I want to be Happy. Where do I Start?

A friend recently confided that she doesn’t feel as happy as she’d like to be in her life. She hasn’t been feeling at her best and wants to be happier. Her question to me was simple, “Where do I start?”.

I told her, “You’ve already started! The first step is the awareness that you are not as happy as you’d like to be.”

This blog is for my friend and for everyone who is feeling the same way. And I know that she isn’t alone.

Sadly, many of us go through life in a kind of default mode. As a society, we’ve come to know a happiness baseline much lower than our potential. Shawn Achor talks about this as the “cult of the average” in his popular TED Talk, The happy secret to better work.

So, for those of us who’ve identified that we aren’t as happy as we’d like to be and we’re ready to take action, let’s dive deeper into the question of where to start.

Recognize happiness is a journey

First, accept that happiness is a journey and we’re not likely going to magically have a permanent state of inner peace overnight. While this has happened to some people, like spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, it is definitely not the norm for most of us. So, be patient with yourself and take it one step at a time.

Secondly, recognize that your life situation (as defined in Good Morning, Life!) is separate from you and is not directly the cause of your unhappiness. Oftentimes, we attribute our unhappiness to our external circumstances but that just takes the attention away from our internal state. While our life situation may not be ideal, and perhaps at some point we may choose to make changes (e.g. job, relationships), our happiness is mainly about our mindset and how we are perceiving and reacting to our external situation.

We also tend to blame others for our unhappiness. If those around you aren’t on the same happiness journey it can be tempting to feel that they are holding you back. Just remember, you have control over your behaviour, actions and words, but not others’. We must focus on ourselves. Having said that we may be surprised how, as our energy changes in a positive way, we may positively influence those around us. Positivity has a ripple effect.

After we’ve set the intention and prepared ourselves with an attitude of patience, we’re ready to practice!

Where to start – mindful awareness

Mindful awareness is where the happiness journey really begins. And here is a reminder that my definition of happiness is inner peace. Inner peace is already within us, it’s just clouded by our busy, compulsive, hectic thoughts. The thoughts created by our mind also have a negativity bias. When we practice mindful awareness, we become aware of our thoughts, separate ourselves from them and create more positive thoughts.

How to practice mindful awareness

There are lots of ways to practice mindful awareness. I recommend you find one that resonates with you and that you can easily build into a daily habit. Research on habits suggest that we start small (per popular books like James Clear’s Atomic Habits or BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits). Here are a few suggested mindfulness practices to choose from that worked for me:

  • Mindful journaling – Set aside regular time to write down your thoughts. You can include how you are feeling, and whatever is on your mind. Doing this helps make you aware of your thoughts and make sense of them. Incorporating gratitude and writing things you are thankful for is a great way to level up this practice as well. See more about the benefits of gratitude in my earlier blog. Journaling was a starting point for me because I could incorporate it into my busy schedule. I used my daily train commute to journal.
  • Meditation – there are a lot of different types of meditations available, and lots of apps (Daily Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer, to name a few). To start with, commit to doing whatever time works with your schedule, whether it’s five, ten or fifteen minutes a day. Generally, meditation guides you to focus inward on your breath and your body, dropping you out of your thoughts (at least for a moment or two before the thoughts drag you back, lol). Figure out the time of day you want to practice and try to be consistent.
  • Present moment awareness – Doing whatever you are doing fully attentive to the sights, sounds, and smells around you. Eckhart Tolle‘s books/guidance point to this awareness practice. You can do it while you are brushing your teeth, washing your hands or waiting in line. The key is that you are focused fully on observing and taking in the world around you with no judgments or thoughts. If you notice a thought or a judgement, let it pass by. Practicing present moment awareness via nature walks (or forest bathing) is a great way to incorporate the benefits of exercise and nature.

Getting started

When I first started I practiced present moment awareness while reading Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth. But my habit really got traction when I started daily journaling. Now, I have a morning ritual that includes mainly meditation, but with a combination of present moment awareness, yoga and journaling. While I started small, now I can easily do thirty minutes every day. It’s like a gift to myself each morning and I can see the benefits throughout my day. If I miss a day I notice it. It’s kind of like brushing my teeth, it doesn’t feel right if I don’t do it.

