Happiness is a Practice
This afternoon I was driving along a road that runs parallel to the ocean. It is a cold day here in New England -just twenty-one degrees- but the sun is shining. It’s been weeks it seems since we have seen real sunshine.
My kids were in the car with me. We had just come from drum lessons and were headed to drop some birthday balloons for my mom at work. It was another nothing/everything moment. One of those moments when everything just seems so… perfect. I caught myself smiling. I noticed my shoulders were lower. There was a tingly feeling through my whole body- not major or weird, but it was only the 4th or 5th time in my life I’ve noticed it.
What Was It?
I’m big on self-awareness and have been practicing it more in recent years. So, when this feeling-I’ve-only-noticed-a-couple-of-times came on again, I took a moment to be with it, right there in the car while I was driving.
It was a little overwhelming- almost scary. At the risk of sounding new-agey (I’m not) or woo (I am also not) it felt like I was transcending something.
I sat with the feeling for another moment right along with the feelings of overwhelm and the beginnings of fear. I remembered feeling this way when I was younger. I recalled that it was a reminder to check myself- to remember that something bad is always around the corner and that I should be prepared. But, what was this feeling?
Happiness. The Feeling was Happiness.
Not so long ago I did not believe I was worthy of happiness. So instead of appreciating it and feeling gratitude for it, my lovely brain would kick me down a notch to keep me in my place by reminding me that life ain’t easy and something bad is-a-coming.
I have always been open to personal change and growth. Over the last few years though I was forced to put in more of a concerted effort. (Click here to read) I had to dig deeper than ever to figure out how to keep life more steady. At the time, happiness wasn’t even a goal.
Funnily enough, my personal work on feeling better kept leading back to a few common themes; self-worth, gratitude, and happiness. There were some other things too.
I learned that for many of us, living with self-worth, gratitude, and happiness is a practice. It’s not something we are born with or are guaranteed. We have to continually practice these things if we want to feel them, to live in them. I also learned that there are specific things we can do to help ourselves live in these places more often- we can practice them.
- 1.the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method, as opposed to theories relating to it.“the principles and practice of teaching”
- 2.the customary, habitual, or expected procedure or way of doing of something.“current nursing practice”
- 1.perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency.“I need to practice my French”
- 2.carry out or perform (a particular activity, method, or custom) habitually or regularly.“we still practice some of these rituals today”
There are lots of ways to practice these things. In this particular moment this afternoon, though, I practiced two specific things. One of them is called “savoring” and I learned of it through the free Yale class being offered (you can take it too!) “The Science of Happiness” (click here to see the course).
As I currently understand it, savoring means just what it sounds like- to feel the good moments- the sensations, to spend time in what feels really good. So this afternoon with the sun shining, my two kids with me, and driving a car I love I let myself savor the feeling of happiness I was experiencing.
I thought about how my body felt -light and tingly-, the way the sun felt shining through the car window onto my face, the energy from my two happy children talking about the song they are creating, the joy from knowing the ocean was so close by. Instead of reminding myself that this is temporary and wouldn’t last forever I savored it.
The Second Happiness Practice of the Day
Which brings me to the second new skill I practiced today and came from a book I recently read called “The Big Leap” by Gay Hendricks. There are many wonderful concepts and practices in this book (life-changing stuff) and what I specifically practiced today was knowing that I am worthy of living in that happy place all of my life.
That’s a big jump, right? I mean, nobody’s life is perfect. How could anybody live in happiness all the time? Combined with all that I have learned over the last several years I have come to appreciate the value in believing not only is it possible to live in and expect happiness all the time, but it is legitimate and that I -and you- are worthy of it.
I swear I do not woo and am not new-agey! So much of this is scientifically backed!
So, instead of thinking that I had better hoard this momentary feeling because I wouldn’t feel it any time again soon, I lived in the moment, felt it, savored it. I rode it out for as long as I could. Not in a forced way but in an authentic and real way. I self-talked things like:
“my body feels so light and tingly.”
“I realize my mouth is smiling and I did not even know it.”
“I feel so calm and centered.”
“the sun feels so good and warm and comforting on my face.”
“my mind feels free. I am thinking only about this moment and how I feel and it’s scary for me to not be worrying about something. It’s hard to trust that this level of happiness is okay but I am going to trust it and feel it so that I can remember it for the future.”
Does that sound totally goofy to you? It was hard for me to even write all of that. It feels vulnerable and even embarrassing to think of putting those inner thoughts out to the world.
Jesus, though. They have helped me so much. For the first time in my life I am embracing happiness and actually counting on it. I am trusting that my life will be full of happienss because I am worhty of it and because I am practicing at making it so.
Savoring and feeling happiness. Those are the two things I practiced in the moment today.
I could have just dismissed the feeling I was having- brushed it aside. I could have reverted to the belief that I shouldn’t bother fully experiecing the happiness I was feeling because something was coming to steal it anyway. Most times I still do. Instead, today I chose to put into practice the things I want in my life because they do take work.
The work doesn’t have to be miserable or hard. It’s not even manual labor. It’s just choosing to make a different choice in the moments when it’s an option.
For me today that was driving down route 1 in New England with the sun shining, my body tingling, and my mouth smiling. Instead of letting who I was before rob me of the life I am living, I chose to practice some new things that keep making life better.
If you are interested in some of these things I recommend the two resources linked within this post. They are wonderful! The Science of Happiness is a free course offered by Yale and the Big Leap can be purchased or maybe checked out of your library. I have read and watched a lot of crapola, too, so I recommend these resources thoughtfully.
How about you? Do you have any non-new-agey and non-woo resources you can recommend for practicing happiness? Will you share them?