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 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

Continue reading “The Blame Game”

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?

Continue reading “Finding Time With Mindfulness”

How a Powerful, Simple Question Changed My Life

A few years ago, I learned the power of a simple, well-placed question when combined with an honest response. It can quite literally change a life.

As a bank regulator, I ask questions for a living. We query bank leaders – senior management and Board members – about the business to understand and explore its safety and soundness. I know how powerful questions can be. Questions can create an opportunity to get at the root of a problem. What I didn’t realize was how powerful one simple question would be in my own personal life.

Continue reading “How a Powerful, Simple Question Changed My Life”

The Power of a Dream: One Step at a Time

Have you ever had a powerful dream? A recent dream reminded me that all I can do is live life one step at a time.

The Dream

In the dream, I was on vacation in Italy. Even though the coronavirus is running rampant, I flew halfway around the world. I was with an older woman, also named Barb, and her grandson.

Continue reading “The Power of a Dream: One Step at a Time”

The Good Place – a show that gives perspective to life

We found a fun, family show that addresses my favourite topic – happiness. We are always trying to find great TV shows that we can watch together as a family. With two boys (13 and 10 yrs old), along with my husband and I, it is always a challenge to find something we all enjoy. My husband would prefer something sci fi, I like dramas, and the boys favour superheroes. While together my husband and I might choose shows like Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad, these just aren’t appropriate for the kids.

Invariably we land on a comedy series. Throughout the pandemic we have been thoroughly entertained by The Office, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Kim’s Convenience, and most recently, The Good Place.

Continue reading “The Good Place – a show that gives perspective to life”