Do you ever feel like the world around you is just full of… unhappiness? That’s because it is. According to the CDC, in 2017, 479,000 Americans visited emergency departments for self-inflicted injuries. 47,173 committed suicide the same year, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death in the US (after health conditions such as heart disease and cancer as well as accidents). In 2018, nearly 20% of American adults experienced some form of mental illness; almost as many kids (ages six to 17) dealt with a mental health disorder themselves.
And these numbers are the extremes; they don’t even account for the millions of people who simply feel low-key unhappy from day to day. Sadness, stress, frustration, it’s all there bubbling under the surface, and it’s not hard to see why, especially given the current state of the world. From the pandemic to the protests, from impeachment trials to “murder hornets,” 2020 has been a tumultuous year, to say the least.
And yet, happiness is just as accessible as it has always been.
I recently watched a documentary called On Yoga: The Architecture of Peace. (It’s on Netflix as I write this if you’re interested.) This film, based on the photographer Michael O’Neill’s book of the same name, follows O’Neill as he travels the world to meet and talk with the great Yoga masters from India to Tibet to New York. The entire documentary was inspiring to me (not to mention visually beautiful), and it got me thinking about inner peace (a phrase at which I’ve previously rolled my eyes). But one concept in particular struck a personal chord. I’ll paraphrase:
Happiness, health, joy, and peace are already inside you. Instead of blaming outside influences for making you unhappy, ask yourself what you’re doing that is interfering with your own innate happiness.
What are you doing that is interfering with your own natural joy? What would you like to stop doing to give yourself more free time, to relieve you of an ongoing burden, or to improve your life in some small or big way?
The truth is that we have a good deal of control over how we spend our time and with whom we spend it, but we can get “stuck in a rut” and start believing that there is no way out. With that in mind, remember that things will never be different unless you make different choices. With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you make a move toward the elusive and life-changing “inner peace.”
1. Go outside. There’s nothing like fresh air to boost your mood. Don’t have an hour to recline on the patio reading a book? Sit on the steps for 20 minutes – or stand outside your back door for five. It doesn’t have to be anything formal or time-consuming – simply take yourself outside and breathe. You might be surprised how five minutes of enjoying the sunrise can set the tone for your entire day.
2. Sleep more. Nothing drains happiness like fatigue. Sleep helps your body recover and repair itself after a day of use. It also refreshes your mind and helps you focus and be more productive the next day. Being sleep-deprived also makes you more susceptible to negative emotions. If you are one of the many people just not getting quite enough sleep, it’s time to make it a priority.
3. Exercise. I know, I know. If you don’t enjoy exercise, it can be incredibly hard to make it a regular part of your routine. But it’s key to enduring happiness. The good news is that you don’t need much to significantly impact your mood. Check out the science-based New York Times 7-Minute Workout – everyone has seven minutes! Or, maximize your time by combining exercise with fresh air and going for a quick walk on your lunch break. Your body, mind, and mood will all thank you.
4. Spend time with your family and friends. Did you know that not staying in touch with friends is one of the top five regrets that dying people have? Your social health and relationships are extremely important to your overall well-being. Even introverts need some time with the people they care about. So, take a minute to respond to that text, email, or phone call, and make an effort to get together with the people who matter to you once in a while.
Changing how you approach your daily life and being intentional about how you spend your time can make a huge difference in your overall happiness. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time or energy, but it does have to take some. Find the places in your life where you can “declutter,” so to speak, and replace what you’ve been doing with something that makes you happy. When you have a solid foundation of joy, you’ll be better equipped to deal with the next unhappy event that 2020 (or any other year) throws at us.