Calling Me for a Date with Me.

Me time—time spent purposely alone is different than loneliness. Sometimes you need to treat yourself and carve out some “me time.” It is a pretty awesome idea! Don’t feel guilty about it. In the end, it will make you a better spouse, a better parent, a better colleague, and a better friend. We all need to recharge and we need to do something just for ourselves on a regular basis.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. Just plan to do something that you enjoy and that relaxes you. If you are already doing this, congratulations! If not, you have the delightful task of figuring out what you may want to do. Maybe it’s reading a good book or watching your favorite TV show. Maybe it’s getting back into a hobby you used to enjoy. Maybe it’s taking a nap. Maybe it’s a simple as having 10 minutes to sit by yourself and think, or thumb through a magazine.

Like I said, it doesn’t have to take a lot of time and it doesn’t have to involve anything complicated. Sure, a trip to the beach by yourself for a week would be great, but curling up on the couch with a nice cup of tea or a glass of wine and a good book will do. Maybe there is a movie you want to see or a new coffee shop you would love to try.

Treating yourself to a new haircut, a pretty dress, a new gadget, or something that will help you enjoy your hobby more is another great option. Or keep it super simple, and pick up a favorite treat that you don’t have to share while you’re out doing the grocery shopping.

The point I’m trying to make is that it’s ok to treat yourself and do something for the sole purpose of making yourself happy. While a piece of fancy chocolate may not seem like that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, treating yourself well and caring for yourself can have a huge impact on the quality of your life. Give it a try—schedule a date with yourself right now! Then do something nice for yourself—be happy.

Day 25 – Good Nutrition–Good Mood

The simplest solution to increasing happiness may be to change what we eat. It is interesting to learn how much the food we eat can affect our mood. I think it’s no accident that since the arrival of lots of easily obtainable processed food with added sugar in the Western diet, depression and other mood disorders have dramatically risen. A quick look at a couple of key ingredients and nutrients that have been shown to directly affect our mood.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 is a fatty acid that’s found in fatty fish and certain seeds and nuts. There’s another fatty acid called Omega 6 which is found in the corn oil and vegetable oils used in so much American food.  There’s an important balance between omega 3 and omega 6 that needs to happen. If you end up with way more omega 6 than omega 3 (which is often the case in a diet that consists of lots of processed foods), one of the side effects is depression. Here’s an article about the importance of Omega balance.

Vitamin D

We tend to get the blues more in winter when we can’t get outside and get some sun. A big reason for this drop in mood is a lack of vitamin D. With the advent of strong sunscreen and a global health policy that warns us of sun exposure and cautions us to cover up or wear sunscreen, it’s no wonder that vitamin d deficiency has become major problem that also happens to negatively affect our mood.

B Vitamins

Being happy takes energy and a key ingredient in making sure we get the energy we need from our foods are B vitamins. This whole group of micronutrients is crucial in how energized we feel. Make sure you get plenty to feel your best.

Magnesium

Magnesium is starting to become increasingly an issue as our soils are magnesium depleted and less of this mineral makes it into our food. Lack of magnesium can cause insomnia and you already know how important a good night sleep is to your overall well-being.

While you may want to consider supplementing with some of these nutrients to quickly fill the gap your diet is leaving, a much better long-term strategy is to work on cleaning up your diet. The more processed foods you can cut out and replace with fresh fruits and vegetables, quality meats (or other non-meat protein), and healthy fats the better. In other words, eat real foods!

Day 25 – Stop Complaining. Act.

Since starting this 30 Day Happiness Challenge here on the blog and via email, I’ve been a lot more aware of the happiness of the people around me. I’m sure you’ve experienced the same thing. It is causing me to look at people more closely and pay attention to their actions, their feelings, and how that seems to connect. It’s has given me some fresh perspectives on this whole happiness thing.

Something that’s stood out in the past few weeks is that the people that seem the most unsatisfied with their life and the least happy are the ones who spend a lot of their time and energy complaining. Do you have a few of those people in your life? They are too busy talking about how horrible their life is that they don’t have any time left to do something about it. Or maybe they’d rather complain than change things. Either way, the solution seems to be simple. Stop complaining and start doing something about it!

We all have times when we complain about one thing or another. Sometimes we do it in our heads, sometimes we vent with a close friend or family member. We grumble, get it off our chest. That’s fine, provided complaining isn’t all we do. Sure, there are times when we complain, feel a little better, and the situation resolves itself. But there are other times when things won’t get better and we won’t feel happier unless we do something.

