In June, I gave a workshop on cultivating happiness habits. Earlier that year, I had been researching and speaking about habits and habit loops. What I really wanted to know was what influences our behaviour and why change is SO DIFFICULT. My approach to coaching includes taking a closer look at our daily choices. Why do we make the decisions we make, why and by extension, how do those choices impact our lives? Can we choose differently? As I began to dig into the happiness research, something strange started to happen, I began to feel happy. Part of that the realization that we can intentionally create a life that feels happy and the other part was that it may be easier than may think. Simple, daily habits; small adjustments, can make a big impact. It all came down to our choices.
Giving this workshop was a personal win for me. Like so many people, public speaking is a huge leap out of my comfort zone. What happened afterwards thought was nothing short of amazing; an organic alignment if you will. A friend of mine, Amy Longard, uber talented Nutritionist, attended the talk and approached me with an idea. Could we start an iniative in Ottawa that brought together the community to culitvate these habits together? She introduced me to Kate Durie, yogi extraordinaire, and a week later... #HappinessHabits613, an adventure to cultivate happiness and building community was BORN.
Based on the research on happiness, we compiled nine (9) principles or habits (below) that if done daily, can cultivate a happier and healthier life.
Our 9 Principles for cultivating Happiness!
We can cultivate happiness from the inside out. Recent research has shown that only10% of our happiness is due to external circumstances. 50% comes from our genes and 40% is from internal activities that we can fully control. That's a larger percetage that's within our control and the good news, our internal condition has the ability to influence everything else.
According to Shawn Achor, author of the Happiness Advantage, we have the formula for success all wrong. Happiness actually fuels success, not the other way around. If we reverse the formula, we can be happier now, in the present. If you're interested in learning more, I've added a link to his TED talk below.
Action: Write down 3 things that you are grateful for every day. Keeping a journal by your bed can help you activate this practice first think in the morning or before you go to sleep. I recommend practicing before bed because it's a great opportunity to scan through your day. It helps you begin seeing links between how daily moments, experiences and interactions with people have an effect on how you feel in your own life. You can also carry your journal with you, and practice throughout your day, capturing your gratitude in the moment or when you take a break during your day.
Why this matters: It has been proven that our brains have a negativity bias. It takes exponentially less energy and effort to spiral into negative thinking vs. positive. A gratitude practice, over time, turns negative thoughts and language into positive. Gratitude increases your sense of belonging, optimism and positivity while decreasing stress, anxiety and depression. It also increases your mindfulness. Begin to take intentional pauses throughout your day to notice, savour, capture, and share experiences that make you feel good.
2. Purpose/Meaningful Experiences
Action: Write down a meaningful positive experience that happened to you in the last 24 hours. Take some time to discover what your unique strengths are.
Why this matters: Writing down an experience helps you relive it! As you start looking all these meaningful experiences, you can string them together and realize that you're already living a meaningful life. When you look at our daily meaningful experiences, you become clear about the things that make you feel enthusiastic and the times there's flow in your life. Clarity about your purpose, joy, and strengths helps you live a more authentic, fulfilling life. Clarity is power. In the short term, this may simply help you identify what’s missing, and where there are gaps; giving you the information and the inspiration to start intentionally cultivating meaningful experiences. Create and design a life rooted in happiness. Your happiness.
Action: Mindfulness is simply moment-to-moment awareness and presence, without judgment. A mindful practice can be as simple as one breath - in and out. The purpose is to be aware of the breath, or of the thought and not try to control it. Over time, through regular practice, the space between thoughts begins to widen, and our reaction to them begins to lessen.
Why this matters: Mindfulness and Meditation changes so many things, and you only need to practice for a few minutes a day. It positively changes the neural pathways of your brain. It increases kindness and happiness. Focusing on the present moment is very important because it reduces stress, depression, and anxiety. This practice also increases self-awareness and emotional intelligence, enabling you to cope with challenges and handle negative thoughts and feelings as they present “off the cushion”. Cultivating mindfulness through meditation, then taking it off the cushion and into your life, is a foundational principle, meaning that it serves as a catalyst for the other principles, and for cultivating happiness as a whole. It elevates our awareness, our presence, our connection, and our gratitude.
