.D., a psychology professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, analyzed over 160 relevant studies and found that while positive feelings did not improve outcomes for people with certain diseases such as cancer, the evidence that happiness leads to better health is “clear and compelling.”
Start planning for your happy future.
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My friend Amy happened to be experiencing joy right when I called. “I just went off the Atkins Diet. It was pure joy to shove a granola bar into my mouth,” she laughed. When pressed for further sources of joy, she admitted she finds happiness from a bargain (finding $169 boots for $39) and from preparing a delicious meal.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate a sugar rush or a great buy, but I’m not sure they bring me joy.
The more I tried to find happiness, the more I found myself in a vast sea of pleasures, thrills, and gratifications. An e-mail chain letter of “natural highs” cited making eye contact with a cute stranger, listening to the rain, and riding a roller coaster. Hmm. Nice, but do they bring me joy? Not really.
I couldn’t help but feel that the experience of joy should be something more substantial, something I could sink my teeth—and heart and soul—into. I was looking for some science.
Seek More “Oh Wow!” Times
Ned Hallowell, MD, author of The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness, says, “Joy is the intense moments—the moments of success, the moments of connection, the moments of really appreciating beauty and saying, ‘Oh wow, I’m so lucky to be alive!’ “
Such moments can come to us in bursts of bliss or in the form of more sustaining and hard-won gratifications, according to Martin Seligman, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania and author of Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. “Gratifications are the activities we like doing that absorb and engage us fully.”
Where to Look
Whether your joy—let’s call it “high happiness”—comes in the rush of a sugar high, the glow of professional accomplishment, or deep spiritual fulfillment, whether it trickles in small pleasures or flows in a deluge of delight, most would agree that we want more of it.
But you won’t find joy from the lottery tickets tucked in your wallet. Nor will you find it in wrinkle-removing plastic surgery. Studies have shown that money and beauty are not reliable or substantial sources of happiness. According to happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, of the University of California, Riverside, life circumstances only account for 10% of happiness. Half depends on our genetic “set point,” which is kind of like the weight our body bounces back to after that crash diet. About 40%t of our happiness is influenced by what we do deliberately to make ourselves happy. And being happy is the key antecedent to joy. “You can’t be joyful all the time,” says Lyubomirsky, “but people who are happy are going to be joyful more frequently.”
More from Prevention: 9 Signs You’re Happier Than You Think
What the Experts Say
Here’s what experts believe you can do to increase the joy, both large and small, in your life:
1. Notice what’s right Experts agree that optimistic people are happier people. Those who look on the bright side experience more happiness than those who try to “see things as they really are,” according to Lyubomirsky. It’s a process scientists call reframing: If you try to cast negative events in a positive light, and you see the silver lining, you can turn a bad situation into a joyful one.
Take my friend Carol. Shortly after she got married, she complained that her work-at-home husband didn’t know how to do laundry. Whites, colors—they were all washed together. Then a coworker pointed out, “He’s just trying to help.” When Carol spoke to her husband about it, he told her, “I want to do my fair share to give you more time to relax.” She’s learned to overlook the mistakes and enjoy their extra chore-free time together.
“If you only focus on what’s wrong, you will not experience joy. You will experience discouragement, depression, low self-esteem,” explains M. J. Ryan, author of 365 Health and Happiness Boosters. “But when you focus on what’s right about a situation—the exact same situation—you’re increasing the possibility that you will experience joy and high happiness.”
More from Prevention: 7 Marriage Mistakes Even Smart Couples Make
2. Be grateful We all know we’re supposed to count our blessings, but we may not realize that in this platitude lies one of the most significant ways of increasing joy. “It sounds cliché, but research actually supports this,” says Lyubomirsky. One study found that those who regularly recorded what they were thankful for in “gratitude journals” showed higher levels of optimism, enthusiasm, attentiveness, and energy, and they felt better about their life as a whole.
3. Remember the kid you were In just one lazy Sunday afternoon, I watched my two children create joy for themselves again and again, first in a game of hide-and-seek, then whirling around to Carole King music in princess costumes. It was smiles, giggles, belly laughs. “Joy is one of those exuberant feelings we see in children,” says Pamela Gail Johnson, founder of a group called Secret Society of Happy People, a website she started to provide a forum for those who want to encourage the expression of happiness. “As adults, when do we lose that? That experience of being in that natural high?”
