Upon reading the title of this post, you may be thinking, “how can happiness be tangible when happiness itself is intangible”? However, I would argue that intangible ideas like love, friendship, and happiness all have physical instantiations of themselves that can be tangibly experienced. For example, you can physically see love in the way that two people in love look at each other; and it feels physically different in the way that someone you love and loves you, touches you compared to the touch of a stranger. Just like you can physically be able to tell when two people are in love, I think that you can also physically tell when someone is happy.
Tangible happiness is not someone walking around with a smile on their face all day, it goes much deeper than that. Tangible happiness is making the choice every day to be an agent in your own life, rather than waiting around while life happens to you. Before making the conscious choice to work on my own happiness, I had the mentality that I was simply an unhappy person. I had the fixed-minded belief that people are brought onto this earth being happy or unhappy; and that there was nothing to be done about the cards that were dealt to you.
Then, two marked events happened to me in my life that made me realize that I was not unhappy, I was instead choosing to be unhappy. Further, not only was I choosing to be unhappy but in doing this I was actually self-sabotaging my own life. The first thing was meeting my boyfriend. When I met my boyfriend, I thought to myself “no way this guy is for real”. He always walks around with a huge smile on his face, almost never complains, and always sees the bright side of any situation. He is probably the most positive and happiest person I’ve met in my life.
As our relationship progressed, I noticed that when I was around him I was my happiest self; but I also noticed that I would bring him down. I hated the idea that his positive energy was positively benefitting my mental state, while my negative energy was negatively affecting his. This was the moment I realized that, whether we are conscious of it or not, we are constantly affecting the people around us. Be being unhappy wasn’t only getting in the way of my own happiness, but that of the people I interact with.
The second thing was when I took a class called Consciousness, in my fourth year of university. A significant component of this class required us to embark on a daily meditation practice. Throughout the class readings and my own practice, I began to realize that our thoughts and feelings come and go on their own; they are not tethered to who we are as people. I discovered that when I had the thought “I’m hungry” or “I’m bored” or “I’m sad”, the thought appears to me, and then eventually disappears and is replaced by a new thought. Through this practice, I learned that I was holding onto the thought that “I’m sad” and was refusing to let it go. Not only was I refusing to let it go, but I was attributing this thought to my entire being.
Let me make it clear that when I say, “I was choosing unhappiness”, I never woke up in the morning and said, “today I want to be really unhappy”. Instead, I had subconscious habits that were making me choose unhappiness without my conscious knowledge. So, once I realized that the source of unhappiness were these subconscious habits, I started working at creating newer, healthier, happier habits. How do you change your subconscious habits? You start by changing your conscious habits; and over time, your conscious habits become unconscious.
So, what conscious habits did I start incorporating into my life that made me tangibly happier?
1. I changed the way I talk to myself
This was a huge one for me. I used to have such a negative dialogue with myself; and putting myself down would contribute to my unhappiness. Think about it, if you had a friend that always put you down, you probably wouldn’t be your happiest around them. Additionally, you probably also wouldn’t want to spend a lot of time with them.
Changing the way you talk to yourself is quite difficult, and it’s easy to fall back into old, subconscious habits. However, I personally set out a designated time in the day, while I was meditating, to work on my self-talk. Stabilizing my mind and not letting myself drift off during meditation is quite challenging for me, and I used to get very critical of myself if I got lost in thought, so using this time to check myself and re-frame the way I speak to myself has made a huge difference both in my meditation practice and in my daily life.
Rather than telling myself “why can’t you do this” or “drifting off means your mentally weak”, I’d replace those thoughts with “you’ve improved so much since you started” or “you’re doing your best today”.
2. I stopped taking everything so personally
Of all the changes I have made that made a difference in my happiness, this was probably the one that had the most significant effect. I used to have the mentality that people would do things to me or to deliberately hurt me. For example, if one of my group members in my class dropped the course a couple of days before our big project deadline, I used to have the mentality that “I can’t believe this person did that to me, knowing that I now have to scramble to finish their part”. Now, I realize that that group member didn’t do anything to me but was simply doing what was best for them.
This is also something that’s challenging to work on, but I learned to check myself when I would have these thoughts; and remind myself that people act in their own best interest, not to purposefully hurt me or make me unhappy.
3. I started gratitude journaling
I used to journal, but I noticed that I would use my journal to complain about my day. So, instead, I got a gratitude journal with prompts. Personally, I liked the prompts because it forces me to write about something positive and prevents me from going on a downward spiral of complaining. Writing in this journal regularly has noticeably helped me get better at seeing the positives in my day. When I first started it would actually take me a long time to think about a good thing that happened in my day because I would be so focused on the negatives, but over time my abilities to see the good in my day have dramatically increased.
4. I started reading books that had to do with happiness, personal growth, and mindfulness
This may not be for everyone, and I personally didn’t think I would be the type to enjoy “self-help” books. However, I find that it’s hard to feel down about yourself and disempowered while reading an empowering book. I just finished "the Happiness Advantage" and I highly recommend it for anyone looking to embark on their own happiness journey.
