Ten Happy Habits
posted: Jun. 03, 2019.
Love and intimacy in our relationships is such a fun topic to talk about, and the conversation between me and you, my readers, have been primarily focused on it so far. In my Los-Angeles couples therapy clinic, I work with my clients to improve their relationships, deepen their intimacy, establish effective communication with each other, balance togetherness and freedom within the relationships, bring back playfulness and fun into the relationship, increase sexual satisfaction and find ways to support each other’s growth. We work hard to create and nurture love in our life, and we are so invested in the process. But WHY?
Why are we so dedicated to making the necessary effort to meet, connect, bond and build a life together with that special someone? What is the purpose of all that focused and deliberate work? What is our higher intention behind creating intimate bonds? What is our end game?
We invest our resources in creating intimate bonds for one simple reason – we believe that a loving relationship will enrich our experience, nurture our soul, and ultimately - bring us Happiness. Happiness is our end game. We want to be happy and, according to Dalai Lama, happiness is the very purpose of our lives. Since happiness is such a powerful motivation, it surely deserves a closer look. What is happiness, exactly, and how do we get to that happy place?
Before we go on, a disclaimer: I am very much human, just like you, my dear reader, and the following bids of wisdom equally apply to both of us. Since the likelihood is that neither of us has reached Enlightenment yet, we are probably both on our path of figuring out this Life experience, diligently working on making it as beautiful, fulfilling and powerful as we can.
The following pieces of the puzzle are borrowed from many schools of thought and traditions – none of them are mine. The reason I am including these specific pearls of wisdom here in this particular order is my personal and professional experience with each of them. As a couples therapist, I am responsible for my own wellbeing, as well as for the well-being of my clients. After more than a decade in my Los Angeles couples therapy practice and a life-long personal quest I might have several things to offer for your consideration.
The main point I want to stress is that “happiness is a choice we make.” More specifically, happiness is a result of our mental habits and not our life circumstances. Throughout our life, we accumulate attitudes, beliefs and mental habits that create a mental filter through which we perceive our experience. This filter of perception is similar to colored lenses that determine which details of our surroundings will stand out for us, and which ones will blend in. Do we tend to focus on the bright and shiny or bleak and gloomy shades of our experience? Do we turn the spotlight onto the empowering and positive aspects of our life, while deemphasizing the negative and limiting ones, or the other way around?
In other words: Happiness is NOT a result of a compilation of perfect conditions that alleviate any possible inner tension in our experience. Happiness is a result of attitudes, beliefs and mental habits we cultivate and exercise.
This is great news! We cannot control all of our life conditions, but we are absolutely in charge of our own mental habits. This is the very essence of Self-Empowerment: “The ball is in my court, now what?” So now it’s time to talk about the “HOW” of Happiness. These are the 10 attitudes and mental habits for us to cultivate in order to establish wellbeing and invite happiness into our life:
- Responsibility – The first and most important principle is that of full and absolute responsibility for our own experience. We have to own our life experience in order to change it. One of the key principles emphasized by yogi and mystic, Sadhguru, is “I am 100% responsible. My Life is my making.” This has to become our mantra on our path to self-empowerment and happiness. If I am not in charge of my life, I am powerless to change it, and deep down inside we know it is not true. We are in Charge.
- Acceptance – Our life experience comes with a set of conditions that are a given. We have a body with its limits, we are great dancers and suck at math, we were born a boy, we might suffer disability or a limiting condition, our parents were addicts, we lost a loved one too soon, etc. Intrinsic part of happiness is acceptance of the rules of the game into which we were born as well as the hand of cards we are dealt in the moment. Acceptance is by no means complacency. It is simply an acknowledgment of where we are right now, which is always the starting point on the journey toward where we want to be.
- Willingness to Play – Willingness is the opposite of Resistance. In order for us to enjoy absolutely anything, from a piece of cake to a rollercoaster ride, we have to be willing participants. The moment we feel forced or coerced, any possibility of enjoyment vanishes. Life operates under the same principle. We have to be willing participants in the game of life in order to taste the fruits of happiness. Even when all it offers is lemons, a homemade lemonade can be quite refreshing if made out of our own volition. Taking on an attitude of willingness and deliberately letting go of resistance in our day to day experiences can transform our mundane routines into exuberance.
- Curiosity & Involvement in the Experience - Do you recall the feeling of Awe while gazing at the starry skies, or a magnificent storm, or a breathtaking landscape? In these moments we are fully open to the experience of Life and this is when we are also fully alive. In the words of Roald Dahl, if you do not believe in magic, you will never find it. We have to not only open ourselves to the magic but to deliberately look for it, intend to notice it, decide to see it. How involved and present we are in our moment-by-moment unfolding lives determines the depth and intensity of our experience. This principle urges us – “Open your Eyes!” – notice the sunset, notice the magic of the flower, open yourself to ask questions, be curious about others’ experience, allow yourself to feel. This principle is linked with the principle of Willingness and they both point to the level of our involvement in our own unfolding experience.
