What happens when you are hungry?
You do not complain about it. You don’t pity yourself. You don’t look for someone to blame. You find and eat food. You take an active approach.
Maybe you cook your food. Or you buy it, or get someone to prepare it for you. The point is, you do NOT take on the role of a victim, and you take the necessary steps to feed yourself.
Happiness is much the same. You can take an active approach to your emotions. Let’s find out how.
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The World We Live In
The world we live in is both beautiful and harsh.
You may be happy today but circumstances will change with time. You will change with time. Something that made you happy today, may make you unhappy tomorrow.
There is no process, no How-To that can guarantee absolute uninterrupted happiness. It is in the nature of the world to be in flux and to change.
Negative emotions are a part of the human experience. But, you can take steps to increase the likelihood of experiencing positive emotions–You can create an Ecosystem of Happiness.
Before we talk about building your personal Ecosystem of Happiness, let’s quickly review 2 ways to NOT approach personal happiness.
DON’T: Give Up Responsibility
When life is tough and we feel beaten, it is natural to want to blame people from your past.
Or to make your partner responsible for how you are feeling. Another common way is to think a higher power will solve all your personal problems.
These are not very effective ways of dealing with life’s challenges. I know this because I have tried every one of them.
I was a cliché–I was an angry and confused teenager.
I have tried every mystical technique and self-help book out there to build a better life. And it was only when I started taking responsibility and a proactive approach to my happiness, did I find meaningful and lasting change.
Being religious, and finding someone you love are wonderful things. But try to approach them from a place of abundance, and not neediness.
DON’T: Try to Eliminate Negative Emotions
We have all done it–trying to stop feeling hopeless, sad, lonely, scared, …
Unfortunately, focusing on negative emotions will not make them go away. You can spend years of your life employing this strategy with no results.
Instead, focus on creating processes that support you and nourish you. This is what is called the Ecosystem of Happiness.
Ecosystem of Happiness
As you may have guessed, your Ecosystem of Happiness is about creating an environment that promotes positive emotions.
The pillars of the Ecosystem are below. You do not have to follow ALL, but try to incorporate AS MANY as you can. If you are very busy, start with any one that you find the easiest.
Create Your Ecosystem of Happiness
1. Create Your Ecosystem: Path and Purpose
Being on your Path and Purpose means having a vision of where you want to be, and then walking the path.
It is about defining your happiness. If you do not define what you want to get out of life, it is unlikely that you will be happy.
Your Path and Purpose, let you define the habits and routines of your life. They help you tolerate hardships and make you forget the petty problems of everyday living.
There is a road that leads off your Path and Purpose, that you want to avoid. This is the Cycle of Unconsciousness and Overstimulation.
Here are the common forms of Unconsciousness in society today.
- Doing repetitive work that does not engage you.
- Being chronically over-worked, over-stressed and under-slept.
- Binge-watching T.V. series.
- Excessive use of alcohol and drugs.
A life of unconsciousness, makes you want to seek out easy ways to make you feel alive–Overstimulation.
Here are the common forms of Overstimulation in society today.
- Chasing Likes on Social Media.
- Reacting emotionally to sensational news.
- Addiction to screens.
- Eating high-calorie junk foods to get a sugar rush.
Break the Cycle of Unconsciousness and Overstimulation, by being on your Path and Purpose. You can check out my ultimate guide to achieving your purpose–5 Strategies That Will Make You Conquer Life Goals.
2. Create Your Ecosystem: Social Life
Luckily for us, happiness is a very well researched field.
And the results are in–good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period. Unfortunately, the opposite is true for loneliness and high-conflict relationships.
If you are struggling with loneliness, here are a few tips that might help.
- Attend Meetups. This is a great alternative to social media and lets you actually meet people.
- Connect with your parents. You would be surprised how cool and intelligent they are.
- Get a pet. A furry friend will cheer you up, and love you unconditionally.
- Accept invitations. If you are invited by someone to do something, accept.
- Take the initiative. Take the first step and invite others out to do things.
- Learn social skills. Complimenting, asking open-ended questions and appearing confident go a long way.
- Learn body language. Non-verbal communication plays an important role in social interactions.
3. Create Your Ecosystem: Nutrition
I am not a doctor, so I am going to let Harvard Medical School do the heavy lifting here.
“Put simply, what you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain and, ultimately, your mood.”
Look at it this way: Your brain runs on fuel and that fuel comes from your food. Just like a car, your brain works best when you give it premium fuel.
Predictably, eating poor food can lead to depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and a host of other mood disorders. I won’t go into the science here, but if you are interested I would recommend Julia Ross’s, The Mood Cure.
Most of us agree that we need to be eating healthy.
Unfortunately, what constitutes a healthy diet is a topic of much debate. Nutrition is the only field where experts can scientifically prove opposing theories, and still be right!
Flip-flopping news headlines only add to the confusion–Eggs Are Bad–Then Good–Then Bad Again?
Despite this confusion, there are core principles of healthy eating that all Nutritionists agree on:
- DRINK MORE WATER.
- Start your day with breakfast.
- Eat more fruits and veggies.
- Avoid added sugar like the plague it is.
- Do not eat junk food (packaged food). Just don’t do it.
- Olive oil is awesome.
- Fish is pretty cool too.
