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There’s this short, sweet video by zen master Alan Watts that I encourage you to watch–it’s only two and a half minutes, so just pretend like it’s a commercial of sorts. While you could scroll down and just get to the tips listed in this article, I believe this is a good prelude for the points in this article.
Accept yourself. Exactly as you are, in this very moment. Though we’ve all been guilty of this, try not to be that person who feels like her life will be better “when I finish school and get a real job” or, “when I pay off my debt.” You’ll miss out on the goodness of today if you do! Ask yourself if you are waiting for any such life changes in order to be happy. Then let them go…and smile. Scientists have discovered that one’s baseline level of happiness tends to revert back to its typical level (ie, how you’re feeling today, at this moment) within a short period of time after a major event anyway. In essence, winning the lottery or experiencing any other significant milestone won’t make your life markedly better in the long-term. Happiness is the result of choice; not circumstance.
Savor your food. Unfortunately, most of us spend our lunch hour consuming our meals as a frenzied afterthought in lieu of more pressing issues. Instead, relish in crisp refreshing taste of watermelon or the bitter creaminess of dark chocolate. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh wrote an entire book on the premise of savoring food. Thich Nhat Hanh’s idea is to practice awareness when you enjoy a meal: chew your food with consciousness, pay attention to the subtle flavors, and focus on your body’s reaction to the meal. He purports that such diligence transforms the simple experience of eating into one of bliss and appreciation.
Spend more time outside. In places of extreme temperatures, it’s easy to curse the weather and go from our homes, immediately to the car, then to the office and back inside again. Norwegians have the gentle admonishment that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes (det fins ikke darlig vaere, det er bare darlig klaere). Spending more time outdoors allows you to connect with that nebulous force that ties us all together. Some call it God, others deem it energy, consciousness… whatever. The label doesn’t matter as much as the essence. Watching a spectacular sunset hit the purple mountains or feeling the grass beneath your feet has such a calming, serene effect. It makes us realize our mortality better than any Hollywood movie plotline.
Start every day as a blank canvas. Author Mary Shelley aptly states that “the beginning is always today.” Isolate today’s game plan from past mistakes. When you wake up in the morning, remember that today gives you a chance to realize your highest potential. You can use the day to finally learn how to roll sushi. You can use today to take a small road trip to that one historic site you’ve been meaning to visit. You can run three miles if you so choose. You can do…well, anything! Though factors in your external environment may try to remind you of who you are, what you should do, how you should behave… the only one who can call those shots is you. At every stage in your day, you can accept or reject these false expectations. When you wake up, try assessing which parts of your schedule are done out of obligation or habit, and which reflect your desires. If, for instance, you realize you tend to drive through the same place and get the same meal you only sort of like, try something new instead.
Get rid of malice. Even funny malice. There’s the saying that every insult is an ill-gained compliment to yourself. After thinking about this statement, I agree with it. Let me give you an example from my own life: I was commenting (ok, I admit… griping) to a friend how one new mother I know repeatedly posts updates about her baby. As a gesture of sympathy, she sent me the link to “STFUParents.” I looked at the site full of funny, witty commentary… that was also admittedly mean-spirited. I’d think, “that mother needs a reality check,” or, “what an obnoxious kid.” Mid-way through reading the “mamadrama” section I stopped to assess how I was feeling. The material made me on edge, anxious and short-tempered. These are natural reactions to negative information, but they do not serve us with living a content, empathetic life.
Reassess your material possessions. I whole-heartedly recommend getting rid of stuff you don’t use and trading it for durable, high-quality things. One exercise to help you determine the value of your stuff is this: Step outside your room with a pen and notepad in hand. Now envision the contents of the room to the best of your ability. Write down everything you can remember: Bed, lamp, dresser, the vase your aunt gave you, and so forth. When you step back in the room, get rid of everything you didn’t remember. If you can’t remember a possession you saw just five minutes ago, it’s probably not serving you.
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