Watercolor by: Shay Spaniola
Happiness requires upkeep. According to recent psychological studies, 50% of our happiness is inherited however the other 50% is influenced by the way we live our lives. Learning that we receive about half of our happiness level from our parents made me feel a lot better about my own issues but it also gave me hope that I could take responsibility for my happiness. Bottom line: I could be happy, but I would have to work for it.
Anxiety and depression runs deep in my family and as a young woman I was diagnosed with clinical depression. Eventually I was able to quit my depression medication (Zoloft) cold turkey with the aid of a rigorous yoga routine (I don’t recommend going cold turkey, please talk to you doctor before deciding to go off of your meds). Yoga kept me happy for many years but I still struggled with depression on and off.
It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I found my perfect prescription for happiness: a daily happiness practice. This routine includes 5 things that I do every day to keep me happy. These are things that you can do in your home or on the road, every morning and or every night. I guarantee that if you do these 5 things every day for 30 days, your sarotonin levels will soar!
1: Exercise. This one may seem like a no-brainier, but it is important to emphasize that you MUST find exercise that you sincerely love. It is also preferable that you find an exercise that you can do anywhere. For me it's yoga. Maybe for you it's walking, jogging, jazzersize, or pole dancing class. Find something that makes you sweat for about an hour every day. The most important thing is that it doesn't feel like "exercise"...it just feels like fun!
2. Gratitude. This one is extremely important. It also seems to be the first one to skip on days when you just want to crawl into a ball on the couch and binge watch Netflix with a pint of ice cream nearby. However, if you make it a habit to physically write down three things that you are grateful for everyday, you will start to appreciate what you have and this positive energy will build. I like to do this first thing in the morning and again at night right before I go to sleep. It immediately changes my mindset when I wake up on the wrong side of the bed. At night it helps me change the vibrational energy in my body and mind from negative to positive if I’ve had a rough day.
3. Mediate. It has been scientifically proven that meditation actually physically changes your brain chemistry for the better. Although the research which yielded these results was done on Tibetan monks, your daily meditation practice does not necessarily need to be the traditional eastern form (watching the breath in a seated cross legged position) although I highly recommend this form of meditation. Your meditation can be playing music, playing Sudoko, or even washing the dishes. It is just important that your intention is to meditate and that your meditation brings you into the "zone" as athletes like to call it. The "zone" is a state in which you are 100 percent focused on what you are doing for an extended period of time.
4. Cheerfulness practice. American, Tibetan monk Pema Chödrön speaks of a "cheerfulness" practice which is basically just noticing things that make you feel good throughout your day. You are driving and you pass by the most beautiful wildflower that reminds you of your child: pause and acknowledge this experience. You decide to take the time to prepare a delicious breakfast for yourself: pause and enjoy this moment. Simply by acknowledging these little moments we are increasing our cheerfulness. I also suggest writing about one of these moments every day. Writing about these positive experiences helps to further engrain them in your mind so that you're more likely to remember the good stuff.
5. Write. Just about everyday I do a stream of consciousness exercise called "the morning pages" from a book entitled The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. This exercise is not meant to be art. It’s better described as “Brain Drain”. You sit down every morning right when you wake up and you literally drain you brain of all of your thoughts. You sit down and write them in a spiral notebook until you have 3 pages. Try not to stop, try not to think too much, just write down each and every thought as it comes into your head without judgement. According to Julia Cameron it is not even important for you to read these pages until you have been in the habit of writing them for a few months. What is important is that you stay consistent and you keep them in a secure place where no one can find them. This way you feel like you can write whatever you want. This is honestly one of the best therapies I have ever done (and trust me, I’ve tried nearly all of them!) and it’s free!
You are probably thinking, “Yeah okay lady, I’m sure I’de be fucking stoked every day if I could afford the time to do all of these things…” however, the important thing is that you just try. If you at last attempt to do the things on this list you will probably do at least one or two every day which will improve your mood. Of course there are days when I can’t do all of these things, but I usually do at least 2-3 and I strive for all 5 every day. As I said in the beginning, happiness requires upkeep. Just like anything of worth in this life, you have to work at it. Happiness can take work, especially if you are genetically prone to depression and anxiety like me. However, with a daily practice, happiness can be obtained. It may seem like a lot of work, but you’re worth it! Try it for 30 days and notice your mood increase!