It’s a question Hallowell explores in The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness. “I wanted to look at the sources in childhood that lead to joy in adulthood,” he says. “If you have this feeling when you get up in the morning of ‘can-do, wanna-do,’ you have friends you look forward to seeing, you have activities you look forward to doing, you can usually trace those things back to childhood,” he explains.
Hallowell discovered that the capacity of adults to experience great joy and enthusiasm about life has its roots in how they did things as children. He cites five basic steps that should ideally take place in a child’s development to help ensure future joy:
- Experiencing unconditional love from key adults
- Discovering one’s passions through play
- Practicing those passions
- Mastering them, thereby reinforcing confidence and self-esteem
- Experiencing recognition from the outside world
“It’s never too late,” says Hallowell. “If you’re willing to set aside your sense of embarrassment and to play, then you can rediscover the childlike qualities that are strongly associated with joy.”
4. Be kind Random acts of kindness increase happiness, according to Lyubomirsky’s research. “There are lots of consequences that come from showing kindness that make you happier and help you stay happy,” she says. A study conducted at the University of Virginia found that merely witnessing acts of kindness, loyalty, and heroism created a significant elevation in mood and increased the desire to perform good deeds (witness the long lines of blood donors after 9/11).
5. Spend time with your buddies Although a rich social and romantic life does not in itself guarantee joy, it has a huge effect on happiness. A study of college students showed that the happiest among them were more social, spent less time alone, and reported strong, supportive relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners. (Check out these 8 Friends Every Woman Needs.)
6. Don’t overdo it The problem with joy is that it’s so delicious that you just want more and more. But what gives you joy once may not work a second time. If you love gourmet chocolate ice cream, there’s no way to maintain the joy of that first taste on your tongue. The more you eat it, the less joy it brings. “Neurons are wired to respond to novel events,” Seligman points out in Authentic Happiness. “The more redundant the events, the more they merge into the unnoticed background.” So space out your joyful pleasures.
7. Savor every moment You can increase joy by paying concentrated attention to momentary pleasures. This may sound obvious, but some researchers have turned savoring into a new field of study, one devoted to heightening the experience of pleasure, of being mindful and living in the present. Ways to savor experiences include sharing them with others, basking in praise others give you, sharpening your perceptions and senses by focusing intensely on something (closing your eyes when you listen to your favorite music, for instance), and completely immersing yourself in something you love doing. Or as a friend says, “Roll in it!”
8. Move more If you’ve experienced “runner’s high” or maybe just the afterglow when you’re done, you know how joyful exercise can be. Several studies have shown that exercise is a powerful mood elevator. One small pilot study found that 30 minutes of daily aerobic exercise worked faster than drugs to ease depression.
9. Really rest Peace, quiet, and solitude can also create joy, and some research suggests that we may have an inborn need to “zone out” once in a while. In an exploratory study, researchers observed three babies who turned away or blocked their eyes in response to overstimulation. Mothers who recognized this behavior and gave their children needed downtime had happier, easier babies.
10. Put on a happy face “There’s good evidence that just smiling and looking like you’re happy will make you happier,” says Lyubomirsky. Studies show that even muscular changes in your face can elevate your happiness, as can good posture. My friend Susan refers to it as “the blush effect.” To apply blush to your cheekbones properly, you need to smile. “When I do that, I always think it’s going to be a great day,” says Lyubomirsky. It works, she says, because “if you act like you’re a happier person, you can experience all these positive social consequences. You make more friends. People are nicer to you. And these things can have real consequences.”
11. Pursue your goals “Having a set of high goals that are important to you, that are compatible with your values, and that are mostly pleasant to work for” helps augment your happiness level, explains happiness researcher Ed Diener, PhD, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Research shows that the pursuit of your goals, not even necessarily attaining them, can increase joy.
12. Get into the flow A very profound joy can emerge when you are in a state called “flow,” a term coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, PhD, director of the Quality of Life Institute at Claremont Graduate University in California and author of several books on the subject. Flow is the form of joy, ecstasy, and happiness that can emerge when people are so absorbed in a challenging activity they love that they lose themselves. Time stops, and they become at one with what they’re doing. What creates flow is highly individual, but people experience it in everything from running and rock climbing to writing, painting, and playing music.
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13. Play to your strengths The best way to achieve flow is by identifying your strengths and virtues and then using them, says Seligman. First, you have to find out what they are. Then, he says, “You have to recraft your work life, your love life, and your leisure to deploy those strengths and virtues as much as possible.”
