OK, I’ll just say it. I’ve been in a funk lately, and it’s not the kind you can dance to.
It’s not that I don’t want to feel happier, in theory. I just need convincing, prodding, a whack in the head…
Oh, I know what I need to do. Volunteer at an orphanage, hold a puppy, visit a sick friend, lie down in a field of daisies and watch the clouds float by, dig a well in some remote African village, express the teensiest jot of gratitude…
If I could only get my selfish little mind off my own jaded existence and do any of the above, I’d perk right up.
My friend Shell wrote recently how, when she feels depleted, she kills time playing Candy Crush. This amazed me, and suddenly seemed like a jolly good idea. When I feel depleted, I prefer to eat a few bowls of ice cream sprinkled with handfuls of crushed corn chips, then languish publicly on a sofa like an Edward Gorey character.
And therein lies the secret. The only way to lift yourself out of it is to try something new.
Something – even something tiny — just needs to change.
I’ve been clipping some ideas for a new Trello board I made: “Things To Try When You’re Ready To Pull Yourself Together and Be Happier”
I figure even if I’m just going through the motions, at least my body and psyche can get a head start on my heart.
Two important caveats:
First, I believe happiness is a choice as long as your emotional health is above a certain level. Happiness triggers like the ones I’m suggesting can be immediate and helpful because they require a small action that ignites a spark of gratitude, or brings a rush of adrenaline or helps you see a different perspective.
These happiness triggers only work, however, if you’re not too totally in the dumps. I know what real depression is, and it’s serious. No book or website is going to make you feel happier when you can’t even get out of bed. If you’re in survival mode, please seek professional help.
Second, I also believe that real happiness comes from serving others. When you are helping your community, or raising kids, or volunteering in your business, or washing someone’s car; thankless though the job is, you feel needed and (even in some miniscule way) that your life has meaning. These acts require getting away from your home, or at least pushing back your chair, and they are probably the simplest portals to genuine fulfillment.
I’m not really talking about fulfillment here, though. I’m talking 15 easy peasy “make-me-smile-right-now” happiness triggers from resources that are lighter and more personal! They’re all for you. You don’t have to share them, and no one even has to know you’re indulging…
Trying something new either nestles in and slowly takes effect; or it catapults you, slingshot style, over a wall, where you’ll land somewhere different. You could land shocked and sputtering like a cat trying to claw its way out of a porcelain bathtub; or gently, easily coasting as if on wheels. (I hope it’s the latter.)
You’ve probably already heard of some of these 15 ideas that will make you instantly happier, but the question is, have you acted on them?
Going through the motions is not just a temporary trick. Actually practicing happiness will make you a happier person. So pick what feels like the best idea this very moment.
I’m listing some proven happiness triggers here, so the next time you’re in a funk, consider this your happiness lifeline. Folks who believe enough in happiness to create content, processes, websites, art, and even “days” around the revolutionary idea of Happiness created these resources just for you. So without further ado, in no particular order…
This website seems a little dorky, especially if you’re feeling like Grumpy Cat to begin with. No one sets out to feel happier by playing some silly games, reading positive affirmations, and gazing at pretty pictures. Or do they?
Happify.com delivers all that and more in shameless, unapologetic splendor. I stumbled on this website one day and tried a game or two. Within a few minutes i was aware that my mood had lifted.
The first game I tried, I click-popped some floating balloons with happy words on them. Words like “bubbly, joyful, lucky, and delight.” Golly gee, I felt lighter, ready to take on some filing, or balance my bank account!
Now, don’t tell anyone, but I occasionally visit Happify.com for a quick pick-me-up; a perky positive self-assessment; a shooting game where you aim at negativity gremlins, a zippy little quote or video, or a 2-minute relaxation exercise on a peaceful, uninhabited beach. Like a spoonful of honey, a little is all you need.
Driven to discover what really makes people happy, and how to measure happiness, Roko Belic traveled the world interviewing happy people and communities. Among the happiest that I recall were a rickshaw driver in India and a Scandinavian family living in a commune, though they seemed more content than happy. Interestingly, the United States ranks 23rd of happiest countries.
You may find yourself pining for the little shack with the window, and the curtain, the sunlight streaming through it, and the gaggle of smiling neighbors. Maybe.
Or, like me, you might look around at all you’ve got and imagine the filmmaker politely asking if you happen to know anyone with a little less stuff. Think there’s a connection?
I caught an interview of Gretchen Rubin on a podcast called Glambition with Ali Brown. (Great podcast, by the way.) Soon after, I was in an airport when I saw her book quirkily standing out among the others. Then a tweet led me to another of her projects called (I’m afraid to say it) “The Happiness Project” and I decided that not only are my antennae ridiculously tuned to all this happy jazz, but that the trio of Rubin-esque tidbits (haha) must mean something.
