How do you create happiness from the inside out?
I want to be happy in every moment, and I’ve tried so many things. I don’t know what else to do. Can you help me?
~Struggling Savannah in Sacramento
Lauren, today’s Dear Ellie columnist, has some helpful insight for you:
Dear Happiness is within your reach,
Happiness. It’s the universal search. We all long for it, but most of us have no idea how to create it. We can buy ourselves a new outfit, car, or condo and feel satisfied for a few minutes, days, or months, but true lasting happiness comes from within. I’ll take it one step farther; loving friends and family cannot even create long-term happiness in your life. It’s all about you. That’s it, just you. Putting the responsibility of your happiness into your own hands can be intimating, but also incredibly empowering.
Scientists have researched a ‘happiness gene’ and argue that some people are born a certain percentage happier than others; however, you dictate the remaining portion. While you might not wake up like Sally Sunshine, playing around with a few tools and techniques can help you increase your happiness from the inside out.
Let’s try an experiment. Answer the following questions in your notes or on a piece of paper:
- On a scale of 1-10, what is your happiness level at this exact moment?
- Share your inner monologue of reoccurring negative thoughts. Do you see a pattern?
- What is abundant in your life? What seems to be lacking?
- Do you take time to yourself to do nothing/meditate/relax? If so, how much?
Once you have your answers written down, choose one of the following experiments to conduct for a week. Each evening, re-log your answers to the four questions above.
- Take a social media break. Delete or hide social media on your phone for a week. Observe how you feel without it.
- Take a news break. Commit to not watching or consuming any news for a week.
- Are you very social? Hibernate for a week and plan daily relaxation activities for yourself such as an enjoyable workout class, bath, etc.
- Are you an introvert? Commit to two different social activities for the week. Take baby steps; one-on-one meetups may be best.
- Do you feel sluggish? Commit to eating healthy for a week. If you need help, sign up for a meal service like Freshly, Sunbasket, etc., to plan your meals and control portions.
- Are you feeling inner chaos? Download Insight Timer or a free trial to Headspace/Calm and meditate for 10 minutes a day. If a sitting meditation is not your thing, try walking in nature, taking a bath, etc. There is no right way to meditate.
- Before you start your day, write three pages in your journal. Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way, has termed these ‘morning pages.’ It’s like a brain dump. Please do not go back and read them; write everything and anything that comes to mind, and then shut the journal.
- Do you live in clutter? Your material things can be sucking the happiness from your space. I recently listened to Goodbye Things by Fumio Sasaki and cleared each room. I’ll never be a total minimalist, but saying goodbye to items that no longer served me has been an excellent exercise. For this task, listen to the book and then clear each section of your living space, one day at a time.
Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project, believes “there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for becoming happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative; when we know ourselves and what works for us, we can change our habits and our lives.” I agree with her. Happiness is a life-long journey with twists and turns. Release the expectation that you will always be happy and that one habit will be the magic bullet. Like Rubin, I believe that it’s a process of discovery. As you change and grow, so will what makes you happy. Let me share an example.
Growing up, I was super shy, but moving eighteen times forced me to be an extrovert. Just recently, I discovered that I’m actually an extroverted introvert. I love people, but my social cup fills quickly. I prefer small groups and one-to-one interactions where I can focus. Alone time is not an indulgence; it’s a necessity. Think about your happiness level now and your levels in the past. Are you trying to use patterns from your 20’s make you happy in your 40’s? If so, it may be time to recalibrate.
Play with the exercises above, and don’t skip out on journaling your findings. Reflection will give you the answers. You know them; they are inside of you, buried deep. Silence and boredom, although uncomfortable at first, will lead you to your truth. If you are going through a particularly tough situation in your life, giving yourself space and acknowledging the period of unhappiness may release unrealistic expectations of constant happiness. It’s not only ok but normal to have periods of unhappiness. I believe challenging times eventually lead to increased happiness.
To summarize, remember there isn’t one exact formula to happiness; it will constantly change. Acknowledging the fluctuations can be freeing in and of itself. Take a deep breath, strip away some of the chaos and chatter in your life, and be still. Happiness is in there and it’s just waiting to give you a big hug.
Lauren + Ellie