Seligman’s advice reminds me of Jill, a food service worker. Feeling very unfulfilled in her current job, Jill decided she was going to change her work style by tapping her greatest strength: her people skills. She made sure her interactions with her cafeteria customers were the social highlight of their day. She addressed everyone by name, took special orders with a smile, and used friendly chitchat to distract them from their workday. “Once you identify your strengths, you can transform a tedious task into an experience that brings flow much more frequently,” explains Seligman.
14. Find your calling Some find meaning in religion or spirituality. Others find a sense of purpose in their work. Finding your calling may be more of a lifelong mission than a simple strategy for increasing joy, but having a sense of purpose—of feeling like you are here for a reason—can perhaps bring the greatest joy of all.
A Role Model
Inger Osteraa has been fighting a very aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for nearly 2 decades. Since 1985, her body has been frequently peppered with tumors that have fractured her spine and nearly shut down her liver. At various times, some of the top doctors in the US told her she had “just months to live.” Now free from cancer for nearly 3 years, the 67-year-old Osteraa reflects on how, even in the face of this deadly disease, she never lost her ability to experience joy.
“When you can hear the minutes ticking, and you know the buzzer is going to go off at any minute, and your time will be up, you see things so clearly,” she says. “You just know without a doubt where your values are and why you’re alive, and you’re so grateful for each moment.”
At one point, when she thought she had only a short time to live, she planted bareroot roses with her toddler grandson, even though she knew they wouldn’t bloom for months. Connecting to nature and to someone she loved “brought me tremendous joy,” she says.
Osteraa now gets “unbelievable joy” every afternoon by going outside to read with her legs resting on her 125-lb dog, Clyde, something she says takes her back to the joy she felt as a young child growing up in Norway when her dog would pull her on skis through the woods.
More from Prevention: 10 Secrets Of Happy Women
Andrea Malin Freelance writer Andrea Malin pursues joy in Los Angeles.
How to Find Joy… Even When Life Is Feeling Awful
When we are experiencing loss and sadness in our life, everyday can feel like a struggle.
Whether it is recovering from loss of a loved one, divorce, a lay-off, or anything else, we forget to care for ourselves and to find joy at the time when we need it most.
Learning how to reinvent ourselves, establish our independence again, and figure out what we want during this next chapter of our lives is a bit overwhelming. Oftentimes, we may forget to see all the wonderful things that await us.
Often, we get so bogged down with the stress, overwhelm, and emotional roller-coasters that we forget about all the things that we have going for us. But learning to find joy in your life, especially while navigating loss, is an incredible gift that you can give to yourself. And it can be easier than ever when you ask yourself the following.
What amazing things are in your life that you may have overlooked?
We have this unfair expectation that only huge milestones in our lives are worth celebrating. But what about the day-in/day-out struggles that we endure?
We don’t give ourselves enough credit for the things we have accomplished. Every day that you take control of your life, every day that you learn a little more about managing money and re-entering the workforce, every day that you get a little bit stronger and take care of yourself and put yourself first and realize that you are worthy of getting your confidence back and reclaiming your life is something you should celebrate.
So, what things will you start to celebrate? I’ve listed a few of my own!
- I choose to celebrate that I am no longer in a relationship that was unhealthy for me.
- I will celebrate that I am a survivor. I got through this, and now I know I can get through anything.
If you are still having trouble with trying to identify things that bring you joy, don’t worry! Finding joy in your life is the most important step to learning how to heal and move on. It is also the easiest but most critical component of taking care of yourself as you recover from loss. Another way to approaching finding joy can come from asking yourself the following.
What is yours that nobody can take?
Answering this question establishes the solid foundation for celebrating what is good in your life. These answers are simpler than you think. Some of my answers, especially during the hardest times of my divorce, included:
- Coming home to a clean house — everything just how I left it.
- The feeling that although I am no longer married, at least I am not in a toxic, unhealthy relationship anymore.
- Knowing that my dog will always greet me with a wagging tail and sloppy kiss.
Those simple things are ones we usually take for granted, but when you are mindful to the love and beauty that actually surrounds you, just waiting to be acknowledged, you will see dozens of things to be happy about that are right in front of you.