Now it’s over to you! Pick the practice you’d like to start with (it really doesn’t matter which one) and now is the time to start. Inner peace is found in any moment that you become aware of your thoughts separate from yourself. There is no need to focus on any particular destination, just focus on the moment you are in. The moments will build on one another and moment by moment you will be building a happier life.

Once you’ve started and found some grounding in the present moment, you can dive into the other elements of the happiness formula, including Gratitude, Purpose, Balance, Do Your Best, Let Go, and Love.

For more details on the who, what, why, where, and how of mindfulness awareness, and for a glimpse of what it looks like to start a practice, check out Good Morning, Life!: One Woman Waking Up to Happiness, One Moment at a Time.

Enjoy!

Presence. Intention.

It's easy to start finding happiness in life through mindful awareness
Photo by Nikolay Dimitrov on Unsplash

The Dance of a Lifetime

I don’t think I truly realized how much I love to dance until I was much older in life. As a kid my mom enrolled me and my siblings in Scottish highland dance lessons. My sisters and I would practice by dancing around rulers at home. It was fun but felt like work, as it was structured and there were very specific ways we had to hold our hands and move our feet. There was a lot to focus on.

The next dancing I remember is from my high school dances. As a teenager, I felt very self-conscious on the dance floor, aware of my every move. Oftentimes I’d choose to sit on the sidelines and watch to avoid the discomfort of putting myself out there. Before too long, my small town friends and I discovered that alcohol was a great way to dissolve self-consciousness (and self-awareness unfortunately). Even though I then had the liquid courage to dance, it wasn’t very graceful and the memories are foggy. It was fun, but still not overly satisfying at the end of the day.

Continue reading “The Dance of a Lifetime”

How I learned to tame my anxious energy

I realized that I have an anxious energy problem during my first coaching experience. It came early in my career when my company had a Life Coach, Joshua Zuchter, come in to deliver a wellness session. He was engaging, insightful and full of optimism, hope and positivity. When he offered a complimentary one-on-one coaching session, I took him up on it. At our agreed upon time I called him up. He asked what I wanted to talk about. It didn’t take long before I was rambling on telling him about my dilemma. I was stressing about whether I should write a professional exam, after a previous unsuccessful attempt.

Awareness is the first step

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The Blame Game

One of the most practical lessons I’ve learned on my journey to happiness is the role of blame. When I stop blaming and take responsibility, the road to inner peace becomes much more smooth.

I had an “aha” moment the first time I watched this Brené Brown short video on Blame. I recognized the feeling of immediately looking for someone to blame when something doesn’t go my way. And like Brené’s example in the video, the blame for those little things, like spilling coffee or forgetting to take out the garbage, often falls on my husband. The more research and practice I’ve done with mindfulness, I realize that there are many ways blame manifests in daily life. We might find ourselves blaming colleagues or leaders about something that happens at work. Perhaps we blame society or fate for an external crisis or dilemma we find ourselves in. The fact is blaming doesn’t work. It keeps us in a negative cycle and prevents us from taking action.

Blame prevents happiness

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Labels and limitations – the good, the bad and the ugly

We use labels to describe each other based on characteristics, gender, roles, backgrounds, affiliations, etc. The labels are limitless but their impacts can be limiting. Depending on how identified we are with these labels they can restrain our behaviour, actions and growth.

The “Shy” Girl

When I was young, I could have been considered “shy” or “quiet”. An example that demonstrates this quality took place one afternoon while we were camping. My sisters and I wanted a snack so we jumped on our banana seat bikes and headed to the camp store. My older sister Heather and I were shy, so when we wanted to know the cost of a pack of gum, we immediately turned to our little sister. Janice was around four years old at the time. She is two years younger than me and four years younger than Heather, but was much less timid than both of us at the time. We quietly asked her to ask the lady at the counter how much the gum was. Without hesitation, she posed the question for us while we eagerly listened for the answer. We were a good team with Janice compensating for her older siblings’ shyness.

This “shyness” lasted through my teen years. I remember meeting my boyfriend’s parents and spending time at his house, where I spoke no more than I had to. At our wedding his parents reminisced at how quiet I was when they first met me.

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Mindful Media: Is social media friend or foe?

