You can always begin taking small steps to bring more happiness into your life.
Posted Mar 08, 2020
In pop culture today, you hear a lot about happiness. It’s often sold as something we can possess and keep forever. According to this description, happiness is similar to eye color—once we have it, it'll stay with us for life.
But rather than a fixed state of being, happiness is a work in progress. The good news is that if we’re not happy, we can work toward change. And the bad news is that if we neglect to focus on it, we run the risk of bringing more unhappiness into our lives.
In this way, happiness is similar to being physically fit. If we maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly, then we will improve our overall health. The big plus with happiness is that unlike our physical well-being, which will deteriorate with age, we can continually work on our happiness forever.
If you’re like me, you lead a busy life. From raising kids to working a demanding job, your daily calendar is full, and you have countless interests competing for your time. When you’re navigating your day and you’re presented with multiple options, how do you choose how you’ll spend your time?
Simply ask yourself, “Is this [insert your activity here] going to feed my soul?”
Allow me to illustrate how this works.
I live in Southern California, and I was visiting San Juan Capistrano Mission, which is one of a series of missions founded by Spanish priests that straddles California’s coast. San Juan Capistrano is one of the most well-preserved and beautiful of the 21 missions.
I’m lucky to live close to it, and I make time to visit it regularly to find peace and quiet amid my busy life. That day, I spent an hour strolling quietly through the corridors and appreciating the beautiful gardens throughout the mission.
Later that evening, I scheduled one hour to watch a TV show. It’s very popular, and many of my friends recommended it. Trusting their opinions, I decided to rent two episodes. After seeing the first, I agreed with what my friends had told me. It was beautifully produced and well written. At the same time, the plot was dark and negative. On another day, I decided to give the series a second try, but I came away with the same feeling.
Using the question I provided earlier, I had two options for how to spend one hour in the future. I could continue watching the TV series my friends suggested or spend time at Mission San Juan Capistrano.
After seeing the program, I could ask myself, “Is the TV series going to fill my soul?” And the answer would be no. Meanwhile, the answer would be a clear yes when it came to visiting the mission.
This is the choice that worked for me. That doesn’t mean it will work for you. For example, if you were raised Roman Catholic and your experience growing up left you with a negative perspective about the religion (or any for that matter), then the mission may do the opposite of feeding your soul.
One client in my therapy practice struggled with anxiety, and I recommended she take a walk in nature. After following my advice, she told me how she was bombarded with flies and found the experience completely unpleasant. So for her, nature wouldn’t feed her soul, at least for the time being.
My point is we are all wired differently. What feeds my soul won’t necessarily feed yours. So part of figuring out how to answer the question I provided is to do some investigation—some soul searching if you will.
A short list of items to start with is music, TV programs, podcasts, and movies. Think of content that feeds your soul. With that said, I always advise my clients to be aware of what they watch and listen to. Words and images are powerful, so I recommend you focus on positive messages.
Once you find what feeds your soul, steep yourself in it. Even in a negative environment, we can find activities that counter what surrounds us; where we place our focus is what matters.
Let’s say you work in a very negative place. Barring quitting your job, many aspects are out of your control such as the attitude of your boss, co-workers, and customers. But you can limit your participation. If a conversation among co-workers is taking a negative turn, perhaps you can politely leave it and spend your time elsewhere. Next, on the way to and from work, you can create a very soul-feeding environment. You can, for instance, listen to soothing music or an uplifting podcast during your commute.
When you place your focus and attention on bringing more positivity into your life, you open yourself to experiencing and seeing more of it. The pitfall is that once you stop, you invite negativity in. And, similar to top athletes who stop training and their fitness diminishes, your happiness will decrease as well.
So many aspects of our lives we have little or no control over from the weather to our workplace to the personalities of our family members, we can only do so much. The good news is none of these have to make us unhappy. Throughout the day, every day, we have the tools to make our lives happier. We are born with them. We simply need a strong desire to be happy and put in the time, energy, and focus to experience less suffering and more happiness in our lives.
Happiness is a choice. And the best part is that means it’s not static. In other words, no matter where you find yourself, you can begin taking the small steps to bring more happiness into your life right now.