When the world still seems like a disaster, or when you are angry over something that happened today, or you saw something or heard something that triggered you into feeling resentful or grief-stricken, you must do this:
Write down 5 things for which you are grateful
These things do not have to be extravagant. In fact, the simplest of things are usually the best, because they remind us that we are still alive and that we will be okay. Need some inspiration? Take a look at last night’s entry into my own notebook.
- The new spring weather
- The smell of fabric softener on clean sheets
- Hot Epsom salt bath before bed
- My dog, who is always so playful and silly
- Homemade delicious olive oil cake after dinner
Do this exercise tonight
I prefer doing this as I am getting ready for bed. After I finish the night rituals but still have a few minutes before I know that I am going to zonk out is when I write these things. It doesn’t really matter when you do it exactly, but I find that doing it at the end of the day is the best way to get closure on any nonsense that has gotten in my space, as well as celebrating any good things that have come my way, too.
Make it as easy as possible for yourself
I keep a medium-sized notebook with a pen on my nightstand, next to my alarm clock. That way, I will see it every night. It can be as simple of a notebook as you want — some people get super-fancy and call them Gratitude Journals. I just call it a lifeline to joy.
A simple habit can change your outlook
This is not a just-one-and-done thing, however. You must make this a habit in order for it to work. Some studies show that it takes 21 days of practice to make something a habit, but you will start to notice the change in your outlook in three days of writing.
You may also see patterns of things for which you are grateful — things that appear in your notebook regularly. It’s not a coincidence. It’s a sign that these are the things in your life that bring you joy, and these are the things you should celebrate. These are the things that, when you are angry or lonely, have the power to center you again and remind you that you have control of your life, that you are strong, and that regardless of where you have been, you will get your life and happiness back.
How to Find Joy… Even When Life Is Feeling Awful
Learning to Enjoy Things
According to Nichiren Buddhism, the reason we’re all here is to enjoy ourselves, to be “happy and at ease.” Though this may sound like a license for lasciviousness and hedonism, in reality it’s far from it: Enjoying ourselves, as most of us know from experience, is far harder than it sounds. To develop lives in which we can freely enjoy each moment requires far more work—far more self-development—than many would believe. Just what, then, does it actually take?
Freedom From Worry
If we’re constantly worrying about the future, how can we possibly enjoy the present? The answer is we can’t. How, then, can we free ourselves from worry? Unfortunately, that answer is a bit more complicated.
First, people whose lives are filled to the brim with anxiety—who seem to feel it for no clear reason or for reasons that most others don’t—may very well be suffering from a full-blown anxiety disorder, one that may require professional treatment, whether therapy, medication, or both. Luckily, however, this group actually constitutes the minority of people: it turns out the majority of us don’t spend the majority of our lives awash in worry. But the majority of us do experience spikes of anxiety when thinking about certain aspects of the future that can easily obstruct our ability to enjoy the present. Part of the problem, according to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow, is that to be fully immersed in the present moment is to be not thinking at all—only experiencing. But Homo sapiens, we now know, evolved to think—and not just about anything, but specifically about the future (being able to think about the future and plan for it provides us an almost unparalleled survival advantage). To learn to enjoy ourselves, then, we don’t want to stop thinking entirely and live only in the moment but rather to think about the future only when it serves us to do so, not when it doesn’t. But how can we learn to do that?
The Ability to Consciously Direct Our Attention
Our brains are machines in perpetual motion. We don’t ever really stop thinking, even when we’re fully immersed in the present moment. But whether or not we’re experiencing flow depends on whether we’re attending to our thoughts about the present moment or to the experience of that moment. (The “I” that can choose between attending to our thoughts and our experience is separate from both.) That is, we can’t really stop ourselves from having thoughts, but we can stop ourselves from paying attention to those thoughts.
The best way to stop paying attention to thoughts that generate anxiety, however, isn’t by forcibly trying to resist them (studies show this quite reliably and paradoxically magnifies them). Rather, we need to distract ourselves from them. How? With other thoughts that are equally, if not more, attractive. Ideally, whatever activity in which we’re engaging in the present would be distracting enough, but this is clearly often not the case. If we’re repeatedly being distracted by an obsession with a future event or situation that consistently draws out attention away from the present moment, we need to find an alternative thought that distracts us away from that obsession. The alternative thought needs to be both pleasurable and non-anxiety producing. And we can’t just go searching for it when obsessive worry suddenly appears. We need to have it ready. In the same way in the movie Hook that Robin Williams’ grown-up Peter Pan found his best “happy thought”—the one that enabled him to remember how to fly—in a thought about his son, we need to have our own “happy thoughts” at the ready to pull us away from obsessive rumination about the future so that we can enjoy the present.