It means that not only is this gal’s marketing timing excellent, but also that repetition and awareness fits her theme. If you’re open to it, you can find unexpected little measures of happiness as you trip through life. In fact, the universe accidentally pelts bits of happiness in your general direction… All. The. Time.
It’s your job to notice that you’re getting hit with it. Once you’ve figured that out and come to expect it, you can go about designing it to your exact specifications like a patchwork cloak of found happiness. Which is sweet.
4. Three Happy Blogs
Once upon a time, I used to make lots of stuff. You might call it art. Teesha Moore’s stunning creativity influenced me to dabble in art journaling and fiber art. I traveled a few times out to Portland to attend her art retreats and take some classes; I even taught a class on making stuffed patchwork animals one year (see my patchwork Rosie, right). Itching to do more creative things that make me happy, I’ve been lurking around Teesha’s website again lately. Colorful, slightly edgy, always fabulous, Teesha’s art is a trove of eye candy.
When I discovered Aesthetics of Joy it was like finding treasure. Ingrid Fetell offers the cerebral girl’s guide to joy, centered on urban art installations, undiscovered studios, and design. At one point there was supposed to be a book. I imagined a coffee table book and I had my credit card out, but the months passed and still no book. I’m not sure what happened to this blog; the author slowed way down.
I’m worry when I discover a great blogger and follow them around like a homeless puppy, only to turn a corner and realize it’s over. I try to email them. “Are you OK?” I ask. I really have done this a couple of times, inquiring through the contact form. Or I leave comments on old posts. “Come back… Call me.” I want to say. I’ve never received a note back.
Visit this website anyway; it’s still intact, like a gorgeous forgotten museum.
[Exciting note! I just checked and Ingrid’s back! This really makes me happy.]
Joy Cho, on the other hand, went gangbusters. Starting with a small design firm and a blog, now she travels everywhere with her playful designs, many geared toward children. I like seeing the pretty things she comes up with, colorful Band-Aids for Target, party supplies, stationary, etc. Looking at her stuff always makes me smile. She’s prolific, too. There’s always something new.
When creative people brag about how they “color outside the lines,” I always smile indulgently and with inward pity. Why would they WANT to? Coloring’s NOT that hard…
Finally, someone figured out that people like me grew up. Coloring, all these years later, is still mindless and oddly satisfying. It’s like meditating with crayons. You don’t even have to buy grown-up coloring books in secret on Amazon. I’ve been seeing them everywhere lately. In public, even.
6. Savor stuff now.
What’s a list without an infographic?
Will you just look at this one and still insist on having a bad day? Come on, you can try some of these things. I did. They work.
7. Muscle control, or lack thereof
Did you know you can use your muscles to change your emotions? I’m not talking about working out and getting an endorphin rush, although that’s pleasant. I’m talking about a) Botox, and b) Faking it till you make it.
The first time I swung for Botox was in response to my children asking me out of the blue, “Why are you mad, Mom?” when I wasn’t anywhere close to being angry. (Annoying!) So out of curiosity and vanity, I decided to erase that concerned crease that seemed to be taking over my life. What do you know, when you’re not frowning, the kids are calmer! That was hands down the best effect of my few rounds of Botox, which I no longer use, by the way. Now, I just raise my eyebrows as high into my hairline as I can get them, and say as calmly and lightly as I can, “Honey, I’m not upset.”
On a related note, you know that TED talk by Amy Cuddy on body language? The one where she explains that your body is flooded with happy and powerful hormones when you assume the right power pose. I now practice a winning postures and facial expressions when it occurs to me to do so. I stand up straighter; I smile even when I’m not feeling like it. It’s a great experiment to try if you want to reflect a new, better you.
Now along comes this study on Botox which doubles down on this idea, which says, basically that if you can’t frown as much — literally, if you paralyze the muscles that make you feel bitter and resentful — then you simply can’t feel quite it with any real emotion. It’s the chicken and the egg thing. Go ahead and try to pull a long face or give someone the evil eye. Ha! Can’t do it. So there. You can tease the brain to release a foul mood with a few tiny, painless, and costly injections. Or…
A good belly laugh is much less expensive and saves you a trip to your dermatologist, however you may need to seek out funnier friends. Did you know that even pessimistic people find plenty to laugh about? Don’t let your chronic nihilism get in the way of true happiness. Cheerfully seek out jokes about the end of the world, mean little girls, and fascism; they’re out there. Then laugh as much as possible. Your life will get better.
This is a real day. Of course, so is “Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day” and “Mulligan Day,” all in October (I’m looking at my calendar as we speak), so take it with a grain of salt. You don’t have to bake a cake or anything, but if you want to really stretch yourself, you might don a happy face tee-shirt and meet up with a bunch of other folks at a park in the city. They’re not going to let you be sad; not if they can help it. Let me know how it goes, OK?
