Are you happy? Does happiness seem elusive with an here-today-gone-tomorrow appearance in your life? The truth is that searching for happiness is a pointless quest. It’s simply not out there. But, don’t let that dissuade you from your desire to be happy! The good news is that you can create happiness. It’s within the ability of everyone to be happy*. In my series Creating Happiness, I will show you how.
3 Daily Mindfulness Practices
Welcome to the first post in my new series, Creating Happiness! You’re probably wondering what mindfulness has to do with happiness. First, defining mindfulness is important. Mindfulness is simply the practice of awareness. As it relates to happiness, it is the practice of being aware (mindful) of our emotions. While employing mindfulness, we remain conscious of and present with our emotions without judging those emotions. We just accept them as they are. We strive to become aware of how emotions make our body and our spirit feel and how we react, both physically and spiritually to them.
Eventually well-practiced mindfulness can lead to greater overall happiness as we learn to anticipate and counter-act inappropriate or harmful reactions to emotions and live in a state of contentedness despite our circumstances. In other words, mindfulness is the beginning of mind over matter.
I practice mindfulness every day, specifically three things, although some days I may only spend five minutes on all three. The more I have going on in my life, the more I need this practice to keep me centered, focused and purposefully happy. It really works!
Here are my three daily mindfulness practices:
1. Breathing awareness
Did you know that how you breath affects your body and your mind? Take a minute to concentrate on your breathing. Where is your breath coming from? By that I mean, is your breath shallow and from your chest or is your breath deep and coming from a soft belly? Spend a minute each day focused on your breathing and you may pick up on patterns.
I discovered in my mid-twenties that shopping at certain retail stores caused me to hold my breath and breathe shallowly to the point that I’d feel dizzy and exhausted by the time I reached the register. When I am around loud and talkative people, my breathing changes, as well. Shallow breathing signals to your body that there is a threat and your body responds by releasing cortisol. One of the best ways to reduce stress hormones in your body is to practice deep breathing.
To practice deep breathing, sit up straight, put your hand on your belly and exhale until your lungs empty. Then, breath in slowly through your nose (I recommend breathing in to the count of three), hold for a count of three and breath out through your mouth for a count of three. Do this three times and then sit still with your eyes closed and focus on your breathing. Feel the rise and fall of your abdomen, notice the rhythm of your breathing and become aware of the calm feeling in your body.
Gratitude is the single biggest factor in my happiness. I know that is a strong statement, but it’s true. It’s my nature to see the negative in most situations–to find what’s wrong and work to fix it. As you can imagine that is very taxing and doesn’t lend itself to creating happiness. Keeping a gratitude journal is an excellent way to remind ourselves of what’s right in our lives.
I don’t always have time to write down the things I’m grateful for, however. In a moment of feeling sorry for myself, simply closing my eyes and thinking of five things I have to be grateful for always helps my perspective to change. Now, I spend a few minutes each day reminding myself of the things I’m grateful for. Sometimes it’s as simple as being thankful for my 10-year-old-paid-for car with great gas mileage and other times I have to choke back tears of gratitude while thinking of the gift of my beautiful children. Regardless of the magnitude of what I’m grateful for, it always begins a chain of other things to be thankful for.
3. Body Awareness
This mindfulness practice is similar to breathing awareness, but is more externally focused. It allows you to get in touch with your senses. That’s right–taste, touch, sight, smell and sound. It keeps you present-focused. At some point during the day, I take a break from my work and focus on one sense and what I’m taking in through that sense.
Touch–what do my fingers feel like on the keyboard as I type? What does my sweater feel like on my body? Heavy or light? What do my feet feel like on the floor? Grounded, squished into my shoes, relaxed?
Smell–what smells stand out among the others? What memories do those smells bring? Are they pleasant? Unpleasant? Neutral?
Sight–what colors are around me? Do these colors please me or make me uncomfortable? Is there visual clutter that is unsettling?
Sound–what background sounds are going on around me? Are those sounds comforting to me or distracting?
Taste–I employ this one while eating and drinking, of course. Slowing down to really taste is important when we have the time. Feeling the texture of the food and being aware of the subtle background flavors are both experiences that lend to the beauty of food and the pleasure of eating.
As you work toward creating happiness in your own life, try these mindfulness practices as often as possible. Slowing down and becoming aware is an important step toward living your best life.