Growing up, I didn’t have the happiest outlook on life—I tended to dwell on past negative experiences.
In 2015, I decided to create a mantra.
No matter what happened, I would follow my mantra. Even when there were deaths in my family and difficult health situations in my life, I kept these two words close:
In my practice of chasing joy, amazing things happened, my perspective changed, and my life opened up. These are practices that truly helped me become a better, happier person.
1. I removed toxicity and negative relationships, including my own need for drama.
I used to bond with people by gossiping about others. I used to see people as having hurt me and often became the victim in many scenarios. I am now aware of the times when I have been the problem. I also create strong boundaries with people who like to gossip or look at the negative sides of people and situations first. I sometimes physically remove myself to another room if needed. This practice has really helped to transform my attitude.
2. I exercise or try to be active at least half an hour per day.
As a busy mom of two, a full-time teacher, and a part-time writer, it’s been hard to consistently find the time, but I find that even a quick 10-minute brisk walk has elevated my mood and helped with my overall mental health. Walking in nature and getting fresh air helps to free the mind. Nature truly has been a lifesaver for me.
3. I now eat healthy.
Culturally, I grew up eating white jasmine rice smothered in unhealthy sauces and stews, noodles, and no greens. Salad was not a part of our regular diet. I only tried rapini for the first time when I was 33, after seeing it in a colleague’s lunch.
I realize that using my diverse, cultural upbringing as an excuse to not eat healthy was simply an excuse. It took great effort and a change in mindset, but I now put in that effort and enjoy delicious foods that are good for my body.
4. I made time for talk therapy.
Sure, friends and spouses were there to listen, but I quickly learned that they easily tired of listening to the same internal dialogue I’d been trying to deal with my whole life, and greatly appreciated me finding another outlet. I’ve been with my psychotherapist for over 12 years and she has given me useful tips and tricks to arm my well-being arsenal.
5. I forgive.
For a long time, I held onto anger and resentment for things people had done to me. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean we let the bad behaviours continue. It means we create boundaries, but also understand that people are who they are and we cannot change them. We can only change our reaction to them, how often we spend time with them, and whether or not we let it go. I try to be like the ocean. I may have a wave of anger, but it comes and then goes just as quickly.
6. I try to be gentle with myself.
We are our own harshest critics. We’re so mean to ourselves—why? Why are we not as kind as we are to others? I often beat myself up for being awkward or saying the wrong thing or oversharing. I’m still in the process but I’m now trying to say to myself in these moments: “It’ll be okay.” And it always is. I even have a mirror in my classroom for this very purpose. Whenever I have five minutes to spare, I speak to myself and encourage myself, reminding myself that I am good and that I am trying my best.
7. I try new things that bring me unadulterated joy!
I am completing The Artist’s Way (a book to unleash creativity) for the third time and the one surprise this time around is that the things that once brought me joy (writing, going to a sacred space) haven’t brought me complete happiness, and things that I have done regularly for years (yoga, meditation) are the things that are stirring my soul right now.
Follow the joy and listen to it, even if it surprises you. Follow it even though it’s not what you thought you’d be interested in. For some reason, after having practiced yoga on and off since my 20s, I am now coming to it with a new passion. It is a new (yet old) practice, and not the type of creativity I thought I’d be focusing on. I intend to follow this new direction wherever it may lead.
8. I sleep and wake early, and always at the same time.
My entire life, I’ve been a night owl. I even changed my major in university to adapt to my habit of late nights and late mornings. I never thought I could be a teacher because of its early morning schedule, I simply had never been a morning person. Only in my late 30s have I come to appreciate the stability of routine and regulated sleep.
It has helped with overall tiredness, and I think at this age of 38, it’s what I’ve come to value most: the gift of a good night’s rest so that I can accomplish everything I need to and be a happier person overall.
9. I listen to music that touches my soul.
Teens know the importance of music. Music is one of the important aspects, if not the most, of a teenager’s existence. Why do we, as adults, forget this? I recently discovered an artist who’s been around for a while. Her beautiful voice and soulful melodies have brought me back in time, even though she’s new to me.
Music can transport you, move you, and bring pure joy into your life by nourishing your soul. It is the reason why many nursing homes and hospitals have found that music helps Alzheimer’s patients. Music helps you remember, and music makes you smile.
10. I make time for me.
I know how hard it is, but whenever you can get moments of solitude, steal them greedily and lovingly for yourself. I find these little stolen moments slowly transform into larger chunks of time. More time spent with yourself doing the things you love will allow you to, in turn, nurture and help those around you better. When I have time away from the kids, I feel mom-guilt, but after a while, I start to enjoy myself.
When it comes time to return back to their arms, I feel more grateful and more present because I was able to fill myself up with the fuel of joy. The mom-guilt dissipates because I become a happier mom and am able to take care of myself in the process.
In our world, we are increasingly becoming an unhappy society: more work, more money, bigger homes, larger mortgages. We are disgruntled at inconveniences and grumpy at the holidays.
These 10 practices have truly helped me live a more balanced lifestyle, not one where I am simply content, striving for more, or trying to run away on vacation, but one where I can say that I have truly and actively chased joy.
Bonus: The Simple Buddhist Trick to Being Happy.
Author: Aileen Santos
Image: Georgie Pauwels/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman