A smile is the best accessory.
This post came about as a bit of a reflection on a passing comment at work. A couple of day ago a co worker told me that they were a bit thrown when they initially met me because they thought ‘no one can be that happy all the time’. A simultaneously flattering and hilarious comment and one that I took as a positive rather than a questioning of my authenticity (or sanity). Quite frankly no-one can be happy all the time! It’s sort of impossible to be radiating sunshine at times when all you really want is food and to go to bed, or when your neighbour starts using their leaf blower at 6am on a Saturday. However for most part it’s possible to cultivate an attitude of happiness if you take time to work on it and are honest with yourself. I’m personally glad to give off an impression of ‘everlasting happiness’ even thought I know that this isn’t a constant state for me in all my waking hours (or my night time ones… apparently I’m a grumpy sleeper). The content of this post is based on my own personal scientific trial and error (oh… ok it’s pseudo science not real science) in infecting the world with smiles. I hope you can take something from it or add something at the end in the comments.
Self responsibility: This seasons must have
Have you ever lied to yourself? I bet you have! Even if you haven’t actively caught yourself doing, you will -at some point in you life- have told yourself at least one lie. From the doozies like ‘yeah it’s OK for me to sleep with my best friends boyfriend’ (this scenario is invented…not speaking from experience) to the little mistruths of ‘my life would be so much less stressful if my butt looked better in jeans’, lies are part of our daily mental mind chatter. There is no stopping your brain when it is trying to go against your gut instinct, but cultivating a sense of self responsibility for your thoughts can really aid in making sure that you filter the bad ideas out before they becoming beliefs or (worse still) actions. Cultivating this kind of filtration system can really help you catch the mental negatives and stop them in their tracks and can allow you to actively choose a happier alternative without lying to yourself about your real happiness levels. It sounds complicated but with some practice it’s achievable and worth working on because most know that happy people are the prettiest people.
Practices for stopping negativity in its tracks.
Before I get into some tips I’m going to give you a disclaimer. I am in no way a happiness guru. The only reason I’m sharing this with you right now is that life keeps serving me problem after problem and what I’m going through right now has been one of the most challenging times of my adult life. Despite the relentless challenges that the end of 2016 and these first two months of 2017 have presented I feel that by having these tips under my belt I’ve been able to get through without resorting to crying in the foetal position under my desk with a bottle of tequila (which has crossed my mind a bunch of times). It would be mean to keep these kind of gems to myself if they could potentially aid others in being happy.
Negativity loves negativity! When you get that shit together it breeds and makes a whole colony of negativity babies who then go on to inhabit that space between your ears and multiply like bunnies. One those angry black bunnies of nasty inhabit your head space it can be pretty difficult to get them to hop on out of your brain. Having a gratitude practice in place allows you to fight the negative with positive. I’ve shared my personal practice a few times before but if you are new then I reccommend taking a few minutes in silent reflection each day (I do mine first thing) to think about the things you are grateful for, breathing out a mental ‘thank you’ for each one, then write a few of them down. Having a book of positives to refer to when you get into a mental funk can be a mood saver.
Offer help and ask for help.
Just like negativity, positivity multiplies in the presence of positivity. If you find yourself down or see that someone else is down make sure that you allow space for sharing. As an empath the ability to listen has always come naturally to me. It’s not until times get tough and I need to share that I realise how few people make the space for others to share honestly with them. One of the best gifts you can give is an ear for someone in need. This doesn’t mean you can offload your issues onto them, but listening (and sharing empathetically if the person offers for sharing) can really aid you in your own understanding of your life, what makes you happy, and gives a basis of comparison from which you can draw how lucky and grateful you are for your situation. On the flip side, allowing yourself to honestly share when you are feeling down requires a great deal of self responsibility (in admitting you aren’t ok and do need help) and is a great way to increase your happiness levels. They say that a problem shared is a problem halved! If you need help reach out and remember how good it feels to be supported so that you stay motivated to offer a kind ear for others too.
Work each day towards finding your passion or purpose.
