Have you ever noticed how much easier life feels when you’re laying on a tropical beach? Or watching the sunset from a sailboat? Or sleeping in the mountains under the stars?
Have you ever noticed how there are places that instantly, magically, seem to pull you into the moment? That allow you to relax? Places that just feel naturally easy to be in? Where you feel effortlessly happy?
I’ve felt this while traveling so many times. The first time I walked down the golden sand shores of Costa Rica. The first time I drove a motorbike through the hills in Indonesia. The first time I went snorkeling in caves in Mexico. The first time I walked into a gilded temple in Thailand. And so many other first times.
Life felt perfect. Life felt easy. I felt alive.
I’ve also experienced the flip side.
Where, suddenly I find myself in a very different environment, and that happiness fades. In a smoggy, dirty city in a country where no one speaks my language. Or in traffic on a highway in the pouring rain. Often the most difficult shock, is when I find myself in the old familiar place I once called home, seeing happiness as a distant memory.
No question, our outside environment can profoundly affect our experience of happiness. It can instantly create bliss as easily as it can lead us down a tunnel of depression. It can remind us how perfect we truly are, and it can leave us questioning if we’re actually as awful as we feel. And when you travel the world, those rollercoaster experiences can become even more poignant.
Have you ever felt that way?
As someone who is constantly traveling, I know how tempting it can be to chase happiness as something that exists in certain geographical locations or experiences. I know how tempting it is to get up and move the moment things feel uncomfortable. I know how tempting it is to judge what’s outside of you as the problem.
But the thing is, happiness can only live in turquoise oceans or in colorful countries or in lush jungles, if it also lives inside of us.
Happiness lives at the heart of each of us, and it’s within our power to awaken that happiness. We must choose happiness, especially when it feels hard. After all, happiness is not where you are, happiness is who you are.
Like the wise poet Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
Easier said than done, right? We can intellectually know this truth, yet still find ourselves spiraling into depression and frustration once we leave the loving container of our most nourishing environment.
While I genuinely believe that the surest way to experience true, lasting happiness, is by following the path that brings each of us our greatest bliss, sometimes the path gets rocky. Sometimes we take detours. Sometimes we get stuck in the mud.
That’s why I’ve put together this list of practices, that I’ve found to consistently lift me out of a funk, and remind me of my inherent joy, no matter where I am. I hope they help you at least as much as they’ve helped me.
1. Go Outside
So, maybe you’re no longer in tropical paradise or completely off the grid. Maybe it’s cold or rainy or gray. No matter. Get outside. Feel the sensation of fresh air on your skin. Listen for nature and focus on those sounds above the rest. Seek the essence of life no matter where you are.
2. Wake Up Early
There’s a special quality that exists only in the early hours. A feeling of quiet. Of peace. Of newness. Of possibility. Motivate yourself to get up early to experience those special moments. I’ve noticed a direct correlation between how early I wake up and how healthy, productive, and happy I feel. Experiment with getting up just an hour earlier than you typically do, and fill that hour with a sacred ritual to set the tone for your day.
3. Move Your Body
I’ve noticed in my own self, that if my body becomes sluggish or stuck, my mind follows suit. The more I get into my body, with movement, exercise, and stretching, the easier it is for me to work through and release whatever I’m struggling with. I notice that if I start my morning with a run, I literally burn off the excess mental energy that often leads to anxiety. Oh ya, and endorphins. Those things make a difference.
4. Make Art
Few things are more healing, and more fun, than pure artistic expression. Check the perfectionist at the door, and create for the sake of creating. Grab a brush, a pencil, some clay, sticks, whatever you’ve got, and play. Get back to the child state where you smeared your fingers into the paint or built a castle made of sand. Creating without worrying about the outcome pulls us into the present, the place where happiness actually lives.
5. Celebrate Your Life
Sometimes we get so hung up in the “work” of life, and in personal progress, we forget to celebrate the fact that we’re actually alive. This moment, this breath, this thought, this sensation, this sight, this experience, this existence, is a mother f*&king gift. Whatever’s going on, take more moments for celebration.
I celebrate my life in many ways. Most of which I express through music and movement. I put on an inspiring, uplifting playlist that makes me want to shake my booty. I dance first thing when I wake up in the morning. I hula hoop in the grass after going on a run and sing at the top of my lungs. I put on awesome music while I’m working at my computer in a café and literally dance from my seat.