So what do you need to do? If you’re not happy in your job, start looking for a different position or even change companies. If you’re not happy with your salary, work towards that promotion, take some classes, and do whatever it takes to start earning more. If you are stuck in a relationship that makes you unhappy, work on it, or take the action to move on. If you’re not happy with how your kids are acting, work on your parenting skills, and work with your kids to make things better. If you’re not happy with the way you look and feel, start eating healthier and get outside for some fresh air and exercise.

It’s truly amazing how much you can shape your life for the better once you stop complaining and start taking action. What are you going to do today to make your life better and increase your long-term happiness?

Day 24 – Happiness in Simplicity – Declutter Your Life and Your Mind

One of the reasons vacations are so relaxing is because we are away from most of our stuff and the responsibilities that come with it. You don’t have to worry about all sorts of projects and chores around the house and can just relax and enjoy the space you are in. You’re away from appointments, work, and being reachable. This allows you to focus on the people with you.

In my last post I talked about how much focusing on experiences instead of things can help reduce stress and increase happiness. Today, I want to take that one step further and focus a little more on getting rid of things – both physical and mental. The idea is to find happiness in simplicity.

While we can’t replicate this feeling of vacation, what we can do is reduce the clutter in our lives and simplify things. This lets us to focus on what’s important and what makes us happy. Here are some simple little ideas to help you start decluttering.

Decluttering Your Home

Let’s start with the simple stuff. There are tons of books, blog posts, articles and even TV shows about decluttering. While it isn’t easy, it is simple. It boils down to going through your home, one room or one area at a time, finding the things you no longer need or want. These can then be thrown out or given away. The idea is that in the end you are left with things you appreciate and a clearer space that’s more relaxing to live in and easier to keep clean and organized.

Decluttering Your Calendar

Next look at your calendar–the activities and obligations in your life. Being busy makes us feel productive, but often the best use of our time is to cut out all the extra stuff that really isn’t necessary and doesn’t bring us joy. Don’t be afraid to be ruthless and even a little impolite at times. Feeling obligated shouldn’t be a good enough reason that you’re doing something. Get rid of it and then use the gained time to do things that help you relax, get ahead, and most importantly make you happy.

Decluttering Your Mind

Finally, it’s time to declutter your brain. It’s amazing how much “junk” we let build up in there. We all have this running list of things we should do, ideas for future projects, what to cook, what to shop for etc. What we don’t realize is how much brain power that kind of thinking takes up. The best way to deal with it is to do a “brain dump”. Get out a piece of paper and start writing it all down. Everything you have in your head that you think you need to remember from the book you want to read next and what to cook for dinner tomorrow, to the meeting you need to schedule at work. Write it all down. Don’t judge, don’t edit, and don’t try to organize it. All of that can come later. For now, write it down to get it out of your head.

When you’re done, notice how much lighter and happier you feel with each area of your life decluttered. While it isn’t the easiest thing to do, it is well worth it and something you should try to do regularly.

Day 23 Trade Things for Experiences

We live in a materialistic society where our main goal seems to be to acquire more stuff. We buy bigger cars, bigger houses, and of course, lots and lots of stuff to fill these houses. The idea is that we can buy happiness by buying more “stuff”. We’ve been living this way in the western world for quite some time. But are we happier with all those material possessions?

Increasingly, people are starting to feel that all this extra stuff weighs us down and adds to the stress we’re feeling. All these things must be taken care of and with bigger houses and cars come bigger maintenance issues and repair costs.

In the search for happiness there is a new trend of owning less, and living simpler, more minimalistic lives. We see it in the trend towards minimalism, tiny houses, and in the success of books like “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. There must be something to this idea of owning less and focusing less on buying and owning things.

Does this mean that to be happy we need to give away all our stuff and move into a tiny house or apartment? Of course not. But what it may suggest is that spending a little time decluttering and getting rid of some things can give us a feeling of breathing room and freedom.

It also means that instead of accumulating more stuff, we should try focusing on experiences. Instead of buying a fancy car, new furniture, or a new set of golf clubs, take that money and spend it on a fun family trip. Use it to spend quality time with your loved ones and make beautiful memories. Not only will you be happier during the time you’re on vacation, you’ll also feel joy as you remember this trip and the time spent with your spouse and kids.

You don’t even have to go that far. Vacations are great, but we can’t take them all the time and they aren’t always practical. Think of your time as a gift, instead of buying gifts. Don’t buy another blouse or book for your mom or best friend, take her out on her birthday for lunch and some girl time. Instead of picking up another electronic gadget or tool, go hang out with the guys at the ballpark and cheer on your favorite team. Think experiences and making memories instead of buying more stuff. Experiences are more fulfilling and don’t have to be dusted!

