Suggestions: Part II
Yesterday I outlined a few things that I find bring more fulfillment into my day. Today I am going to jump right back in!
Small gestures are not insignificant
- We have a tendency to casually leave out small moments of kindness that we give or receive throughout the day. I urge you to take note of the small things that you do throughout the day that make you smile, if only for a moment. The way you behave towards others is usually a good indicator of where you are at emotionally and conversely who you are as a person tends to show itself through your actions. So take pleasure when you find yourself going out of your way to help the person struggling to carry their kids stroller up the subway stairs – Not only does this small act improve someone else’s day, it also allows you to take stock of your own personal struggles. We notice where we are coming up short personally when we take a look at our behavior towards others.
What I have written above may seem cliché or self-congratulatory. In the event that it does I wish to explain myself further. Often times when we make small efforts to help somebody else throughout the day we resist the urge to feel good about ourselves for what we consider insignificant or common acts and behaviors. First, I think many people would be surprised by the lack of compassion one encounters each day. Consider the times when somebody goes out of their way to help you or when someone is very polite, positive and helpful – It seems to leave us with a feeling of satisfaction and brightens our day, if only a little. Part of the reason these actions are so impactful is because they often surprise us – they are not commonplace. More importantly, by dismissing acts of kindness as insignificant we often explain that “It’s not like I bought the guy a house, I just bought him lunch.” By comparing our behavior to another’s we automatically put ourselves in the position to make ourselves less meaningful. It is another exercise in gaining validation by comparing ourselves to others. Not only does it restrict you from feeling good about yourself but it also simply doesn’t mean anything.
Don’t allow others to ruin your day
- This is something that I have struggled with my entire life: Always worried about what other people think of me, if they approve of me, if they appreciate me etcetera. This has more to do with maintaining a healthy perspective – our perspective is what ultimately decides how we reflect on our day, good or bad. As with most of our behaviors, the ability to allow someone else to determine the level of happiness you take away from the day is rooted in ourselves, rarely the other person. When we are confident and honest in our thoughts and actions it becomes very difficult for anyone to negatively impact our day. When we have little stability within ourselves, the slightest negative action from somebody can shatter us. That being said, it is imperative to take note of how much we are letting others dictate the degree of happiness we have in our lives. I keep myself open to all forms of criticism and am always willing to take advice, in fact I invite it, and this tells me that I am emotionally secure and stable. When I am not doing the things I need to do it becomes extremely easy for someone to negatively affect my day. Below I will list those things that I do to keep myself mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically secure throughout my day.
You are in control of your happiness
- This idea was lost on me for much of my life and it is something that people tend to struggle with: The notion that we create our own happiness and cannot find it in external things/people. I understand that many of these things will sound cliché, and perhaps that isn’t a terrible thing. Most things I have learned in recovery have been cliché and I didn’t understand them until I felt confident in myself so I would instead poke fun at them. That being said, there are certain things that I do in my day that all but guarantee a fulfilling day:
- Meditate: I spend 10-20 minutes daily practicing mindfulness meditation https://www.headspace.com/how-it-works. This type of meditation works for me and often by people who do not think meditation is for them or thinks it is all incense and nirvana. It is a practice that allows you to observe your thoughts and the distractions outside without judging them. It teaches patience, control and leaves me feeling less anxious about the day. It is an excellent way to give our mind a break from the constant racing thoughts we experience throughout the day/night. For instance, I was speaking with a friend recently who is in graduate school. He told me that often times he wakes up in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning and immediately grabs his phone to write a note on his studies. This means that even when he is sleeping his mind is racing. The idea that we are relaxing our mind because we are watching television or sleeping is not always the case. Even when we think we are taking time off we are still a little on edge and subconsciously thinking – We need to give our brains a break, if only for a bit so that it can perform at a high level. In every case where we take time out of our day to take care of ourselves we are enhancing our productivity, mood etcetera not taking away from it. I often hear people say that they do not have the time to meditate – however the very practice is geared towards creating a more balanced version of yourself so it adds to the value of your day, it doesn’t detract.
- Reach Out: Not all forms of self-care are so obvious. Reaching out to others each day is imperative if I want to have a fulfilling day and it is beneficial in more ways than one. The act of calling/texting/emailing somebody to ask them how their day is going is meaningful to both you and the recipient. I receive and send about 10 text messages each day only inquiring about the other persons day. When I receive a message asking me how my day/week is going I immediately become involved in something bigger than myself. If I am feeling disconnected or lazy generally all I need to change my mood is a connection with somebody else. In the same way, when I reach out to people and focus only on how they are doing I take my focus off of myself. Often times it is difficult to see how self-involved we can become, and by asking somebody how they are doing and listening to them with intent we remove the spotlight from ourselves and we also usually find that whatever we are worrying about isn’t all that unique or terrifying.
As I have stressed in past articles, none of the things I practice are meant to make you comfortable at first – they are not meant to be a quick-fix for anything. These exercises are useful only when they are carried out with discipline. If my life seems attractive to you, you have to understand that I take these practices/beliefs very seriously. When I speak about honest reflection I don’t mean that I do it when convenient. Anything that forces us to look at our behavior, the reasons we lash out in anger, why we are so impatient, judgmental and jealous, is going to make us a bit uncomfortable. There are those that think I am a bit too intense in my practice, perhaps too hard on myself. First off, I assure you I come nowhere close to perfection in any of my practices. I find myself being lazy, judgmental, lacking confidence, wanting control etcetera. The point is that these tools help us to recognize when we have fallen off the path a bit and arm us with the tools necessary to get back on track. That being said, I am told often that I have a certain presence that makes people comfortable when I arrive and leave them feeling a little more positive about their day. This has little to do with the things I say, rather it is because I am comfortable with who I am and I am no longer hiding anything. You can find calmness in this life, a real presence based in a strong foundation. I am not apathetic, indifferent or disinterested – I am only calm, able to resist the temptation to lash out with anger and better still very rarely feeling the need to resist, the anger simply isn’t there. This type of comfort only comes with a deep connection to who you are as a person – a confidence that is built with a heavy amount of humility and gratitude. As uncomfortable as I am typing things that highlight my better qualities, the reason I do it is because it is not based in ego or attention seeking behavior. It is based in a constant search for advice on how I can improve my approach to certain situations – I ask people for direction every day. I come forward when I am mistaken, not with shame and a stare at the floor, rather I come forward excited to know how I can correct my behavior. This is a confidence in my ability to learn from others – to accept that I am not right all the time, in fact I am usually wrong. I have found a lifestyle that allows me to be comfortable with who I am because I do not think I have all that many answers. I am reminded of the Tolstoy quote “We can only know that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.” I do not put myself in the position to tell people how they should live, nor do I believe I have the answers on how to live a happy life. I keep myself in a position where I am always open to the suggestions of others, not holding my beliefs as tightly as I once had. Perhaps most importantly, and closer to the topic at hand, is the ability to find happiness within myself and not in the external world. When we are able to realize that we are in control of our happiness we can begin working towards it. It is imperative that I do not tether my happiness to a person, place or thing (I guess a noun!) – I had to understand that to find true happiness, a fulfillment that had roots, I had to give up the notion that I could make myself happy by adding exterior things to my life. A person cannot make me happy, neither can a city or a nice watch. There was a time when I fully believed I would be happy if only I lived in New York City – Well, I moved and I was miserable for two years. New York does not have the ability to make me happy, the best woman in the world does not have the ability to make me happy either. Once I abandon this notion I am able to find the path to real happiness. In my next essay I will explain how I came to this understanding and how it affects my life today.