Part of happiness is staying engaged in life, stimulated, and interested. While our brains enjoy habits, they also crave novelty. You are in charge of creating your own happiness, and you can create something unexpected in your life too. We challenge you to do something out of the ordinary. This could be something social, like messaging an old friend you haven’t talked to in years, planning a surprise date for your partner, or throwing a party with a fun theme. It could be something work-related. Perhaps set a new goal outside of your comfort zone. It could also be hobby-related, like joining a rock-climbing group or taking a pottery class. You can look up events in your area and commit to going to at least one. Whatever it is, don’t think about it too hard, just commit to it, follow through, and let yourself be surprised! You may find it feels good to do something you don’t normally do.
We tend to think of ourselves as having a singular identity, but really we have different parts of ourselves that are often in conflict. For example, have you ever been around someone for too long and gotten annoyed of them? Maybe one part of you is saying mean things in your head and wants them to leave as soon as possible, but another part of you loves that person, wants them around, and feels bad for having those thoughts and feelings. Maybe two of your best friends are going out to dinner and don’t invite you. One part of you, your inner child, may feel the harsh feeling of exclusion. Another, more adult part of you knows that it has nothing to do with you and there is no problem with them having dinner without you. After observing clients in therapy in the 1990s, Richard Schwartz proposed that people have different parts of themselves which make up an internal family system (IFS). The more we acknowledge these different parts of ourselves, the more we can untangle the conflicting web in our heads, and use the different parts to help each other and aid in our overall healing. For example, when your inner child is upset about not being asked to dinner, your inner mother can comfort the inner child. As children, we are often helpless when bad things happen to us. For example, if you had an angry dad, there might not have been any way to escape that at the time. When you are exposed to yelling or anger as an adult, your inner child might have a strong reaction, as if it were still in that same situation with your father. Your inner mother can soothe the inner child, and tell her the situation is not the same as when you were young. You can even create your own inner father, who treats you like you should have been treated and helps fill holes that may have been left by your childhood. Parts work can also help us deal with the sides of ourselves we aren’t proud of. We can see these sides as a specific part, and recognize that there are other parts who wish to be better and who can guide this part. It may be most helpful to do IFS in therapy, but there are also several resources online that can help you get started on your IFS journey on your own.
We are humans with concerns and fears, and it’s not uncommon for our thoughts to spiral in the downward direction. Once certain negative thought loops are activated, it can be hard to get out of them. So when we start to notice thoughts go south, what can we do? Sometimes simply reminding yourself of a loved one or the night out you have planned for that weekend can be enough to pull you out, but these thoughts can be hard to conjure up in the moment. So, we suggest planning ahead. Have a note on your phone where you write down things that make you happy–that can be specific people, memories, quotes, things you appreciate about life, experiences you are looking forward to, and more. You can get as specific and as broad as you like. Before you let yourself spin into a negative headspace, make a vow with yourself you will at least glance at this list. You’ll probably find that adding to this list alone improves your mental health, so it’s a win-win situation!
Imagine you are going on a family summer vacation. You book your flights and hotel rooms and have it all planned out. You begin to feel pressure to make the most of your trip because you are using your paid vacation days and spending your money on it. You can’t help but get angry when your flight is delayed. The day after you arrive, your kid is sleeping in late and you can’t get the family moving, and you miss your first activity. You feel your stress levels rising and you snap. Does this sound familiar? Sometimes we get so caught up in wanting things to go as planned that we forget the purpose of what we are doing. That’s why it can help to set intentions. Ask yourself, “What are my true intentions with what I am doing?” If you really think about your true intentions for going on vacation, it probably isn’t to pack in as many activities as possible. It’s probably to relax, enjoy time with family, and forget your worries for a little while. When you take time to think about your intentions, and call them to mind periodically, it can help you handle situations in a way that is better for you and those around you. For example, when you figure out your flight is delayed, but remember your intention is to relax rather than have everything go as scheduled, you may choose to sit back and read your book instead of getting upset. When your kid won’t get up in time for the family activity, if you remember your intention is to have a fun time with your family, then maybe you’ll just play a board game with your spouse while you let your kid sleep in. This can apply to all areas of life–when we really think about the true purpose of what we’re doing, we don’t sweat the small stuff as much, and we find better ways to achieve our true goals.
Manifestation has been a buzz word recently, and whether or not you believe it’s possible, there’s one thing that’s for certain: adapting a positive mindset can help good things come your way. Manifesting is the practice of thinking aspirational thoughts with the intention of making them come true. Imagine your dream job. Say you’re at a point in life where you finally feel qualified, so you apply and get an interview. If you’ve been practicing aspirational thoughts, such as, “I can do amazing things at this job” and, “I am a great addition to any office,” you will go into the interview with confidence. This confidence will shine through, making it more likely you get the position. People think about manifestation differently; some people are more literal, and others just believe that adopting a positive mindset draws positive things into your life. So, while thinking you will wake up with an extra $10,000 in your bank account might not make it come true, there are still aspects of manifestation that you can utilize to improve your life. One way of practicing manifestation is to spend five to ten minutes in the morning imagining that you already have what you want, and it’s good to keep it broad. Say you want closer friendships. You can meditate on how positive it feels to have so much love and friendship in your life. This will make you act more loving and friendly to the people in your life, which can in turn bring you closer together. Think of it in terms of the famous quote “where your attention goes, your energy flows.” Manifestation techniques can help you focus your attention, and thus your energy, in the positive direction you would like your life to take.