Meditate Your Way to A Happier You

Stress is such a buzz kill. Nothing brings you down faster than feeling stressed out. It keeps you from sleeping well, staying productive, and being in a good mood. It only makes sense than that reducing stress increases happiness. One of the best ways to bring your stress levels down and increase your joy is to mediate.

In addition to reducing stress and increasing happiness, meditation is good for your health, helps you practice self-awareness, and increases your concentration. New to meditating? Here’s a quick primer on this ancient technique of clearing the mind.

Meditation is a state of thoughtless awareness. It’s reached by practicing clearing your mind of thought, until we can reach that state of mind easily and effortlessly. Along the way meditation will help us concentrate, contemplate, and gives us more control over our mind and our thoughts.

There are all sorts of different ways to practice mediation. Some will have you focus on your breathing, some will have you focus on your body. You can practice in complete silence, while listening to white noise or soft music, or you can work through guided meditations.

If you’re new to meditating, a simple guided meditation may be your best bet. There are plenty of recordings online, on YouTube, and even on apps. Some of them will be free, while others are paid guided meditations. Listen to a few of them until you find a mediation you’re comfortable with.

If you want to just try this without downloading or buying any guided meditations, give this basic meditation exercise a try. Start by laying down comfortably on your back. Have your hands to your side and relax. Close your eyes, and breathe naturally. Notice how the breath moves your body and try to focus on each exhalation and inhalation. If your mind starts to wander, bring it back to your breath. Aim for a few minutes of meditation to begin with. If you find yourself nodding off, that’s common at first. Meditation can be very relaxing and is a great way to help you get to sleep.

With practice, you will be able to mediate for longer periods of time. Experiment with techniques and lengths of mediation time until you find your own routine, something you can stick with for the long run.

Day 21 Giving Back Makes Us Happier

I couldn’t wait for Christmas when I was a kid. I’d spend days and weeks anticipating and trying to guess what Santa would bring me! I’d make wish lists and circle things in toy catalogs. It was all about the presents I would get.

As I’ve grown older, that has changed quite a bit. I still appreciate a thoughtful gift, but to be honest, most of the fun at Christmas for me is giving gifts. I find joy in the process of finding just the right gift, wrapping it and then seeing the eyes of the recipient light up when they open their present. If you have little ones that squeal with delight on Christmas morning as they open the gifts under the tree, that’s a precious joyful time, right?

It’s simple–giving makes us happier. It isn’t just about physical gifts. Any time we can give, whether it is a kind word, sound advice, our time or a hug, it makes us feel good to give back. Giving grows our own happiness.

Doesn’t  it make sense then to focus on giving back more to help lead a happier and more fulfilled life? Think about the things you could do to start giving back more. Volunteering is a great place to start and there are so many opportunities to do just that. You can help at your child’s school or at the local church. Homeless shelters and soup kitchens are always grateful for an extra pair of hands. If you’re good with animals, help your local humane society to walk dogs and socialize kittens. Reading to patients at the hospital or people in a senior living facility is another wonderful way to give back.

If you’re not able to get out of the house much to volunteer, there are still lots of opportunities to give back. I know people who knit preemie caps for a crisis nursery at a local hospital. Another friend sews pet blankets for a local no-kill shelter. Help organize online events, or offer to virtually tutor kids who need homework help.

Find something that fits your time and talents and notice how good it makes you feel. It inspires a sense of pride and purpose in you and that in turn will helpboost your overall happiness. Giving back to your community and family is a wonderful feeling that I hope you get to experience more.

Day 20 Positive Communication

Have you noticed how people are great about finding the positive in any situation and telling you about it?  They are the kinds of bosses, coworkers, teachers, and friends who give you some constructive criticism while pointing out everything you’ve done right, even if the project or situation turns out to be a total mess. They build you up and give you the confidence boost you need to go back and fix things or start over.

Then there are people who can’t give a compliment without also pointing out your shortcomings. They tend to focus on the negative in any situation and are quick to share that with you. These people can be hard to live and work with. The big question is what type of person are you? How do you think and communicate about your life and your surroundings?

If being happier is your goal, you need to work on making sure you think and communicate in a positive way. Why is thinking important? Because it is how we communicate with ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather spend my time becoming my biggest cheerleader, not my worst critic.

Here’s the good news. How you think and how you communicate can be learned and unlearned. That means if you’re a bit of a pessimist right now, you can learn to think, be, and talk in a more positive way. Learned behaviors and habits aren’t always easy to change.

  • First step is that you gotta want to change. Truly.
  • Step two is to learn to recognize your behavior as it happens. Listen to the thoughts that are happening in your head. Stop and make yourself think before you speak.
  • Step three is to practice the new habit and behavior.

