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Life can be tough sometimes. It’s unavoidable, as we ride the rollercoaster of life there are the inevitable ups and downs. As the philosopher Thich Nhat Hanh puts it; “life is both dreadful and wonderful.” There are moments when being happy seems like the easiest thing in the world - like when we land that dream job or take a vacation - but there are millions of other moments where we let joy pass us by in favor of our to-do lists, our obligations, or our pain.
But what if I told you, despite all of life’s hills & valleys, that you can be happy every single day?
In 2019 we live in a capitalist society - one that places far too much importance on money and status, and not nearly enough on human happiness. If we subscribe to the belief that joy will come when we have success and riches, then we are doomed to be forever dissatisfied with our lives. Sure, being able to afford certain things can ease stress and leave more room for delight in your life, but for the most part, true happiness and peace of mind can come only from within.
When I moved to New York in 2015 I faced my own mental health issues for the first time. I was not achieving the career or financial success that I expected to, which led me down a path of self-hate and sabotaging habits. It wasn’t until I began practicing some small daily habits to keep me present that I realized I had to stop hanging my happiness on my success. Instead of waiting for all of my sorrows to be solved, I decided to take control over my own well-being.
It may feel stressful, or downright wrong, to take time out of your busy day to make a cup of tea or sit quietly for 10 minutes - but those few stolen moments can make a huge difference in your day-to-day mood. These small daily habits are designed to honor your body, your creativity, and to keep you balanced. The art of happiness lies in the art of being present (and what is the point of life without happiness, anyway?), and being present takes practice. These miniature moments may not make you jump up and down with glee, but if you repeat them on a daily basis, I think you will find that they reward you with a profound sense of peace and positivity.
These are the 5 daily habits I practice to stay present and find happiness in my daily life:
This one might seem scary if you are anxious, restless, or generally have trouble sitting still without entertainment. I found it hard to clear my mind for longer than three minutes when I first began meditating. The thing about meditation, though, is that it is all about practice. If it seems difficult at first, keep breathing through the discomfort and you will eventually reach a place of peace (it’s totally normal if this doesn’t happen in every session, though). On the days that I make time for meditation, I am noticeably more patient and feel that my energy is properly balanced.
If you are new to meditation, I highly recommend trying out the free Headspace app. You can choose to sit for as short as five minutes or as long as 20, following along as the soothing voice guides your breath and your attention. For meditation enthusiasts, a great way to encourage your mindful habit is to create a dedicated space in your home. My meditation space is still in the works, but it includes a comfy Ethel Studio cushion (use code SUSTAINING10 for 10% off your cushion!), incense, candles, and a few of my favorite crystals.
2. Cook healthy food
Our bodies need healthy food to operate at their best. Fresh vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and fermented foods are ideal for delivering balanced energy and nutrition. You don’t necessarily have to cook your own healthy food, but for me, the kitchen is where I am at my happiest. Even if all I have time for is a quick grain bowl for lunch, carving out time to cook is an important way for me to find joy in creativity.
If you don’t feel totally comfortable in the kitchen, I recommend you start with something simple. A bowl of oatmeal, chia pudding, peanut butter & banana toast, scrambled eggs with greens, or salted avocado with a boiled egg are all great ways to start your day, and they take less than 10 minutes to throw together. Eating well all the time is near impossible (and rife with difficult decisions), but being more mindful about just one meal per day can make a big impact.
3. Stay hydrated
It’s crazy how the human body can be so powerful, and yet so delicate at the same time. Whether you’re an artist, a banker, or a mountain climber, you need to stay hydrated. Dehydration can result in headaches, weakened muscles, dizziness, and an inability to focus. When I forget to drink water during the first half of my day, I know that the second half will definitely be shit.
To make sure that I stay happily hydrated, I try to drink a cup of water first thing in the morning, before breakfast and coffee. When I’m at home I use drinking water as an excuse to take a break from writing, and when I’m out and about I make sure to have my Klean Kanteen water bottle on hand at all times.
4. Get outside
It’s incredible what a breath of fresh air can do for your mental state! Spending more time outdoors, and specifically in nature (see: forest bathing), is linked to improved cardiovascular health, less anxiety, better focus, and improved mood. Even on cold, wintry days I try my best to take a walk around the neighborhood around 3 in the afternoon. Stepping away from work, breathing in the fresh (well, not so fresh in NYC) air, moving my body a bit, and stopping to say hello to all the little plant life around me is essential to maintaining my well-being.
A great time to take a walk is whenever you are feeling frustrated with a problem that needs solving. Just getting space from the problem and putting your head/body in a new environment can release mental blocks and get the creativity flowing again. Even if you live in a city, walking around the block or to run a quick errand is a great way to take a break from the daily grind and remind yourself that you are a living, breathing, human being existing on a beautiful planet.
5. Turn off your phone
Whether your vice is social media, the news, email, or playing candy crush, all that time spent scrolling on your device is most likely making you feel discontented in life. Instead of making us happy, these habits encourage us to compare ourselves to others, get overwhelmed by the problems of the world, and escape reality. I find that taking my eyes off of the tiny glowing screen for at least an hour immediately eases tension in my body and helps my eyeballs relax, too.
If you rely on your smartphone for work and personal communication then it is understandably difficult to find the right time to put it away. I’ve found it easiest to unplug at night, about an hour or two before I go to bed. I set my alarm for the next morning and plug my phone in (away from the nightstand) before going to read a book or enjoy a TV show in the other room. Having a designated time and place to keep your phone out of sight and out of mind is crucial for ensuring you get the time away from it that you need.