Lately, I've been thinking about what makes us feel happy. Maybe it's because it's summer—something that has always made me unequivocally happy—and right now, I'm not feeling that familiar adrenaline-fueled kind of happiness.
Really, when you think about it, that's perfectly normal, isn't it? I mean, how can one thing—summer—erase all the other so-called stresses that enter our lives?
And who is happy all the time, anyway?
For one thing, there's work. I've been slaving over an assignment that is keeping me up nights and taking up immeasurable hours every day. Don't get me wrong: I'm thrilled to be writing a feature health article for a major U.S. newspaper (which I'll keep under wraps until it's published!) but due to my obsessive nature and tendency toward perfection with that normal amount of writer-self-doubt sprinkled in, I'll find it hard to relax until I click that magical "send" button.
And then there's the housing question that continues to puzzle me and make my mind ping-pong all over the place. It's time for us to buy a home after selling our family home a few years back and moving to an apartment.
But what to buy? Do we really need a house, now that we're empty nesters? But then again, can we realistically give up space and live in a much smaller condo? Do we want to resume the responsibilities of home ownership? Or do we want to live a carefree life without worrying about ice dams on our roof, rodents ripping out our garden, flooded basements and other problems of home ownership?
Like so many things in this so-called midlife, change sometimes makes it tough to settle on one decision.
I'm certain everyone has their own set of challenges to deal with, so I'll end my complaining here and now. Instead, I'll challenge myself to figure out ways to have my best day ever, no matter what the day may bring. After all, it's not good to pin your happiness on one single thing—that's a huge responsibility to give to anyone/anything. So, summer, you're off the hook.
I know how to do this—I really do—but unfortunately sometimes the stress crowds out the more sensible side of myself. But here's what I know for sure:
You can't be happy all the time …
But you can be happy MORE of the time
- Take your time. When you're frantic, nothing feels right. You miss what's right in front of you (perhaps a beautiful flower or a bright blue sky); you get into a petty argument; forget your wallet; start misplacing things. Instead, try to imagine the way you want to feel—and act that way. "I want to be calm, collected and in control," should be your mantra. If you focus long enough on those feelings—rather than on the negative ones—they'll soon become a part of you.
- Smile. Even if you don't feel like it. You may think it's weird or looks a little creepy but knowing it really works will help you get over that. Smiling is not only contagious, but the actual act of turning up the corners of your mouth can fool you into feeling happy. Yup, that's confirmed by science.
- Jump up and down. I once interviewed happiness expert Gretchen Rubin and she said that there's something about getting your feet off the ground and doing something childlike that helps give you a jolt of energy and happiness. OK, I get it; you don't want to jump. You have alternatives: instead, run up and down the stairs or go for a quick walk around the block. Even short bursts of exercise can boost your serotonin levels (the feel-good brain chemical). I don't know about you, but dancing to upbeat music (bring back disco!) gives me those same happy feelings.
- Seek out scenery. Views of mountains, forests and other landscapes can produce heightened activity in the part of the brain associated with positive outlook, emotional stability and happy memories, according to research. For me, it's looking at (or being at) the beach. What if you can't get out? Try looking at nature in photos or through a window.
- Call a friend. Somehow the days fly by and before you know it weeks—and months—have flown by, too. And friends sometimes get forgotten in the rush. I called a friend yesterday (rather than our usual emails) and it felt so good to hear her voice and actually have a real, live conversation.
What are you going to do today to make yourself happy?
This post originally appeared on mysocalledmidlife.net.