Negativity is a powerful and addictive drug. So easy is it to look at the goings on in our own lives and color them in a dark hue. We fixate on the bad whilst neglecting the simple pleasures life extends. I am personally very stricken by this ailment of clinging to the negativity that I often perpetuate a darker state of mind in my daily life.
Thinking about it retroactively forces me to see the silliness of the practice. Although dwelling on the bad is easy and often the preferred state of mind for many, such a perspective does not yield much benefit. Negativity reinforces itself and leaves its sufferers in a wretched cycle that can be difficult to break.
The question is how, when trapped in the vortex of gloom without hope for escape, can we push through and free ourselves from such an easy state of mind?
I am by no means an expert on this topic. I am quick to focus only on the bad, ignoring the good altogether. This essay is as much a practice in finding joy for me as it is a testament to the benefits of doing so.
Rereading many of my blog entries, I find a recurring dark undertone in many of them. Cynicism is a familiar tang in a majority of my words. I like to think I am a happy person most of the time but the reality of the matter stands to oppose this idea. I am a chronic wallower and spend more time with my lips downturned then with a grin. This is not to say that joy evades me entirely; I have plenty memories that bask in the golden hue of happiness. The problem is that they are interspersed between far too many gray ones.
In a quest to find a way to change my perspective, I hope to lend the same helping hand to the readers that found their way to this page. Here’s what I’ve gathered in this bout of self-evaluation.
1 Wake Up Early
So much good comes from rising as the sun does. Mornings are symbolic of a fresh start; a new chapter to the story. I believe we are connected to the mornings as creatures of this planet. Getting up early enough to experience the crisp morning air and the peach tint of the morning sky is therapeutic. I feel my most content before 9 AM, though wresting myself from my warm nest of a bed is and always will be a challenge. Whenever I manage, the payoff is tenfold.
To start a day off on the right foot requires a bit of quiet reflection. The best time for this is in the natural quiet of the morning. Warm drink in hand, comfy slippers on foot, the formula for success is complete. Bonus points if the mornings are warm enough so that a window can be cracked and the fresh air invited inside. For me, this spells a blissful upcoming day.
This is the preparation stage. Unfortunately this alone will not keep a mind primed for depressive episodes from falling back in with what its familiar. Mindfulness must also play a role.
2 Set An Intention
Contentedness and optimism are not mankind’s default modes of experiencing the world. For good reason: in order to survive the trying times of our ancestral world we paid far closer attention to the elements that could bring us harm. Nowadays, however, the negativity bias is not a necessity for survival. Though the bias is the default, it can be overcome.
When I speak of setting intentions, I am merely referring to the art of conscious decision making. Often, what overwhelms us is a cascade of passive choices we make as a result of being preoccupied with other matters. When we finally snap ourselves out of these thoughts, our surroundings can surprise us and sour our moods.
An example would be a monotonous march through any given day: you wake up, you mindlessly pass the time with activities that bear little to no fruit and suddenly the day is over. The recollection of that day is bound to be colored in tones of dissatisfaction when lived as such.
The solution is easy and keeps gloom from intruding. Wake up early, plan for the day ahead. Ask yourself questions and answer them simply. What do I want to achieve by tonight? By tomorrow? By the end of this week? Fleshing out those inner desires can aid in preparing a neat to-do list for passing the time.
The plan can be as meticulous or as free-form as preferred; the key is to have events on the schedule you can look forward to. Joy tends to bloom from a productive mind. Getting the gears to turn as soon as you lift up from slumber will set yourself up for a day worthy of appreciation.
3 Get Outside
Humans are not meant to spend their lives trapped in tiny rooms whilst the sun shines. As animals ourselves, an intrinsic longing summons us from our hovels during sunny days. We feel rejuvenated and energized as the light hits our faces and our previous worries melt away to make room for easy contentedness.
Some days the sun is not the easiest to find. This is true for me living in Paris during the winter months. The sun failed to break through for a literal month and a half. Needless to say I nearly went crazy with seasonal affect disorder but alas! I managed. How, you ask? Simple.
Though the sun may not always be illuminating the sky as brilliantly as we wish (bonus happiness points for when it is), the fresh air of the outdoors is enough to bolster a happiness response. I tend to feel refreshed even if I step out for a mere ten minute walk on a chillier, wetter day than preferred. The outdoors offers more stimuli for the brain, a means for burning stir-crazy energy, and a new flow of oxygen.
My claims are not grounded in science but I do believe the three of these offerings in tandem provide an easy path to joyfulness.
4 Remember Gratitude
Perhaps most important on this list of joyfulness hacks is to remember what we are thankful for. Gratitude is a strange feeling, one that does not particularly act as a default for myself. I am quick to forget all that I take for granted and instead dwell on things outside of my control or frustrating shortcomings.
Correcting this mental behavior with a quick reflection on all the good given to me eases my tumultuous mind, makes me remember the things I value most. The people you love, the state of your health, even the mere opportunity to be alive in these times can skew a disgruntled mind more toward contentedness.
Being happy is not something that comes naturally to everyone. This is particularly true for me. I have to consistently train my mind to remember the good, to cherish my privileges and to use every opportunity I am given to better myself and my state of mind. Gratitude can manifest as a call to friends, a walk down a favorite street or waking up in the quiet of the morning.
To be grateful is to be joyful, in the end. To be grateful is to wish to succeed so that we can thrive. I get that now. This whole list of guidelines towards contentedness comes from a realization that life is good even when it isn’t. Gratitude is the ultimate takeaway.
You only get one life, as far as we know; shouldn’t you enjoy it while it lasts?
Anyways, I’m off to do a lap around the neighborhood. My intentions are set, the day is young and I think I should call my mom.