How can you bring a greater level of celebration to everything that you do? Even the tasks that seem boring or mundane?
6. Host a Dance Party
Take it to the next level, and invite some friends over for some ecstatic dance. Crank up the tunes, close your eyes if you’re self conscious, and dance your heart out.
7. Take a Yoga Class
Yoga classes are typically designed to help us get out of our heads, connect with the present moment, and most importantly, relax. It’s a sacred space and time to focus on your body, your breath, and your experience. It bridges the mind body connection, to reprogram the way we think in ways that promote lasting happiness. If you’re not familiar with yoga and want to learn more, check out my post How Practicing Yoga Changed My Life. Also, consider attending a yoga retreat (FYI I’ve got two retreats coming up in Costa Rica. Get more info here.)
I won’t lie, when you’re new to meditation, it can be scary. You may worry that it’s boring, that your mind will wander, and that you might even go crazy. And you probably will. You probably will get bored. Your mind will most certainly wander. And when you begin to notice how much your mind races in circular patterns, you might in fact think you’re crazy. But to actually decide how you want to think and feel in your existence, you must cultivate the awareness of where your mind goes in moments of stillness.
Once you’re able to let that chatter go, you experience a level of happiness and bliss that I can honestly say far, far, far transcends the happiness of anything that can be seen with the eyes. In meditation I’ve achieved the all-illusive “Nirvana,” a state impossible to describe but one I best liken to becoming stardust. If you want to start meditating, I recommend attending a retreat, taking a class, or beginning with guided meditation videos. I love Deepak Chopra’s guided meditations.
9. Use Essential Oils
I’ve been using essential oils for the last year, and frankly, I don’t know how I ever lived without them. Just like sight, touch, and sound, smell can profoundly affect our energy and our mood. Inhale or diffuse uplifting oils like Lemon, Peppermint, and Frankincense for an instant mood boost. I use Young Living essential oils, and they even have a blend called “Joy,” crafted to cultivate feelings of happiness, gratitude, and of course, JOY! If you’re interested in finding out more about essential oils and ordering your own, check out my page Why I’m Obsessed With Essential Oils.
10. Get a Massage
Touch heals. Treat yourself to safe, loving touch by getting some bodywork done. Personally, I love Thai Massage, Shiatsu, and Deep Tissue. While not technically massage, I find Reiki even more restorative and relaxing, a form of energy work that changed my life.
11. Create Your Own Retreat
Why not completely pamper yourself with an at home retreat? Collaborate with friends or do it on your own. Start your morning with an invigorating yoga practice (if you don’t feel comfortable doing it on your own, I love YogaGlo for at home yoga videos) and end your evening with Yin or Restorative. Eat healthy and delicious foods like vibrant fruits and vegetables, take an Epsom salt bath with Lavender essential oil, give yourself a manicure, and read a great book.
12. Read Something Inspiring
When we can’t find the inspiration within ourselves, it can be helpful to receive inspiration through someone else’s words. Over the years there have been quotes, poems, books, and the words of friends that have lifted me out of even the most challenging situations. In fact, I’ve noticed that when I’m reading a really great book, my life takes on deeper meaning.
My favorite transformative reads include A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson, Ishmael by Daniel Quinn, anything by Paulo Coelho, The Celestine Prophecy, The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris, A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, and The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. Some of my favorite sources of inspiration on the blogosphere include Elephant Journal, The Freedom Experiment (read From My Heart to Yours – You Are Not Alone) and Danielle LaPorte (read The Manifesto of Encouragement.)
It can feel difficult to move beyond something that causes us unhappiness when we don’t fully understand it. Something I discovered when I started blogging, was how therapeutic it is to write. If I can just put my pen to the paper, especially through journaling or writing poetry, the feelings often reveal themselves, pouring from places I didn’t even realize existed. As they unload onto the page, I suddenly become released from them and can let them go.
14. Cook a Meal
There’s something inherently joyous about creating a beautiful meal. Look up a recipe that excites and nourishes you. Go to the farmer’s market and gather the most beautiful ingredients you can find. Cook slowly while listening to music and having a glass of wine. Invite a loved one to enjoy it with you, or make it a special ceremony to experience alone.