Take a few minutes and reflect on how you have been thinking today. Think back on conversations you’ve had with others and get a feel for how you communicate with yourself and others. Are you as positive as you’d like to be, or is there room for improvement? If so, start implementing the simple three step process I shared with you and keep practicing until this more positive way of thinking and communicating has become a strong new habit. It will have a big impact in your own happiness and that of those around you.

Day 19 Live in the Moment

Worry. Do you worry? One of the fastest way to stop any feeling of happiness in its tracks is to worry. We worry about things that haven’t happened yet, and we worry about things in the past that we can do nothing about. Think about how many happy moments we are missing because we are too worried about the past or the future.

One of the solutions to living a happier and more content life is to learn to live in the moment. You don’t want to miss all the amazing little things life has in store for you because you are too busy worrying and agonizing about things that are outside of your control. The goal then for a happier life is to learn to live in the moment.

Start by simply paying attention to what’s going on around you right now. Enjoy the people you are spending time with. Treasure the conversations and interactions you have with them. Look around you and notice the beauty in your surroundings. Each season brings new natural phenomena that can help you stay in the moment and make you happy. Notice how the light filters through the colorful leaves on a crisp fall day. Treasure the first few green sprouts at the end of winter. Laugh and play in the first snow of winter. Bask in the sun and look at how the light plays over the water on a hot summer day. Each day, each season, and each year has amazing treasures to offer if you take the time to stay in the moment and notice them.

If you find yourself slipping back into your old ways of worrying about things challenge the worry: What evidence do you have that the situation will take place?

Here are some tips to gaining a positive attitude when worry seems at its worst:

  • Put a time limit on your worry. For example, you may want to give some of the worst worries more time – 10 minutes or so – and other, less stressful worries a couple of minutes. Think about all the outcomes of your worry and then stop! Put it out of your mind. You gave it the time it deserved – now get back to now.
  • Keep busy. When you’re focused on a task that keeps your mind occupied, it’s difficult to worry. If you’re especially troubled by worrying, take a walk or a run. Getting exercise releases endorphins in your brain that can stop worry.
  • Think in terms of “law of averages.” How likely is it that what you’re worrying about will happen? The odds are probably against what you’re worried about. If the problem is inevitable and there’s nothing you can do to stop it, strive to accept the situation and make plans about how you’re going to handle it.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. It’s a way of counting your blessings rather than your troubles. Even if it’s little things like a fire keeping you warm or a loving pet beside you – being grateful for what you have staves off worry and helps you keep a more positive attitude.

Does this mean you should stop all planning for the future? Does it mean that you shouldn’t look back on the past and learn from it? Of course not. Those are both important parts of life. There are times to plan a vacation, figure out what groceries we need for the week, or plot a move or job change in the future. Those are constructive ways to look ahead. Along the same lines, there are times when we should look back on the past. Maybe we can right a wrong, improve on things, or if nothing else learn from them. That’s important as well. What isn’t important or productive is to dwell on the past or future events, worrying about things we can’t change. Whenever that happens stop yourself and focus on the present. It won’t take you long to get out of the habit of worrying about things outside of your control. That, in turn, gives you more time and energy to focus on what does make you happy!

Day 18 Dealing with Negative Thoughts and Emotions

Life isn’t all happiness and sunshine. Negative thoughts, emotions, and the events and people that cause them are part of life. We have to learn to deal with them and make the best of sad situations to live a happy life. Today I want to look at a few different ideas and strategies that can help us do just that.

Put Them In Perspective

Before you allow yourself to wallow in sadness, try your best to step back and look at the situation from a different perspective. Get some sleep, go out for a walk, and come back and look at it again. Try your best to see the positive side of things. Yes, there are undeniably sad and bad situations in our lives, but even so, most of them have a little glimmer of something good in them as well. Find that positivity and hang on to it.

There are also a lot of times and situations where we focus too much on the negativity. A little distance, and a little perspective can show us that it’s not as bad as we originally thought.

Just Go Ahead and Be Sad At Times

There are also times when life just plain sucks. It’s ok to be sad. Happy 100% of the time is pretty unrealistic. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to take the time to be sad and grieve. There is a lot of healing and coming to terms with things that can only happen when you let the sadness in. Feel it, so you can start to heal and recover.

Look on the Bright Side

To make sure that you don’t spiral down into a black hole of sadness, despair and depression, look for the little flicker of light at the end of the tunnel.  Maybe that little flicker of hope is simply that you’re not feeling quite as sad as you did yesterday. Or maybe it’s a call from a friend, or a neighbor dropping off a card. Look for anything good and positive,  focus on it, and use it to find your way back to happiness.