Freedom From Distraction
Though we needn’t experience full-blown flow to be able to enjoy the present moment, enjoying the present moment paradoxically also requires freedom from the “happy thoughts” we use to pull ourselves away from worry about the future. For though we clearly can use the tool of distraction to our advantage to stop ruminating about the future, most of the time we become distracted unconsciously, out of habit. That is, interesting and attractive (or painful) thoughts continually occur to us and draw our attention without our realizing it. But just as we would train ourselves to stop biting our nails by noticing when we do and making ourselves stop, we only need to consciously recognize we’ve been distracted from experiencing the present moment to return our attention to it. Of course, if part of us is consciously on the lookout for moments in which we become distracted, that part of us will also retard our ability to become fully immersed in and thus enjoy the present moment. Perhaps the best way out of this paradox is to spend just some of our time learning to recognize when our attention has been pulled away from the present moment and to practice gently returning it—because the more we practice this, the more likely we’ll be able to do so out of habit without having to consciously monitor ourselves to see if it’s happened.
Enjoying our present moments may seem like something that should happen naturally and require no effort, but in fact it’s often quite difficult. People who meditate know that practice focusing on the present can improve the ability to do it—as well that it’s practice worth doing. Though much joy can be had in contemplating our future, too much rumination about it can compromise our ability to enjoy the life we actually live.
My new book, The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self, is available on Amazon.
When Anxiety Makes It Hard to Enjoy Things
A beloved community figure and politician died in the city I live in. Paul Dewar’s last message to Canadians included these sentences: “Let’s make more art. Let’s play more. Let’s embrace each other in these days of cynicism and doubt.”
It got me thinking about the concept of “playing” in the uncertain times we live in today. I wondered what this looked like in adults, or even in children. I wanted to know how anxious people, like myself, could enter this world of play.
I have had anxiety since I was a child. In my life, it is the only constant emotion that I can remember feeling. As a kid, “fun” was really an illusion. Nothing was fun and I was never really carefree. If those moments did occur, they were rare and obviously not memorable. My memories are always shrouded by the underlying anxiety I felt.
I was fortunate that I had the opportunities to take part in numerous activities growing up, such as sports and dance. However, there was always an internal pressure to perform, whether that be in skill or through personality. I hated getting called onto the field or having to practice dance choreography in front of the group. Just writing about it makes me feel physically anxious. Even when it came to non-structured activities like recess or birthday parties, I still dreaded them.
In general, children are more carefree and are able to live in the moment. One of my nieces exemplifies this characteristic. She truly lives freely, and although it can be troublesome, I can’t help but be jealous of that style of living. Even when I visit and they want to play with me I can feel that childhood Paige rearing her head full of anxiety. Tragically, this makes me feel like I can’t fulfill my duties as an aunt. Even when surrounded by curiosity, innocence and happiness, I cannot truly let down my guard and enjoy those times.
This chronic anxiety has obviously continued to manifest itself into my life today. I feel like I am missing out on what could be a very positive aspect of living. What would it take to allow me to let go? Will there ever be a time where I can embrace play? How long will it take? These are some of the questions I ask myself.
The trepidation I feel when it comes to things like going to a new restaurant or even watching a new show on Netflix is intense. Those sound like simple things, but to me they are not. It doesn’t matter who I am with because in the end, I will always be with myself, in my own head.
The closest I’ve come to enjoying something unreservedly is through music. Whether it be an indie folk show or a classical music symphony, there is something about the sounds that is moving. Music has gotten me through the toughest of times.
I hope that someday I will be able to accept play into my life. I hope the time it takes to get there is minimal. I hope and long for this freedom.
If You’re Not Enjoying life, You’re Doing it Wrong
To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all. — Oscar Wilde
Thomas OppongFollow Jul 15, 2019 · 5 min read
Unless circumstances are extremely beyond your control, and you can’t do anything about it, this holds true.
Life is a cycle of good times and bad. It’s not linear.
There are always going to be ups an downs. But you can still make prudent choices as the transformation progresses.
We all suffer different degrees of stress and anxiety in life. Some people thrive well, and others suffer quietly through obstacles and thoughts. The good news is, downs help us to appreciate and understand what an up looks like.