15. Jump Into Water
If you have access to a river, a lake, the ocean, hot springs, or any form of water in nature, head there immediately and immerse yourself fully. Be sure to dunk your head. Jumping into water instantly revitalizes and purifies, especially when done with intention. When I’m away from the ocean, I miss it terribly. So I look for other bodies of water in nature. If there aren’t any, at the very least, I set the intention when I step into the shower for a “rebirth” similar to what I feel when I jump into the sea.
16. Connect With Like Minded People
As a fiercely independent solo female traveler, sometimes I get caught up in the mindset that I can, and have to, do everything on my own. But this mentality is limiting. We are social creatures designed to crave community and support from others. If you already have a strong support system, turn to it. There’s no weakness in that. If you don’t have that support group, create it. Seek out people who are living the life you want to create for yourself. Seek out others who understand what you’re going through. Ceremonial circles, special interest groups, yoga events, and even Facebook groups are all places where you can meet people who can support you on this journey.
17. Plant Some Seeds
While happiness may live here in this present moment, it can be easier to recognize when we see the possibilities that live in our future. Planting seeds, literally and figuratively, is all about connecting with the earth, and offering it our hopes for creation. Get your hands dirty in the garden and over time, watch your seeds sprout and one day grow. Or offer your dreams to the universe during new moon and see them blossom with the full moon. Plant your hopes into the realm of possibility and notice how it makes everything look a little brighter.
18. Map Out Your Dreams
Go beyond planting the seeds, and envision the growth of your idea. Create a vision board of what you’d like your dream, your project, your life to look like. This opens your mind to the possibility of how good things can be, no matter what may be going on right now. Focus your energy on that goodness, and you will feel it right now in the present.
19. Spend Time With Children, Animals, and Flowers
What do children, animals, and flowers all have in common? Innocence. An innocence that makes them easy to adore, love, and cherish. When we treasure them for how beautiful and wonderful they are, we cultivate those feelings within ourselves. Simply being in the presence of such joy, reminds us of our own inherent joy.
20. Watch the Sunset
Every day, no matter where you are, the sun sets. The sun sets no matter what’s going on or how we feel. In this sense, the setting of the sun, is the perfect reminder, that everything is going to be ok. Everything is going to be ok, because life will go on. Life will go on, as long as the sun continues to set, and the sun continues rise. Watch the sunset, appreciate its beauty, and notice how your worries disappear. ‘Cause babe, life will go on. Life is going on.
21. Practice Gratitude
More than any other practice that exists, gratitude is the surest way to experience happiness. Gratitude turns not good enough into enough. Gratitude turns lack into abundance. Gratitude turns dissatisfaction into joy. Experience more gratitude, by making a practice out of thanking. Wake up and say aloud “thank you for this day.” Tell the people in your life how grateful you are for them. And when you find yourself in a moment of frustration, sadness, or negativity, say “thank you.” Shift your perspective to gratitude, and you will discover the gift in the present.
22. Tell Someone You Love Them
Without expecting them to be anyone but exactly who they are.
23. Make Peace With Discomfort
Many of us spend our lives chasing pleasure and avoiding pain. We go to great lengths to avoid discomfort, even if it actually comes at the cost of our own happiness. Over the years I’ve learned, through many many moments of extreme discomfort, that uncomfortable sensation is always a request for healing. It’s something shouting, “pay attention to me, work on me, because that’s the only way you can release me.” If you fight the discomfort you will struggle. This I promise. But if you can just be with it, try to understand it, try to love it, surrender to it, melt into it, eventually, you will release it. Eventually it won’t trigger you anymore. And if you can choose love and understanding, even in the most uncomfortable situations, you can find happiness anywhere.
24. Take off the Pressure
As hard as it can be to accept, in life there are bound to be lows. We can’t always be on the highest high. We can cultivate practices to help us raise our vibration to new levels, but the nature of life is that it moves like a wave. The suffering comes not from where we truly are, but rather from us comparing it to a fantasy of what we once had, or a fantasy of what we wish we had. Take off some of the pressure, and accept that perhaps you’re just on the hollow part of the wave. Stop comparing it to what was and just feel it, as it truly is. The time will come when you rise to the peak again. Accept where you are and what you’re going through. It’s perfect. And so are you.