February 2, 2016

5 Ways to Stress Less & Be Happier.

woman smelling flowers, enjoy, accepting gift

Here I am at the start of another year, and the end of a year full of personal transformations.

I reflect on the practices that have brought me to this new state of heightened awareness of the world around me and the world within me.

This is my humble offering of five strategies that have worked for me to become a happier and healthier human. Perhaps they will work for you as well.

1. Begin Within

So many of us are dreamers and helpers who spend our energy seeking to affect positive change in our external environments. Meanwhile, our internal lives remain messy, stressed and filled with unfinished business. The true key to finding and creating a more peaceful world is to seek these things from a more reflective and personal perspective. Each of us is part of a much larger whole and as more and more people create their own version of inner peace and happiness, the external world will begin to reflect this calm inner state.

Distraction and busyness can keep our minds and hearts tied up in matters that have very little to do with creating well being for ourselves and others. In fact, many people are living in a state of fight or flight and believing this is normal. When in reality, we function correctly when we embody a “resting state.”

What works for me:

Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has been the greatest tool I’ve known to create simplicity in my life starting at home. Her method, called KonMari, asks that we seek joy as we create our homes and that we allow ourselves to release everything else in our life that does not spark joy. It works if you are committed to doing the work—I’m living proof. It’s truly like a reset button for your life.

It has also served as a gateway to my mindfulness practice, daily gratitude and a greater understanding of consciousness.

12 Things Happy People Do Differently by Jacob Sokol is a list that I keep with me in my notebook and hanging on my wall. Most people want happiness from this life but forget to create an environment that makes it possible for happiness to grow. Happiness is not a destination; rather it is a manner of traveling.

2. Create a Mindfulness Practice

Mindfulness is defined as maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. It also involves acceptance of this input without attaching judgment. Mindfulness can be approached from a scientific perspective, a spiritual one or both.

What works for me:

Headspace.com offers 10 free 10-15 minute guided meditation exercises to jump start your practice. You can purchase a membership on a monthly or yearly basis to unlock the rest of the meditation tracks. There is also information about the science behind meditation and the app is interactive and very easy to use.

Stop, Breathe & Think is another meditation app that I have been using lately. It is free and also has an option for upgrading. This app provides five or 10 minute guided meditations and allows you to track your daily physical, mental and emotional states.

3. Daily Gratitude

There has been an increase in research lately about the relationship between happiness and gratitude in the emerging field of positive psychology. What they are finding is that happy people regularly practice gratitude. This does not have to be a huge ordeal but the benefits show up once gratitude becomes habitual.

What works for me:

James Altucher’s “daily practice” was introduced to me through an article I read back in the fall and I have been committed to this daily practice ever since then (give or take a few missed days). Each morning while I drink my coffee and eat breakfast, I sit with my notebook and pen writing a list of things I am grateful for, a few minutes of free writing (I have been attempting some poems and song lyrics) and then create 10 ideas.

Try it and see how it works for you!

4. Connect With Nature

I’m lucky. We live within walking distance of the James River Park System in Richmond. At the end of my street is a trail head, where we walk or bike in the woods all year round. On our walks, I can breathe more deeply and the air seems better, cleaner and more oxygenated! In the warmer months you can find us in kayaks on the river. We also have started pop-up camping in different locations around Virginia— taking mini vacations from the hustle and bustle of the city and reconnecting with the natural world. Time in nature is a great healer and can be a wonderful boost to happiness.

What works for me:

Forest Bathing — This is the way I have begun to treat my time in the woods, as a mental, emotional, physical and spiritual bath. Nature allows us to experience the world with all of our senses engaged, helping us to integrate our sensory processing.

Earthing—This is new terminology for me but a practice I have been engaged in for my entire life. Basically, it means going barefoot and connecting your body directly with the Earth. I have been known to spend entire Saturdays lying on the grass in my front yard and I definitely don’t feel that this connection is wasted time. Sesame Street has a song called “Set Your Piggies Free” that I sing with my toddler. It’s actually good advice.

5. Explore Spirituality and Consciousness

Since I began clearing out distractions, busyness and blocked energy from my life, I have become interested (maybe even obsessed) with exploring new research on consciousness, the brain and spirituality. I was raised in an evangelical Christian home but eventually decided that particular version of reality was not the path for me. For over a decade now, I have been in a state of spiritual limbo, but this is beginning to change. Spirituality isn’t a word that I scoff at now and it also isn’t a word that means that I must pursue any particular religious point of view.

I’ve become very comfortable with this statement: “I don’t know.”

The Buddhists call this “beginners mind.” I am open to learning and seeking new information and the things that I am discovering are mind blowing. There is so much that we do not yet understand and this is so exciting to me as a curious and hopeful human being.

What works for me:

On Being — A website and podcast that I follow online dedicated to the questions: “What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live?”

Brain Pickings — I follow Maria Popova’s website through my social media and love the little brain boost I get from each post I read.

Wait But Why–I think this website is funny and insightful and the writer, Tim Urban, digs way deeper into issues than I ever would. My favorite post is one titled, “Religion for the Nonreligious” and it explores our current limited understanding of consciousness and how it relates to spirituality.

What I am beginning to understand so clearly is that we are here to love and to be loved. We are here to make meaning with our lives.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”  ~ Annie Dillard



21 Ways to Get Healthier & Happier (Right Now).


Author: Sarah Fought

Apprentice Editor: Tammy Novak / Editor: Renee Picard

Photo Credit: Danielle Marroquin at Unsplash


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