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.

Day 17 Talk to Yourself–Keep A Journal

In earlier posts, we have discussed the fact that acknowledging all the good things in our lives is a great way to increase our overall happiness. Getting in the habit of showing and experiencing more gratitude is a one of the most powerful ways to increase your feeling of happiness.

There is a simple little tool that will help you stay on track, requires no batteries and you already have everything you need to use it – a journal. A journal is a wonderful thing, something that can have a surprisingly big positive impact on your life. Best of all, you don’t need anything fancy. Grab a notebook and a pen, or if you prefer, boot up your computer and open up a word document. I highly recommend pen and a simple notebook of some type, but if that doesn’t work for you go ahead and use the computer. It’s better than not doing it at all!

The idea is simple. Each day write for a few minutes, thinking back on anything that made you happy throughout the day. By listing all the positive things in your life, you’re putting them in the forefront of your mind. That alone will help to increase your mood and make you feel happier and more accomplished.

Not only will your writing help you right away, as you create each daily entry, you’re also making a great memento of your happiness journey. Later, you can pull out your journal, curl up on the couch and read through it whenever you need a little boost of happiness. Seeing in black and white (or maybe wonderful colors) how far you’ve come throughout the past weeks, months, and even years is truly amazing.

As you start to read about the events and people that you felt grateful for in the past, you’ll start to relive those memories, and with it those feelings. Think of your journal as a happiness battery you can plug into whenever your happy energy level goes down. You’re storing your good feelings in an easy format that allows you to access and relive them on demand. What a powerful idea.

Writing in and reading your journal regularly will help you form new positive habits. You’ll start to have a more positive outlook in life, and since the journal focuses your attention to think of and find the things and people you’re grateful for in any given day, your brain will automatically start to look for the positive instead of the negative.

Lots more fun stuff in this 50 Journaling Tips document!

Day 16-Fake It til You Make It!

“Fake It ‘Till You Make It”. You usually hear it in the business and show business world.  The idea is that if you look successful, others around you will treat you like a successful person and will send more opportunities your way.

I first heard this years ago from Mary Kay Ash, who started Mary Kay cosmetics. She was speaking to all of us beginning beauty consultants, advising us to pretend we were wildly successful until we got the experience and tools we needed to make it real.  You then stop faking it because you’ve become what you’ve pretended to be.  I can hear you now-“What? Be inauthentic or lie? No way.”  Faking in this context isn’t as phony as it sounds. What you are really doing is modeling behaviors until you’ve internalized them. Once that happens, you will start to see results, because you’ve been working hard at exactly the types of things a successful person does. It only makes sense then that you start to see results.

I did not become a wildly successful Mary Kay consultant, but in the process of “faking it” I learned that I did not want to do what it would take to become one. I later used the same technique”acting as if” to become a life coach, helping people discover all their strength and beauty, which I love!

The interesting thing is that this works in all sorts of different contexts. If you want to be a thin and fit person, start acting like one, eat the things they eat, work out, move around more. After a few months of doing that, it’s no wonder that you’re starting to slim down significantly.

Since happiness is on my mind a lot during this project, I did a little research to see if the same concept could also work for feelings – including increasing a feeling of self-worth, wellbeing, and of course being happier. The good news is that it does. You really can fake happiness until your mood improves.

How to Start Faking Happiness

Faking happiness is a lot easier than you may think. You can start with nothing more complicated than smiling. Remember yesterday’s post? A fake smile will do in a pinch, but if you can get your entire face, including your eyes involved. Give smiling your best effort, even if you aren’t feeling like it. After a bit of smiling, you should feel your mood start to get brighter. Remind yourself throughout the day to smile more! I have to remind myself to smile—I have a neutral facial expression most of the time, so I really do have to work at the smile thing.

When you’re ready to kick it up a notch, give laughing a try. Again, no kidding. Laughter is great for you! Find a laughter yoga class in your area.  If there’s nothing funny going on, just start giggling and laughing. It has a profound impact on the body. Not only will it instantly lift your bad mood and make you feel happier, laughing has also been shown to increase your body’s ability to heal and it will improve your immune system.

Give it a try! Start practicing faking happiness. You can smile and laugh at yourself in front of the bathroom mirror in the mornings. Try to smile more and laugh often as you go about your day.

Day 15 – Brighten Someone’s Day

A big key to our own happiness lies in making people around us happy and helping others. Try starting your day with the intention of making it a good day for someone else. It could be something as simple as giving someone a big smile, have a meaningful conversation with a person who’s feeling a little lost or lonely. It doesn’t matter what you do, but do something today to make someone else’s day a little brighter.

How does that make you feel? Pretty good feeling isn’t it? When you start to think about it, it makes sense, doesn’t it? We are social creatures who must work together to truly thrive. It is only logical then that helping those around us has an internal rewards system built in. Our own happiness goes up when we improve the lives of others.

A great strategy to increase your own happiness is to spread a little cheer. Put a big smile on your face—even when you don’t feel especially cheery, just moving those smile muscles actually makes you feel better. It’s hard to do this kind of stuff when you’re feeling sad and depressed. But those are the times you need to push yourself to do it the most. By simply smiling, your own mind causes the feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine, endorphins and serotonin to be released. This increases the happiness you feel and that gets mingled with a feeling of pride for helping someone else.

As with many of the other strategies we’ve been discussing about boosting your happiness, the key to making this work is to make it a habit. If it becomes well established in your daily routine to make someone’s day as you go about living your life, you’ll automatically start to do it, even when (and especially when) you don’t feel like it. Those are the times when you particularly need to do something to raise your own happiness and give yourself that little extra boost.

Start by thinking about a few different little things you can do to make someone’s day. It doesn’t have to be anything big or complicated. Instead focus on small acts of kindness that you can do every single day. Bless your loved ones with this kindness, or complete strangers who look like they could use a little cheering up. Help someone unload groceries, fix a meal for a neighbor who needs a little help, or bring your spouse coffee in bed. Chocolate all around!  All these small acts of kindness will start to make a huge difference in you and the world around you.