- Skip the fast food. Cook your meals.
If you would like an introduction to the major nutritional philosophies, read Integrative Nutrition by Joshua Rosenthal. It will help you decide which works for you.
4. Create Your Ecosystem: Books
Why should I sit down, open a boring book (with no pictures!) and read?
Well, we are the sum of our influences. And if you do an audit of your everyday influences, you might be in for a shock.
T.V… Ads… Movies… Social Media… Gossip…
A cheap, and easy way to add quality influences to your life is books. Someone has spent a lot of time and effort, to share their best ideas with you. Why wouldn’t you want to read?
When I had my corporate job, it was tough finding the time to sit down and read. I was barely reading 2 books a year. But then I discovered Audiobooks and started listening to them during my commute.
With Audiobooks, I could easily finish 1- 2 books a month. You may find them to be a great way to reclaim lost time, like driving.
The books you may want to read would depend on your interests and goals. Google would probably be the best way to find the books to kickstart your reading habit.
5. Create Your Ecosystem: Meditation
Meditation is about calming your frenzied mind.
The mind is a powerful tool. And a powerful tool requires skill to operate. Most of the time, it can feel like our minds are using us, instead of the other way around!
I am sure you already know, but here is a quick review of the major benefits of Meditation.
- Reduction of stress and anxiety is the most common reason for meditating.
- Promotes emotional health and a more happy outlook on life.
- Helps you know yourself and make positive changes.
- Improves your concentration and attention span.
- Enhances sleep quality and decreases the time it takes to fall asleep.
And no, you don’t have to be deeply spiritual or live in a monastery to Meditate. Anyone can do it.
To get you started today, here is a 10 Minute Meditation Technique, adapted from The Tibetan Book of Living & Dying.
- Sit comfortably with your back straight. Relaxed and still.
- Close your eyes, breathe naturally and focus lightly on the out-breath.
- Every time you breathe out, imagine letting go and releasing all your grasping.
- Each time you breathe out and before you breathe in again, you will find there is a natural gap. Rest in that gap.
- Slowly, become one with your breath.
To learn a lot more about Meditation and how to integrate it into your life, have a look at this very helpful book by Eckhart Tolle–The Power of Now.
6. Create Your Ecosystem: Working Out
Did you ever go for a run after a stressful day? How did you feel afterwards?
Just like Nutrition, Working Out has mental health benefits. According to the American Psychological Association,
“The exercise-mental health connection is becoming impossible to ignore.”
Research has found that Working Out is an effective antidepressant. And that is with ZERO side-effects. So that means Working Out will make you fitter, healthier and put you in a positive mood? That’s one attractive human!
There are two basic ways to go about it–either join a gym/yoga class or work out at home. Both have their advantages.
If you are an absolute beginner, it’s best to work out at a gym with an instructor. On the other hand, working out at home is super convenient and requires minimal equipment.
Sadly, statistics may get in the way of your fitness goals. Most fitness instructors are aware that 90% of people quit the gym within 3 months. I have been guilty as well and I understand why it is so: We get busy, and life happens.
But to create our Ecosystem of Happiness, we need to be working out throughout our lives. Here are some tips for working out consistently:
- You are likely to be tired in the evening. Workout in the morning.
- Do shorter workouts (High-Intensity Interval training).
- Do yourself a favour and pick a gym nearby.
- Be patient. Fitness results take time.
- Have a clear idea of why you want to be fit.
- Follow fitness instructors on Social Media.
- Track and reward your progress.
7. Create Your Ecosystem: Sleep
Say, you owned a supercar that you drove continuously at 200 mph and never gave it a break. That car would break down.
That is because high-performance machines need breaks for rest and repairs. You do own a high-performance machine–your body.
Yet sleep is often not taken too seriously by most of us. Here are some of the long-term effects of not getting proper sleep, according to the American Sleep Association.
- Four times more likely to have relationship problems.
- Three times more likely to be depressed.
- Increased chances of weight issues.
- Weakened immune system.
- 12% more likely to die over a 25 year period.
How much sleep is enough? 7- 9 hours every night. If you are finding it difficult to fall asleep at night, the culprit may be your smartphone.
Blue light from screens suppresses the production of your sleep hormone. Luckily, the solution is as simple as turning on Night Shift on your phone or installing a free app to do it for you.
Take it Slow
This is an intimidating list.
I don’t think anyone would be able to integrate all of the pillars of the Ecosystem, all at once. We live through extreme busyness and jobs requiring long working hours.
But you can start one thing at a time. Start wherever you like. Just start.
The happy news is that these pillars reinforce each other. Once you start Working Out, it is common to also clean up your diet. Meditation will help you sleep better…
Over to You…
You have made a commitment to yourself.
You just read a 2,000-word article to live a better, happier life! There is a lot to be done, but you are well on your way.
I wish you all the success and happiness in the world.
If you are suffering from severe depression, I would recommend seeing a qualified professional. Visiting a psychiatrist for my OCD, six years ago, was one of the best decisions of my life. I encourage you to do the same.
The pillars of your Ecosystem can be expanded. I have shared with you the ones that I found most helpful.
But I can think of others (that I do not have experience with)–Travelling, Being Close to Nature and Waking Up Early.
Which habits have contributed to long-term happiness in your life?