5. I developed a morning routine that I love
Developing a morning routine has really helped me get excited about the day because even if I know I’m going to be having a busy or hectic day, I’m usually excited to still get up and do my morning routine. I used to have the misconception that a morning routine involved getting up at 5 am, going for a run or having a tough workout, and being exhausted by the time your actual day starts. However, I learned that I like to do some sort of workout in the morning, take a shower and eat breakfast; in order to slowly ease myself into my day.
My biggest tip for developing a morning routine is to do something you actually want to get up and do, not do what another person’s routine is or try to be the pinnacle of productivity.
6. I started paying more attention to how I felt around my friends
When I started to make some of these other changes and started to notice my mood slowly improving, it became evident that I had people in my life that literally drained the happiness out of me. I realized that I had friendships that did not support my journey, where the basis of the friendship was rooted in complaining, putting myself down/ allowing myself to get put down to maintain the friendship, and creating unnecessary conflict. When I acknowledged that these friendships were not in line with the life I wanted to create for myself, I started feeling intense anxiety whenever I would talk to that specific person or try and make plans.
I started paying attention to how I felt when I was with my friends, and instead chose to further invest myself in relationships that made me feel good, helped me grow, and are aligned with the person that I want to become.
7. I make time to move my body every day and eat healthy meals
The relationship between happiness and exercise is one that is well-known, but I also feel that it is still neglected. I personally notice that when I move my body in a way that feels good to me, I am in a much better mood.
Also, making the effort to limit process, refined, high-sugar foods has made a significant difference in the stability of my mood. However, enjoying a delicious dessert with a friend from time to time is also good for the soul.
8. I started listening to happier music
This is a really small change, but one that has made quite a big difference. I used to love listening to sad music. However, I realized that when I listened to sad music when I was sad, it would cause my sad feelings to last much longer than they needed to. Instead, I try to listen to happier, or calming music, which I notice helps to uplift my mood.
9. I changed the way I breathe and started taping my mouth shut when I sleep
This is probably the most recent one for me, but I discovered that the way I breathe significantly affects my mood. I noticed in meditation, if I breathed too fast or too shallow, I would actually trigger feelings of anxiety. However, when I learned to take deep, slow, and low breaths, my mood would instantly uplift. When you breathe in this way, you focus on breathing down into your stomach and actually let your stomach expand and stick out. When you invite in this breath, your chest opens, your shoulders go back, and you sit up straighter, which also helps you feel calmer and empowered.
Additionally, taping my mouth shut when I sleep at night (a trick I learned from my boyfriend) forces me to breathe out of my nose, which causes me to wake up more energized and less groggy. This tip may sound strange, but if you know you’re a mouth breather when you sleep, I HIGHLY recommend giving this a try.
10. I stopped playing the victim in my own life
Psychology is a great way to help us explain why we are how we are. I remember taking psychology classes in university and thinking to myself that I am the way that I am because of how my parents raised me, my attachment style, my learned behaviors. I blamed a lot of the way that I was on my childhood and my parents. However, I remember listening to one monk on a mindfulness podcast (I honestly forget the monk’s and podcast’s name), and he said, “we blame so much of the way that we are on our parents, but how silly does it sound when me, a 60-year-old man, is sitting here talking about the issues my mommy gave me when I was a child”.
Of course, some people do go through serious childhood traumas that take decades to heal from, if ever. However, I was no one of these people. His speech made me realize that I can’t go through life playing the victim when I fully have the capability to choose how I am. Rather than blaming the people around me for how I ended up how I did, I can instead work on being the person I want to be.
You may already do some, most, or all of these, or you may be interested in starting to do some, all, or none of these. However, I simply wanted to share with you the 10 changes I made to my life that dramatically increased my happiness. Additionally, not only do I feel happier, but I can experience tangible instantiations of my increased happiness in my own life. One of the most significant changes is that my relationships with my family, friends, and boyfriend have dramatically improved. People like being around happy people and happy people have better relationships than unhappy people. So, if you want to work on your relationships with your partner, family, friends, or yourself, I highly recommend working on your own happiness first.
Another tangible change was finally being able to see the opportunities and good things in my life that I was never able to see before. Not only did this make me realize how lucky I am to live the life that I live, but for the first time in probably my entire life, I’m genuinely excited to wake up and start my day. I no longer feel like life is happening to me and I’m strapped on for the ride, but rather that I have the power to choose how I want to live my life and what goals, aspirations, and purpose I want to achieve.
I truly believe that you don’t need to be chronically unhappy or diagnosed with depression to work on your own happiness. I also believe that there are so many ways to work on your happiness, that even if none of the habits I mentioned inspire you, there are still great habits out there that will work for you. However, the root of what I’m trying to get at with this post is that you have the power to change your happiness – and change your life. Lastly, working on happiness is like working on your fitness: you can’t wish for yourself to become fit or happy without putting in the work; and it’s not going to happen overnight. While I know that I have dramatically improved my happiness since embarking on this journey, I also know that I still have so much further to go.
What happiness habits do you practice? Let me know in the comments!