Your Happiness Toolkit: Be Your Best Self
What do you want your 2019 to look like? What do you want your life to look like? Are you doing things that are inching you closer to your dreams and aspirations? Are you giving yourself the best chance to be really healthy and happy?
I've put the question out to the happiness community, mindfulness teachers, psychologists, health and wellness coaches, authors, artists and free-thinkers, and I've pinpointed five intentions to make 2019 a very happy year.
· Be more Free
· Find more Meaning
· Enjoy better Relationships
· Enhance my Health
· Improve my Attitude
I think these things could make all the difference between a good 2019 and a great 2019 (a good life and a great life). So I've put together four foundations to build all of these around - four things to let your health and happiness flow.
1. IT ALL STARTS IN EXPLORATION
We need to examine and explore everything outside and inside of us, with an emphasis on the “inside.” This is where we tend to get it so wrong. We have made exploration and travel purely an external thing, but the greatest explorers conquered themselves first.
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe said, "plunge boldly into the thick of life, and seize it where you will, it is always interesting.”
We need to be curious, and we are by nature, but somewhere along the way we lost this natural curiosity for new things and replaced it with accepting what was laid out in front of us. Without exploring, examining and investigating what life has to offer how do we know what we want, what we like, what we need, who we need and why?
Socrates words are powerful, “an unexamined life is not worth living,” and the Greek philosopher’s teachings of “know thyself” are incredibly powerful. We can only truly know someone by spending a considerable amount of time with them, and this is just as true for ourselves too.
When is the last time we spent a considerable amount of time by ourselves without our friends, phone, email, laptop or some other form of entertainment? In order to be truly happy we need to throw away the distractions and explore what it is we feel. Grabbing our phones every time we have a moment of idleness or discomfort simply re-establishes our habits of “doing” and never gives us the chance to stop and establish a deeper relationship with ourselves.
When we are always moving we can’t explore and examine what’s really going on inside of us. In this sense deep exploration starts the opposite of how we think it does. It isn’t when we are moving, travelling, seeking, and looking outward, it is when we stop and find stillness, solitude, quietude and idleness. To find an authentic happiness that is truly ours and not the type of happiness that is dependent on external circumstances and conditions, we need to find these moments of quiet and instead of running away from them, we need to embrace them.
We need to explore and probe deep into all of life, examine, observe, inspect, search and consider. Andre Gide said, "man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore” and exploration is the first foundation, a foundation that gives us the chance to discover ourselves and then dive boldly into life.
2. REALLY GET TO KNOW YOURSELF
When we have explored and examined ourselves, deeply and authentically, we create a stronger connection with ourselves. We know how we feel and why we feel it. We become comfortable in who we are, we know why we are doing the things we are, and we start to stand for something.
Greek philosopher Pythagoras said, “No one is free who has not obtained the empire of himself. No man is free who cannot command himself.” We need to command ourselves in order to be truly happy; we need to know every intricate detail of the empire that is us. When we know ourselves we gain this freedom that Pythagoras eludes to and this freedom is vital for us to be happy.
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom,” said Aristotle and the beginning stages of developing the tools to be truly happy. When we don’t know ourselves, who we are and what we want, we can become a product of our environment- a leaf that gets blown each and every way until it lands in a big pile of mud, and gets stuck. Spending time in solitude, self-analysis, quietude and deep, thorough exploration gives us the space we so badly need to get to know ourselves, our sufferings and our desires. This is where we realise an all-important life lesson - happiness starts and ends right here with us.
Benjamin Franklin said, "Observe all men; thyself most," and we should add to Franklin’s wisdom by saying we should not only observe ourselves most but observe ourselves first. This is a valuable stage in knowing ourselves, and our happiness, when we finally turn the focus from others around us and turn it onto ourselves. In order to be happy we need to observe ourselves and make this a regular occurrence. This inward observation starts in exploration and is reaffirmed each and every day as we build confidence in ourselves, start standing for something, and when we develop a level of comfort and contentedness in exactly who we are.
3. WHAT MAKES YOU TICK? FIND YOUR MEANING
Finding meaning and purpose is a powerful thing and is born out of a conscious self-exploration and knowledge of oneself. With meaning there’s no more “I’ll be happy when” scenarios - when I get a promotion, a new job, a nice partner, more money, etc. Meaning brings happiness and aspiration into the now, where it should be, and not some distant Utopian future.
Meaning gives added direction and value and eliminates our previous, and catastrophic, worry of what other people think. After all, we know who we are and what we want. We can feel when something is right and when something is wrong. We know when something is important and when something is not. Our meaning is our direction in many ways, our guiding light that ignites after we have taken the time, and given ourselves the space, to explore to the point that we trust in our feelings enough to let them lead the way. This exploration leads to a deep-rooted knowledge of who we are and this forges our identity and our character.
Meaning and purpose comes on the back of a commitment to create time and space to explore ourselves. When we fail to delve deep into our inner-workings we can sometimes lack aspiration. This can result in an overly outward facing mindset, a mindset that leaves us scratching for happiness on the surface, but never beyond it.
Albert Camus said, “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
Meaning gives us freedom and fulfilment, both necessary ingredients to being content and happy. We find meaning by exploring and immersing ourselves into every little aspect of life, by connecting with ourselves on a deeper level than we are accustomed to, by opening up that book and strapping on those boots. So read, write, draw, talk, question, travel, sit, breathe, swim, run, climb, think, relax, be brave, be bold, be scared, be hurt, and be.
Henry David Thoreau said, “you cannot dream yourself into character; you must hammer and forge yourself one.” If we fail to dive head first into our life we might fail to grasp why we are here in the first place.
4. BE ALIVE - CULTIVATE GREATER PRESENCE
Presence is our ability to fully enjoy each moment. Presence is our attendance in this very moment, it is actually being alive right here and right now. Presence heightens our senses- we hear more, see more, feel more and all of life’s simple things become so much more available to us. Sometimes we let all the craziness of the modern world become the craziness in our minds. We become stuck in our past regrets and troubles and trapped in our future worries and concerns. This habit can lead to a wealth of unhealthy thinking that prevents us from living happily.
The Buddha said, "The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly."
Exploring the internal, most notably through meditation, mindfulness, reading and writing, will allow us to find greater concentration, become more aware and be more present in each and every moment. Presence allows us to break free from the shackles of our own never-ending thoughts and roller-coaster of emotions.
Being present is an amazing gift not only for ourselves but for others too. Being present in each moment allows us to be a better friend, brother, sister, parent, teacher and child. By exploring life it allows us to connect with ourselves and in turn foster a strong and robust relationship with ourselves. With self-knowledge, a sense of ownership and personal freedom, we create meaning and this creates less worry on the future bringing us all of our happiness and instead we become more content in our todays.
Leo Tolstoy said, "If you want to be happy, be."
A wandering mind, one over which we have little control will not foster much happiness - but more likely result in suffering. Living with awareness and greater presence allows us to gain clarity and see exactly where our feelings are born. This gives us a chance to let go of unfruitful thoughts and feelings before we get caught up in them and they cause damage, over and over again.
If you give yourself the time and space to delve deep into these four foundations over the next 12 months you will no doubt develop the tools to be happier, less stressed and more fulfilled. You will find more freedom in your life and improve your health, your relationships and your attitude.