We are social creatures who yearn to be respected, connected, liked, and loved. It is great to aspire to have these things, but the shadow side is that we sometimes compromise our own values and interests in order to gain approval. In some cases, we don’t even know our own values and interests because we have been so focused on being liked and accepted that we just map onto others. But what humans really want, at their core, is to be accepted and loved for who they really are. So if you don’t know who you really are, or you’re so concerned with being accepted that you hide who you really are, the acceptance and love that comes your way will never feel complete. If you think you’re one of those people who doesn’t truly know themselves, you can change that over time. Instead of following others’ senses of right and wrong, try brainstorming your own morals and uncovering what’s really important to you. This may take some serious thought and time. Once you’ve done this, you can begin to live by your own set of values.
Another part of knowing yourself is becoming closely in touch with what you enjoy and what feels authentic to you. If you’re out of touch with yourself, you probably look to others to see what should bring you joy, but in reality, this is very specific to each person. A good way to start is by allowing yourself to do that one thing you’ve always wanted to do but never allowed yourself to–maybe it’s dying your hair that fun color or joining a beginner’s dance class. Starting with a small thing that some part of you has always wanted to do will get you back in touch with that genuine feeling of joy, and then it’ll be easier to tell what other things bring you joy and what things do not. Sometimes we have to do things we don’t like, but we can get better at saying “no” when it’s not necessary to say “yes.” If you feel like you know yourself but are scared to show your true self, it can be helpful to find an outside community, or perhaps just one trusted friend, that is more accepting of what you are scared to show to the world. There are all sorts of online communities on platforms like Facebook or Reddit that you can begin to dip your toes in. Once you feel more supported by some people, it will become easier to show your true colors to all the important people in your life. There will always be people who don’t want you to be who you truly are, but accepting this just frees up space for different people to come into your life who will love who you are. Once you’ve become more authentic in the way you show up in the world, you will feel more on track with your life and more accepted and loved, at least by the right people. Even if fully embracing yourself results in you being a bit different from others, many people admire others who are fully and unapologetically their unique selves even if they are different. And most importantly of all, it will be easier for you to admire and love yourself.
We live in a consumerist society. We’re constantly exposed to advertisements telling us all the things we need to be better, and it’s easy to get caught up in this mindset. We all want to be happy, so what does the science really say? Research over the past decade has shown that experiences make us happier than material goods. Why is this the case? Psychologists believe happiness lies within moment-to-moment experiences. We can’t be in pleasant moments all the time, so while it’s still good to try and stay present regardless, the reality for most of us is our minds tend to wander quite a bit. Research shows that our minds actually tend to wander toward dark places, unless they have something positive to look forward to in the future, or something fond to remember about the past. So when you can’t live in the moment, the best place to reside is in the anticipation of the future. Research shows that anticipating an experience elicits more happiness, pleasantness, and excitement than anticipating a material good. Waiting for a material good involves more impatience. People also tend to have fonder memories of experiences than of acquiring possessions. Also, people are more likely to compare their possessions with others than their experiences. Furthermore, experiences are more associated with identity, social behavior, and connection, which lead to long term happiness. Even after the fact, people enjoy sharing their experiences and hearing about other people’s experiences more than they enjoy discussing possessions. It’s okay to invest in and enjoy material goods, especially ones you get daily or weekly use out of. But, with this information in mind, there are probably purchases you can forgo to save money and effort that you can then put toward bringing more experiences into your life–and the lives of those important to you! These experiences can range from bigger vacations to smaller weekend trips, to simple evenings at a restaurant or movie theater. It may be time to reconsider what types of gifts you are giving others, and what type of rewards you are providing for yourself. It’s time to create more happiness for you and your loved ones!
If you had a day to go wherever you want, where would it be? Would it be a day trip to the beach to relax in the sun, or to the mountains for a long hike? Maybe you’d wake up and prepare a delicious picnic, grab a book, and go relax outside all day. Do you like tubing on the river, or visiting botanical gardens? Maybe you just want a day at the spa or shopping mall. We have a challenge for you and your partner, or best friend, or whoever you want to spend more time with. We want you to both name your perfect day trip, and then take turns accompanying each other on your dream day. It’s June and the weather’s warm and sunny, so what are you waiting for?
When’s the last time you did arts and crafts? Almost every kid enjoys it, but we rarely see adults allowing themselves the same fun. The truth is, many of us stop doing art when we become more self-aware and self-conscious of what we’re making. We only want to do what we’re good at, and we find it embarrassing to make something child-like. In our teenage years, many of us stop being praised for our creative spirit. We stop exploring artistically and maybe even forget why we loved it in the first place. But more and more research is showing that adults need fun and play as well, and art is one of the easiest ways to do that. A good first step to get back into it is to allow yourself to make something silly with no judgment. You could make paper plate masks, sock puppets, origami, paper lanterns, or dream catchers. You could paint rocks, splatter paint, finger paint, or even draw with your eyes closed. If you know you’ll be too concerned with how the final product looks to enjoy making it, you can vow to throw away your project at the end, regardless of how it turns out. This will allow you to focus on the process. You could do this with kids if you have any in your life, plan a night with friends, or simply get into it alone. There’s no harm in trying!
Many of us meet with our friends over coffee or drinks. Does it ever feel like you meet just to catch each other up on your lives and then go your separate ways? If this sounds like you, we challenge you to reapproach your time with friends, and actually make some memories doing activities together. It can bond you to go on an adventure, such as camping, hiking, or kayaking. Maybe you want to satisfy your inner children by doing art together or going on a picnic. Perhaps you want to explore the town by going to museums or site-seeing. Or maybe you want to see a movie that you can discuss afterwards. There are plenty of ways to shake up your time together. While simply sitting down for a conversation is a very important element of friendship, so is going out and exploring the world together, and creating beautiful memories and stories that you will cherish.