Social media is like our mind and mindfulness is the key to making it a friend

My family and I recently spent a beautiful summer evening on the lakefront in a nearby town. We had a picnic and took a stroll along the water, enjoying the warm weather and lovely sunset. I took some social media worthy shots. They depicted a happy family along with colourful scenic views. But they didn’t show the whole picture.

What they didn’t show was the unhappiness that came towards the end of the evening as the boys were getting tired and their mom was trying to eke out every last bit of relaxation and enjoyment on the last few days of her summer vacation. I love walks, nature and quiet evenings, however my thirteen and eleven year old boys don’t appreciate it quite as much. They’d much rather be playing video games with their friends or working on YouTube projects. While I don’t want to detract from the family bonding time and good parts of the day, the reality is there were tears, frustration and unhappiness towards the end of the evening as our interests and energy levels were at odds.

I’m fairly sure we are a typical family, going through natural challenges as we navigate our different interests and try to find balance. Oftentimes we don’t get the balance just right. In this case, we stayed up too late. I’ve learned over the years that tiredness is a big culprit of negative emotions that are hard to control.

My pictures didn’t capture this part of the evening.

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Finding Time With Mindfulness

Practicing mindful awareness helps me find time to do the things I love.

I recently listened to an impactful podcast with Michael Singer, author of The Untethered Soul. Episode 3 is titled Giving Meaning to the Time Between Your Birth and Death. It starts with a reminder of the simple fact that you were born and you are going to die. It’s a truth that we sometimes avoid but we shouldn’t. He suggests a basic question to pose to ourselves: What are you doing in between the time that you were born and the time you die?

It’s precious time that was given to you. It’s YOUR time. Not your spouses, your kids or your company’s. It’s your time. How are you spending the time you have on this Earth between your birth and your death?

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My Hidden Self

When I stopped hiding parts of myself I found freedom and true happiness.

When I was a child I was on the shy side. There were moments when I distinctly remember wishing I could be invisible and not have any eyes or attention on me. I just wanted to blend in, shrink back, whatever it took to ensure no one would look at me. I didn’t feel like this all the time, just in certain moments.

There were also certain parts of me that made me feel different. I spent a lot of time in my adolescent years trying to hide these parts.

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Change and Mindfulness Lessons from a Kitten

Every day provides an opportunity to practice mindfulness. As we welcomed a kitten to our family and introduced him to his new home this week, he reminded me of lessons in change management and gave us an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Here’s our story. . .

How did a “non-cat” person end up with a kitten??

First of all, for those who have known me since my teenage years know that I have never been known as a “cat person”. I lived with cats growing up, thanks to my sister Heather, who brought home any animal she could get her hands on, and my post-university roommates, Janis and Kate. Mainly though, I accepted the cat’s presence in my house but kept them at an emotional distance. We co-existed. I saw myself more as a “dog person” but mostly as a “people person”.

As I’ve learned and I’ll talk about more in an upcoming blog, judging and labeling ourselves can be extremely limiting in our lives. With this in mind, I’ve dropped the idea of being a “non-cat person” or a “dog person”. Now, I’m simply a lover of all creatures. This includes cats, especially cuddly, kind and affectionate ones!

So when my good friends, Janis and Kate, recently brought home Ragdoll kittens that were extremely affectionate and cuddly, I couldn’t help but adore them. At the same time my thirteen-year-old son, Carter, struggling with finding joy in online school during the pandemic, started asking for a pet. That is when the stars aligned as we learned Janis’ new kitten had a brother looking to be adopted. Our family has not had any pets yet, and now, within a week of starting a discussion about adopting a kitten, we brought home little Jackie.

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Dandelions and Mindset Shifts

This spring I was reminded of the importance of awareness, curiosity and openness, which led to a mindset shift.

When the spring arrives, so does a subtle dance that my husband and I have when it comes to our lawn and the dandelions that seem to enjoy it. As the yellow plants start to emerge one by one, I find a quiet afternoon day and, with my garden trowel and gloves in hand I descend upon my backyard.

I start the arduous job of digging them up, one by one, being careful to get as much of the root as possible. I spend hours slowly and methodically combing through the backyard, foot by foot, extracting these “unruly, ugly weeds” from the lawn.

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