Skills In Order to Build a Happy Life: Being Present; Gratitude and Emotional Regulation
Most often we are focused in the future or in the past, how ever it is only in the present that you can have any impact. It is difficult to be here now because it is going against nature. We are designed to ruminate on past mistakes and to endlessly plan for the future. These are important, but in order to have a happy life, you have to work at being present. After all you can not enjoy the fruits of your labor if you are focused on either the past or the future.
Practice whenever you are at a stoplight (or at some other random interval) to take a breath and squeeze your toes together. This brings you into the present because you can only be in your body right now.
Practice mindful breathing while bringing your awareness to your body.
Practice using some worry beads or rosary.
Practice really noticing your surroundings.
Gratitude is bringing your awareness to what you have rather than thinking about what you do not have. It is noticing what is right, rather than what is wrong. It is an essential ingredient for happiness because it is gratitude that allows you to savor your life and its blessings. It is very difficult to be grateful sometimes because it can feel very unnatural when we are faced with difficulties (or life is not perfect). We are programmed to focus on what’s wrong rather than what is right for evolutionary reasons. To be aware of what is wrong and/ or missing helped our ancestors survive and conquer their environment. But in the 21st century we need to cultivate gratitude in order to have a satisfying life.
By practicing gratitude, I do not mean becoming Pollyanna and acting “happy” about things which you are decidedly not happy about. Pretending to feel what you do not in fact feel, will backfire and makes you vulnerable to depression.
By practicing gratitude, I mean paying attention to and savoring the things, people and activities that you do actually like. In order to increase gratitude in your life I recommend the following practices.
Practice thinking of 3 things before you get out of bed in the morning that you are happy about. (coffee? having a bed?)
Practice picturing people that you love and value.
Practice noticing 3 good qualities that your body has.
Being able to regulate your emotions is very important in order to build a satisfying life. When you are upset or scared or angry full of desire you are not prone to make wise decisions. Instead you are likely to impulsively make choices that can lead to unwanted consequences. We are designed to choose short term need over long term satisfaction. This is important when there is an actual emergency. When there is a bus coming your way, jump out of the way, do not stop and ponder! How ever strong emotions mimc emergencies when there is in fact nothing truly dangerous. It is at those times that we need to be able to take a step back and make decisions that are positive for the long run. Of course this is difficult to do, because it is against our nature to so. In order to strengthen your regulatory muscles I recommend the following practices.
Practice becoming more realistic in your thinking. Become aware when you are catastrophizing, being perfectionistic or indulging in unrealistic black and white thinking. Become familiar with the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy and use them as tools to keep your mood steady.
Practice some aerobic exercise often. Calming your your body calms your mind, because your mind lives in your body.
Practice noticing the effect of the media you consume on your state of mind. If the news upsets you (especially before bed) limit how much you expose yourself to.
THE FOLLOWING SKILLS ARE ALSO IMPORTANT
It is important to be able to speak your truth in a non aggressive way. It is equally important to be able to listen.
Practice speaking about your own experience, without judging others.
Practice noticing instead of listening you are practicing your response.
We all need friends and family in order to feel safe and secure. Building and nurturing relationships require patience, gentleness, loyalty and love.
Holding a grudge hurts you and takes away from your ability to enjoy life. Learning how to forgive yourself and others is a skill that will enhance your life.