“Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.”
— Dalai Lama
Practice makes perfect, or “use makes mastery” as the saying used to be (kinda like that version better). I’m not sure about getting to the perfect part, but over time I’ve discovered that working on certain habits, what I call my “practices,” is necessary if I want to feel my very best.
When I do these things daily, I am more creative, more productive, and overall happier. These practices are part of the work necessary to be my best Self, and I feel obligated, by virtue of being a unique human being given certain talents/gifts, to work towards my best Self. As the saying goes, “be the best you can be” (I’m full of sayings today, it seems.)
Do or Do Not, There is No Try
You would think, then, that I would just DO all of these practices, but there is that human tendency to do the opposite of what is good for us. You know, the good-for-you things take effort. They are not easy. It’s easy to sit on the couch eating bonbons out of a box, watching TV all day (although, thinking this through, if my goals were to be a jolly Christmas Santa and good at playing Trivial Pursuit, perhaps that’s exactly what I would have to do…anyway, you get my point.)
I would rather be a happy-creative-best-self person, so I work at my practices. Some days I do better than others, some practices are harder than others, but over the last year I have begun to make many of these stick.
My 10 Practices
Sorry, I know I’m being cliché with my list of ten, but I didn’t try to come up with ten, it just worked out that way.
1. Exercise, especially cardio
Exercise is at the top of my list because it’s the good habit I’ve done the longest, and it consistently makes me feel better, physically and mentally. If I’m not exercising regularly (and I’ve tried this experiment), then I feel pretty crappy.
Currently I’m only doing 30 minutes on the treadmill (walking mostly, 3.8 max speed, level 4 incline sometimes, intermittent low-level jogging) and doing some stretching 5-6 days a week. It’s not much, but it makes a big, positive impact.
2. Ingesting only good-for-you stuff
Back in spring, Mike and I tried the Whole30 program. There’s a lot more behind it, but essentially, for 30 days you eliminate any food/drink that is potentially inflammatory or harmful to your system, and you eat only real, whole foods (nothing processed). While I did not make the full 30 days (some Life interrupted), the mental and physical change I experienced after two weeks (and Mike’s best cholesterol/triglyceride numbers ever) convinced me that what you consume in food and drink makes a HUGE impact on your health and how you feel. This seems obvious, but I didn’t really know the concept until I experienced the benefits for myself.
Do I keep up with it? Not always, but I’m striving to be more consistent.
I recently read 10% Happier by Dan Harris, “…an unexpected, hilarious, and deeply skeptical odyssey through the strange worlds of spirituality and self-help” – basically a cool book about meditation. If you have never tried meditation, I highly recommend it (and the book). I meditate every morning, currently for 15 minutes. Sometimes I’m “good” at it, mostly I suck, but it is immensely helpful in calming the inner chatter and helping me be more focused and mindful.
4. Keeping a journal
I used to feel really stupid doing this, but I kept at it, and now I write (mostly) every morning, and I love it. I have a cheap composition notebook, a favorite purple pen, and I get to practice my penmanship while I’m at it (on a side note, I feel sorry for generations growing up without learning cursive writing! If nothing else, I find it very satisfying putting pen to paper.)
5. Being mindful
“Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”
– Psychology Today
As an artist, I think I am already prone to be “aware” and take notice of visual details, but living in the moment is a challenge. The Most Important Moment by Leo Babauta really put “living in the moment” in perspective for me:
Something I forget a lot, and have to remind myself about a lot: I’m not on my way somewhere. This moment isn’t just a stepping stone to get to another place. It’s the destination. I’m already here. I’m not on my way to a more important moment. This current moment is the most important moment.
By some standards, Mike and I live a pretty “simple” life, but I consider us very wealthy in so many ways. I take a moment every morning to be grateful for all that is good in my life, and I try not to take anything for granted.
7. Living by, not against, my values
Took me awhile, but I figured out that living my life going against what I believed in = feeling crappy. I wasn’t really even aware of what my values were, but once articulated, and once I measured my thoughts and actions against those values, I could see where and why I was unhappy.
8. Helping others
I believe helping/supporting/loving others is part of our “job” on this planet. It’s just the right thing to do, but it is also immensely satisfying. I’m working at being more deliberate about this instead of thinking about my own wants and needs all the time.
9. Compassion, for myself too
To be honest, I’m nowhere near being good at this, especially for myself (and all the “idiots” I encounter on the internet). But, I have high hopes for myself (and the idiots), and I work at getting better every day.
10. Simply trying to be happier
Lastly, I’m simply trying to be happier. In 1988, Don’t Worry, Be Happy was on the radio and MTV. Constant and everywhere. Cute, fun, eventually annoying, BUT Bobby McFerrin had a point. I’ve been a worrier all my life (I inherited this from my mom), and I decided recently to just stop. Stop thinking of myself as a worrier and just stop worrying. Be happy! Easier said than done, but worrying is not helpful in the least.
So, 27 years later I’m taking Bobby’s advice plus adding a few practices I’ve learned (and am still learning) along the way. Use makes mastery.