If you’ve experienced the downs for too long, and are having trouble seeing the ups, it’s time to shift your narrative, change your perception and take actions that will help you make progress despite the setbacks in life.
Epictetus once said, “We are not disturbed by things that happen, but rather, by our perception of things that happen.”
“This is the most important part of learning how to enjoy your life again: when you’re in a place of trauma and pain, you can’t try to force yourself to be happy. First, you have to step back into neutral,” says Brianna Wiest, author of I Am The Hero Of My Own Life.
Enjoying life starts with shifting our mindset, seeing things in a new way, because our brains are wired to heavily focus on the negative.
According to research, our brains have a negative-bias. Every bad comment or news about us, or around us makes a bigger impact on our perception about ourselves and the world than we realise.
“Your brain is simply built with a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news. The bias is so automatic that it can be detected at the earliest stage of the brain’s information processing,” writes Hara Estroff Marano of Psychology Today.
This bias causes us to worry more than necessary, fear the worst, and focus on bad narratives for too long, which robs us of the joys around us.
“All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry — all forms of fear — are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of non-forgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence,” says Eckhart Tolle.
Some people even play the victim because of negative bias. They only get satisfaction from sympathy from others.
Others have unrealistic expectations for themselves. They try too hard to make things right or be happy. They focus on life illusions to feel good. And when they fall short, they become miserable. They are constantly living in survival mode. It’s a terrible way to live.
The mental and physical fatigue can distract you from enjoying or appreciating life to the fullest.
If you are waiting for others to help you enjoy life, you are in the wrong lane. You can’t just sit around and expect the fullness of life to come to you.
We live in a world that subtly sabotage our efforts to live a good life.
But when you deliberately take meaningful actions and cultivate the right mindset, life is consistently enjoyable. So be vigilant. Pay attention to everything that robs you of the joys of life.
Figure out which small things you do or have enjoyed in the past and work toward maximizing and setting yourself up for more of those.
Lean into the little joys in life when you find them. The simple things are the most extraordinary things that sometimes makes life easy to manage.
Don’t think too much about “enjoying” life. The moment you jump to “thinking mode”, and seek things to make your life fulfilling, the fullness of life will become a mirage.
Enjoying life is not just about that one-off vacation or bonus. There is more to life than those short-lived moments of calm and dopamine release.
The little moments you are not noticing are the true pursuits that can guarantee every joy. True happiness is about embracing the little joys in life.
How we spend our days is how we spend our lives, as the adage goes. The habit of taking even mild pleasure in small things is life-changing.
It’s about making time for that sunrise, using your mornings to take care of yourself, losing yourself in your favourite book, being present when you are enjoying a cup of coffee, taking long walks, listening to the wind blow through trees, and being grateful for both small and big things.
The true nature of life is constant movement and constant evolution. Stay in control of the change, otherwise, life will become less and less comfortable.
Control the pains of life. You can absolutely avoid a lot of the psychological suffering by staying focused on your internal growth.
Here is a thought-provoking statement by Brian Krans that encourages us to schedule time for ourselves, our relationships, and what we care about:
“Are you happy? Have you ever been happy? What have you done today to matter? Did you exist or did you live? How did you thrive? Become a chameleon-fit in anywhere. Be a rockstar-stand out everywhere. Do nothing, do everything. Forget everything, remember everyone. Care, don’t just pretend to. Listen to everyone. Love everyone and nothing at the same time. It’s impossible to be everything, but you can’t stop trying to do it all.”
It pays to find more enjoyment in life as it exists right now, not in the past or the future but today, this moment.
“We can easily spend nine-tenths of our lives trying to appreciate the free time, hammocks, bike rides, and coffee breaks to come, or we can spend that time — which amounts to decades — appreciating what is already happening. And there’s nothing subtle about the difference it makes,” writes David Cain.
Life’s enjoyment isn’t all locked up the huge things we want to do. There’s enjoyment available to us in almost all of the little things we choose to do every day. Pay attention to them and pass time joyfully.
Try an be as present as you can through every step. Awaken yourself to the beauty and value of the things, people and ideas around you.
“Do your best to take time to notice, feel and appreciate your way through every texture of the circumstances you are in,” Alfred James recommends.
We all want to enjoy life and not just a fraction of it.
Make it your ultimate goal to live.
Enjoying life is living it in the simplest but transformative way possible.
Remember what Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for a newer and richer experience.”
Be here more, and you’ll enjoy life more.