- Mind the Gap – Using the words of Esther and Jerry Hicks, we always live in the crack between where we are and where we want to be. Every time our dream comes true, a new dream is born, and we are forever on the quest toward the next best thing. This is the very nature of human experience. We Desire therefore we Are. The key here is to make peace and enjoy the birth of new desires while embracing the eternal gap between where we are right this moment and where we want to be. Our life is unfolding in this existential gap and lovingly accepting it can have a transformational impact on our ability to be happy here and now.
- Meaning and Purpose - This is the bigger question of WHY am I HERE? What is my place in this grand scheme of things? The answer you come up with does not really matter. Meaning-making is a human need and the Universe does not bother with the question of “Why” – The Universe just IS. However, the Why is important to us, humans, and it is even more important to make this personal “why” not just about ourselves. Research has repeatedly shown a positive relationship between altruism and life satisfaction. In other words, we are much more likely to experience greater life satisfaction and happiness if we see the purpose of our life as standing in service of others and making a contribution to the greater good. We are a tiny manifestation of infinite Life flourishing around us. Feeling this connection to the grand scheme of things fills us up with both, meaning and wellbeing.
Seek Inspiration – This is the principle of creating a full life, refusing to settle for mediocre and claiming an exuberant existence. It is up to us to find what feeds our spirit and to fill our lives with it. Whether it is our work we love, our hobbies, family, friends, road trips, fine dining, cars, crystals, poetry, birdwatching, wine tasting, books, dancing, art, fitness, music – whatever gets us pumped and excited – make more of it in your life.
- Awareness & Mindfulness – If up until now we were talking about general attitudes that support our happiness, now we are shifting gears to talk about more specific mental habits. Mindfulness means the presence of the mind and paying attention to our experience – the opposite of absentmindedness. Before we can empty our mental garbage bin, we have to become aware of its existence. I invite you to notice without judgment what random thoughts are popping in and out of your mental screen. Simply clock them– get into the habit of noticing them. It is an important prerequisite for change. As we are learning to notice the thoughts, we also can start noticing how each thought makes us feel, and what reaction it creates in our body. Yes, you got it – there is a cascade of the reaction of Thought Emotion Body reaction. Our body and mind are one and the pattern of our thoughts creates the pattern of our emotions. To change the pattern of our emotions to “Happy” we have to change the pattern of our thoughts to match. Mindfulness is awareness - learning to listen to ourselves.
- Appreciation – The mental habit of appreciation is simple – look for aspects of your experience that are nurturing and positive in the moment. These are not big things, but very small mundane things you can use to train yourself into the habit of appreciation. For example, before you eat your food, take a sec mentally to appreciate the moment of abundance you are having right now, when you are putting on a piece of clothing you like, when you exchange a tender moment with a loved one, when you are noticing the blue sunny skies, when you have a quiet moment at work, when the traffic is light, when the body feels good, when the night sleep was restful, etc. The importance of the appreciation habit is tremendous. You are retraining your mind to notice the empowering and nurturing aspects of your experience, which changes the pattern of your thoughts and in turn shifts the pattern of your emotions. A lot has been written on Appreciation. Just do it.
- Meditation – So much has been written about meditation and there is a good reason. It is impossible to reach inner balance and allow the seed of happiness to grow in our minds without the practice of Meditation in one of its many forms. Meditation allows us to notice the distance between our mundane “experiencing” selves and our core “observer” selves. It separates us from our daily experience and creates inner space for growth and change. Imagine a deep diver on a stormy day. The surface of the ocean is rough with gusty wind and huge waves, however, as the diver begins her descend the ocean becomes absolutely tranquil. The storm is left behind. This is the essence of meditation. With practice we forever leave the storm behind, being able to remain connected to the forever tranquil core of who-we-truly-are.
Cultivating these 10 attitudes and mental habits is a day by day, moment by moment process. The easiest way to practice is to pick the first attitude of 100% responsibility and practice it for a whole week. Set sticky notes and phone reminders. Read what other authors wrote on this subject, seek to fully experience and absorb the idea, practice it in your life situations, your relationships, with your boss. Make it your own before moving to the next one.
As you are mastering the Art of Happiness I also encourage you to notice how it affects your relationships, if you are in one. Taking responsibility for our well-being frees our partner from the burden of being responsible for our happiness. This shift has the potential to free powerful erotic energy, to bring partners closer and to recharge their intimacy.
If you are currently single and dating, I encourage you to pay attention, as you practice the Art of Happiness, how it changes the nature of people you meet as potential lovers and partners. The change in your experience of yourself and of the world around you will always reflect in the quality of people you meet.
Ultimately, the greatest stake in it is our own – we empower ourselves to create the life we truly want.