Action: Find a physical exercise or activity that you can do on a regular basis or engage in some form of movement every day. Make healthier choices daily that increases movement throughout your day. Examples of this include taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking instead of taking the car, etc. Find someone to do the activity with you. A friend that keeps you accountable helps you stay motivated and on track.
Why this matters: Exercise is a keystone habit. This means it’s a catalyst for other good habits like drinking water, eating healthier and better sleep. There's so many benefits to getting physical exercise; this habit increases your mind/body/soul connection, it strengthens your body and it mental health and mood.
Action: Where possible, choose local and seasonal foods and aim to eat fresh, whole and nutrient-rich foods as much as you can. These foods nourish and heal the body. Look to reduce refined foods, sugars, and other stimulants or depressants.
Why this matters: Food impacts your mood. Making good choices will help maintain balanced energy levels, improve mental clarity and will also set the stage for a healthier, happier life. Eating nutrient-dense whole foods may help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and will reduce your risk of various chronic and degenerative diseases.
6. Altruism/Giving Back
Action: Pay it forward and find ways to give back and be in service to others. There's so many ways to do this. Send someone an email telling them they’ve done a good job or tell them how they have had a positive impact in your life(gratitude), buy a stranger a cup of coffee, volunteer, etc. Any little act of kindness can make a big difference. This is all about planting seeds kindness, generosity, gratitude, and connection.
Why this matters: Giving back feels good because it releases endorphins. Our bodies want us to give back. It creates a sense of purpose, increases trust and pleasure and creates a better, stronger connection with the community. This process feels energizing; as you become happier, you become more generous and the more you act in service, the happier you become.
Action: Bring awareness to your environment and the things you already have in your life. Think about your physical belongings, your space - both at work and at home, your mind, your body, the food you eat, etc. What are you surrounding yourself with? Let go the things you don't need. Organize your environment so you feel light and inspired.
Why this matters: We are a consumeristic society. The more stuff you accumulate, the more burdensome and heavy it feels. Physical space has a profound impact on how you process information and how you feel. The lighter the space, the calmer the mind. A uncluttered space can increase our focused and eliminate unwanted or unnecessary distractions.
8. Connecting to Nature
Action: Get outside every day, even if it is only for a few minutes. Take a walk to the park on your lunch break, step outside of your home or office and take several deep breaths, go jogging along the Canal, take a hike in the park, or walk barefoot in the grass. Make sure that you find a way to connect with nature every single day.
Why this is matters: It is scientifically proven that simply looking at a tree can positively shift your mood. A connection to nature, or simply spending time outdoors, can enhance your productivity, creativity, mood, just to name a few. Nature also has a calming effect. When we are calm, we can think clearly and make better decisions.
9. Social Connections
Action: Spend time with family and friends. Connect with others – those you know, those you don’t know (yet). Find your support system by intentionally cultivating meaningful experiences. When we’re under stress we tend is to isolate ourselves. We get trapped in negativity bias, feeling like we’re alone and stuck. Especially in those times, reach out. Connect. Share. When we stay open and share our truth, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same, and in doing so we build community and create connection and belonging.
Why this matters: Our society prioritizes individualism but we are social beings. Our reslience to challenges increases when we have a strong support system. When you connect with others in the present moment, it can have profound effect on your mental and physical health. This in return, improves your immunity. Social connections also help you live longer. Happiness is collective. If we are happier, others around us are happier too.
Resources (my happiness inspiration):
Book: The Happiness Advantage - Shawn Achor
TED Talk: The Happy Secret to Better Work - Shawn Achor
i'd love to hear from you!
How are you going to start intentionally cultivating your happiness every single day? What are some things you already do that make an impact on your overall happiness and wellbeing?