10. World’s Happiest Playlist
(You’ll see that Pharrell Williams’ Happy didn’t make this list, at least last year.) You will find an interesting and seemingly random determination of what constitutes happy music. More important than tempo or key signature, “happy music,” whatever your criteria, is meaningful music.
This summer I heard a crew of roofers all singing the same song as they laid a roof on a new home over on the next ridge. I live in the Hill Country west of Austin, and the sound traveled the valley to my back porch and struck me still with joy. It was such a happy sound, studded with the staccato of hammer strikes, each man’s singular voice carrying the tune his own way and blending with the others. I wish it had lasted longer.
Most people don’t listen to enough music. We don’t memorize enough songs we can sing all the way through. We should. Make a playlist of your own that buoys your work and play.
Maybe you already know about this. Maybe you’re about to think I’ve lost my mind. Did you know that many people tap with their fingers on energy points to release negative thoughts and gather positive emotions to their psyche? Hundreds of thousands of experienced practitioners swear that the repetition of gentle but firm taps on meridian points of the body, coupled with positive verbal affirmations, help break through the negativity we carry around in our physical bodies…
I admit I don’t do this. It’s easy enough to just go get a cookie. Still, many people I respect and admire believe in tapping. It might work for you, too.
“Up! Up! my friend and quit your books;” Nature’s wisdom is more accessible than you think. There are degrees of immersion, but you don’t have to go somewhere so remote it takes hours to get there. Slip off your shoes and stand barefoot in grass, or gulp air up on the rooftop if you only have a minute.
The next best thing is plopping yourself down for ten minutes in front of a tree, or a plant, or a caterpillar, or your cat. If you have an hour, you might try escaping to a park bench (birds, grass, the whole big picture); or if you can spare an afternoon, a long quiet hike in the woods. There are pockets of raw nature in the heart of even the densest urban areas. I’ve been within a crow’s 30-second flight from a metropolis of millions and felt like I was in the middle of freaking nowhere.
Nature puts her arms around you if you give her half the chance. (I’m the daughter of a woman who hugs trees and lies down on rocks, just so you know, but I believe it’s in everyone’s blood.) Life is hardly worth living without a brief, daily hug from Mother Nature.
13. Happy Foods
Yes, there are happy foods, and no, they’re not Doritos. Want a list of food that nourishes you with positive juju? Here it is.
Happy foods give you energy, mental clarity, and a calm, healthy gut. Priceless. They may not be the “party in your mouth” you crave, but over time, a steady diet of happy foods makes you feel more grateful and whole.
I can vouch for the immediate and happy vibe you get when you inhale essential oils. Now don’t roll your eyes at me until you’ve tried a drop or two of Joy™, Clarity™, or Valor™ blends by Young Living — some of my favorites. Good old Lavender, Peppermint and Lemon oils are hard to beat too. Humans have used pure essential oils since our awakening because they are elemental to our well being.
Why do essential oils make you happy? Because those tiny molecules from a volatile oil speed to your limbic system and set off all kinds of instantaneous feelings, sensations, emotions, and memories.
Your olfactory system triggers instant cellular reactions to an essential oil’s complex chemical compounds, like a magic wand casting spells in the nerve center of your brain. You can’t lie to your limbic system. The nose knows…
People have been anointing themselves with oils throughout history to banish negativity and forge a closer bond with the “Life Force” and divinity present in all things. Pure plant oils strengthen and maintain a body’s mental, physical and spiritual health; the equivalent of happiness.
Remember David falling to his knees crying for purity: “Cleanse me with hyssop…” He wasn’t talking about physical cleanliness, but mental and spiritual clarity and purity.
15. The Book of Psalms.
While the spotlight is on David, here’s my personal recommendation when you just need positive words spoken over you. Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to convert you (David wasn’t a Christian!), but I find that the edges of my crankiest days are buffed smooth if I just open to the Psalms of the Bible and read a few verses. If you can’t find one that holds promise, comfort or joy, just turn the page. There are 150 Psalms in there, many of them full of happy imagery and encouragement.
That’s all, folks. I hope you have your own ways of finding happiness, little practices or go-to pleasures that make your feel like you just found a ten-dollar bill in last winter’s sweater pocket, or a candy kiss hidden in the back of your desk drawer. It’s the little things…
You can’t be the light if you’re not lit from within.
Personal happiness triggers are crucial, especially if you’re a little edgy, anxious, or self-critical. Not you, of course. I mean me… I reserve the right to mute grating, sticky-sweet songs when they bubble up from the radio; and I hope you replace my suggestions with your own if these don’t suit you.
If you want to, please share what brings you joy in the comments below. Any little way you sweep the cobwebs out of your brain and heart.