BY JEAN MARIE JOHNSON
A plateau can be a good place to pause, look around, and catch your breath, but few of us want to hang out there for too long. A few years ago, I found myself on an extended plateau, waiting for changes on the outside to support the big changes that were underway on the inside. I did everything I could to keep my perspective and to stay in a good place: I prayed, I meditated, I walked, I sought the support of good friends. I adjusted my strategies, reset my already compromised expectations, and finally, in my all-too-human state, I railed at the gods, stuck between the plateau and the pits.
I wasn’t depressed, but I was weary and my hope was fragile. I knew that I had to do something to get back to a good place where I felt happy, hopeful, and confident in the future. Retail therapy, if only in the form of “Just browsing, thank you,” has always been one of my no-fail go-to’s, and so I went there seeking inspiration. Poking around in a lifestyle store in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, I found the inspiration I sought: a mug with a simple yet provocative message: “Today I choose happiness.” Those four words stopped me in my tracks, acting as a coach, an angel, a Greek chorus calling me to action. My first step was to choose to buy the mug. My second, the more difficult one, was to follow its counsel. I knew that I needed to:
- focus on today, not tomorrow or some nebulous future
- look to myself, my “I” to carry myself forward
- choose happiness with fierce intention and discipline
In the days, weeks, and months that followed, that mug and its insistent message stared me down, challenging me to muster the inner strength that would allow me to move beyond the plateau. I used the now, the moments of each day, to create my happiness, one choice at a time.
Many of us are reluctant to divulge that we are anything short of happy. We feel guilty, ashamed, as if there must be something wrong with us. My experience is otherwise. It tells me that when I acknowledge feeling unhappy, I have the power to prompt myself to get to the source, and to do something about what I can manage, what I can change.
If you want to “happy-up” your days, consider six small actions that can have a big impact:
Start the day with gratitude for being alive. Regardless of what may be going on in your life, acknowledge that you are here, that breath is still breathing you. Smile and step into your day.
Connect with someone you care about. It can be an email, a text, a chat over the fence; the “how” matters less than the good feeling you both experience simply by connecting.
Manage your “shoulds.” When the “should tape” gets stuck on replay, click on stop. Contain your major “shoulds” by writing them down and then addressing them when you feel centered and empowered to make clear decisions about them.
Schedule “some” moments of fun. For me, it may be browsing a book club site to get the word on new releases, or maybe it’s playing with my dog when she comes down with a senior version of “the zoomies.” It could be 10 minutes or 30. Whatever time I spend in that fun place is time that reenergizes my spirit.
Get physical. I know. How many times are you going to hear this? Look at it this way: everything counts. Throw the laundry into the dryer, check the mail, sweep the porch, go for a ten-minute walk. When I take any of these actions, I feel more energized and my thinking benefits from a major refresh. Is it any wonder I “get physical” many times throughout the day?
Challenge your negative thoughts. I used to be hard on myself about everything. Once I started checking my thoughts and asking myself, “Is this helpful?” I began turning my negative self-talk into a useful inner dialogue, one that helped me “happy-up” my day and, by extension, my life.
Give these strategies a try – a few or all of them – and see what they can do for you. And remember, small changes can make a big impact so be ready to “happy-up” your own day!