As the holiday season approaches, I’ve paid particular attention to the cheerful command to be happy about them! This season always puts a lift in my step, as I experience a stronger sense of community with strangers and loved ones alike—we all have occasion to come together and celebrate. This reminder to do life with an air of happiness has nudged me to look at myself and ask, “How am I cultivating happiness in my life, especially when it gets tough?”
An exceptional therapist and meditation teacher, Tara Brach has suggested three simple ways to feel happy: gratitude, serving, and savoring. While these approaches may be simple, they’re not always easy. Circumstance, disposition, and family history all play a part in challenging our being happy. Yet, we can look to these things as teachers in helping us build a more disciplined approach to happiness.
Gratitude is a mindset that takes practice and discipline. I tell all my clients–and myself–at one point or another that happiness takes work. It’s not a destination, it’s a way of doing life. This world is replete with suffering, sickness, and the inevitability of impermanence. Yet we can choose to find the purpose in our challenges. What is the meaning I can attribute to my pain? How can I learn from my mistake? What is all this grief clearing out for me? Albert Einstein said, “The most important question a person can ask is, ‘Is this universe a friendly place?'”
I recently visited the African country of Malawi. The first evening I was there, I watched a dance performance in which women acted out happiness over cooking and cleaning their homes. My narrow thinking questioned how people could celebrate over cleaning their home. My guide explained that people in his country weren’t always free to do as they pleased. Their sense of safety was often threatened, so to be able to relax and simply go about the mundane was treasured in their culture. I had never thought it was a privilege to be able to clean my home…I’ve mostly felt the opposite! Now I know how lucky I am to do such things without any feelings of oppression.
Challenge: Begin keeping a gratitude journal. Write down three things each day that you feel grateful for. Notice the change in perspective when this is done over time.
Challenge: When you sense yourself complaining over something, pause and ask yourself if there is a brighter way to look at things? Can you find the good?
The gift our pain offers us is empathy and connection to others. The way we serve doesn’t matter. Some of us offer financial contributions to charity, others choose to give their time and talents. A simple smile or meeting someone’s gaze can set the other on a more positive path. Channeling your energy into a cause can impact the world. I worked with a mother several years ago who recognized the power of wilderness therapy, as she saw the miracle that it wrought in her own family life. She wanted to make this kind of treatment more available and began a scholarship fund. Today, The Sky’s the Limit Fund has offered over $100,000 in scholarships to families in need.
Challenge: Think of one thing you can do this week to serve another: volunteer, pull weeds for a neighbor, do a family member a favor.
All we have in this life is the moment we are in. It is a powerful tool to embrace that reality. Embracing allows us to accept what is and love it. Rumi’s poem, The Guest House perfectly captures this notion of savoring:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Challenge: Wake up tomorrow morning with the intention to welcome each passing emotion, no matter what comes up.
Happiness is gratitude, serving, and savoring. Incorporating these three elements in your daily life will undeniably add a sense of joyfulness to you and those around you.
Happy holidays from Satya Family Coaching!