If the heading above sounds like a bunch of buzz words put together to make you feel better about life then congratulate yourself for your critical thinking prowess. In the age of positive affirmations, the wellness industry, and commercialised happiness there should be some doubt in your mind when you read words like this. Truthfully I’m not sure if you will get anything from this blab-fest either, but for me passion and purpose is the key to my relatively stable level of happiness. I’m in no way happy all the time. In fact Ged would probably testify for my extremely grumpy and frustrated side. However, my passion and purpose for sustainability education has kept me on track, focused, and happy even when I’ve been broke, working every day of the week, and blogging before the sun rises or well after the witching hour.
Finding your passion and following it is not usually an easy decision because we are programmed by educational institutions, family, friends, and culture to expect or take certain paths or vocations in life. Our passions don’t always fit with these ideals. You might have been told by a well meaning careers councillor you should be aiming for a degree in astro physics when all you want to do is mow lawns- then find yourself as a top astro physicist dreaming of riding your John Deer while you are at work. My best tip for working out your passion is to remember what you really wanted to be as a kid, gauge what your place of effortless effort is, and work from there. Effortless effort is thing/s that you do that comes with ease. It could be as complex as algebra or mixing chemicals for fabric dying, or as seemingly simple as parenting, mowing, or baking a really good cookie. If you could turn that effortless effort into a vocation would it make you happy? What about a vocation that included some element of this effortless effort with a side serving of challenge? For many of us the combination of what we loved as a child, what we do well with ease, and a little bit of a challenge can really make our hearts sing and pique our interests in the long term. If we choose to pursue or passions they sometimes need a side job to support them financially, but as long as we know that we are able to do those things we are passionate about, the side jobs aren’t all that bad (especially if you can get one that compliments your passion).
The writer/artist/scientist/fashion lover.
Just for an example I’m going to share my story. I wrote and illustrated my first book in primary school. As a huge fan of all things horror and spooky the book was a collection of creepy short stories. It wasn’t a best seller (there was only one copy) but I was so proud of my work and found it came with ease. Throughout high school I pursued my creative endeavours through art and graphic design with little focus on the written work, but continued to journal and write stories on the side. In high school my creative writing managed to divide friendships (in retrospect I probably shouldn’t have written horror stories about classmates) but the ease in which my creative writing flowed I thought nothing of the power of the words I put to paper. My careers teacher suggested I turn my passion for art into a career through fine art or fashion. When I failed to be accepted into fine art due to incredibly high admission scores my fall back was fashion. Though my time in this industry was incredibly fortunate and varied and worked with my place of effortless effort in creating, my mind got bored quickly, and the fast-fashion values of the industry at the time didn’t sit well with my upbringing.
Speeding through uni and my science degree I will admit one thing. The technicalities of science are not easy for me! I had to work at it! Straight science is not a place of effortless effort for me. What I didn’t have to work hard on during my degree was the creative thinking (which is what science is founded on) and the writing. Turns out that after all these round-about years, writing was actually my long-lasting area of effortless effort. The challenge of using a scientific line of thought to deliver complex messages in a way that others can understand is what keeps me coming back. Sustainability education is my calling to use my skills to aid others in up-skilling themselves and helping us move towards a less-dire-looking future. Fashion is the platform for delivery because it’s just too freaking hard to tackle all the environmental issues at once (plus clothes are more fun to write about than invisible gasses that kill people or the fact that all the polar bears will be out of ice soon).
If I was given a choice in life and there was no calling for sustainability education I would be writing and painting creatively. Until that magic day comes when we no longer have to talk about sustainability issues because we have none, I plan to use these creative tools to do what I can to inspire others. Is it right? I dunno. Does it make me happy even when I’m broke, scrubbing lab beakers and emptying biohazards waste bins? HELL YES! So while doing these add-on money making practices can be a little tiresome or frustrating it’s totally worth it to feel a sense of purpose, happiness and gratitude towards each day. It also has the added benefit of confusing coworkers with your overly chipper bin emptying demeanour (and it’s always good to keep your coworkers guessing the source of your happiness).