A Year Studying Happiness

By Nicole Leth

It was sometime late last Winter when I decided I wanted to start researching happiness. I can remember it like it was yesterday — it was late January, it seemed like the sun hadn’t been out for weeks on end, and I had a mean case of the “winter blues”. I was exhausted, I was emotional, I couldn’t find my passion for my work that usually comes easy to me, I was frustrated about nothing and everything all at the same time. Do you know the feeling? Have you been this version of me? If so, congratulations, you’re a human being and I want you to be gentle to yourself the next time you feel these things. Or throw yourself into an expectation-free hobby that brings you joy. That’s what I did.

Wait, let me rephrase that. I couldn’t figure out a hobby that brought me joy or made me happy so I just decided to make my hobby learning about happiness. Baby steps, right? Information is power, right? Honestly, yes – I really think so.

I started out by reading all the books and blog posts I could find about happiness and/or people on quests to find it (here’s lookin’ at you, Gretchen Rubin), then came the happiness podcasts, and then, finally, the real life field work on my own. This looked like daily introspection and reflection, important question asking, and making time for meaningful conversations and eye contact with friends and people I met out in the world. I learned about other people’s definitions of happiness, I worked on identifying the things that challenge our happiness, and slowly but surely — I started feeling happier in an informed and sustainable way that I can’t say I’ve felt before.

So, this brings me to this blog post. I wanted to write about something that meant something to me and was relevant for this season in our lives we’re currently going through. I realized last week that it is officially late winter, again, but more importantly the fact that it’s late winter also means it has been a full year since I started my happiness research. Time flies when you’re finding happiness.

Maybe you’re in the thick of it right now, juggling family stuff and job stuff and life stuff all at once. Maybe you’re feeling those winter blues I mentioned earlier. Maybe you’ve started 2020 off with a bang and you’re wanting to keep the momentum. Whoever you are, dear blog reader, I made the realest “action plan, how-to list for happiness” that I knew how to make, just for you. I still don’t know everything about this happiness situation, but I learned a lot and real humans helped me learn a lot and this list helped me and I think that means something. I hope it means something to you too.

hOW TO BE HAPPY

1. Ask yourself what you’re grateful for, every single day.

For me it’s every single night. My husband and I lay there in bed and literally, out loud, right there in the dark; “What were you grateful for today?” And we talk about it, even if just for a few seconds. And sometimes it’s silly, “I’m grateful for Honeydew (our gigantic Irish Wolfhound) because she tried to eat peanut butter today and looked like a frog and it made me laugh”. But sometimes, it’s been a hard day and everything’s gone wrong and the world was hard to digest and our gratitude looks different. Our health, our imperfect but loving family, our beating hearts, our resilience and return to love in the face of tragedy. Sometimes gratitude looks like that too. 

Can I tell you one more thing about gratitude? It’s directly linked to joy. More times than not the things that you’re grateful are also the things that bring you joy, or make you happy, in one way or another. Sometimes it’s the little things, sometimes it’s the big things, sometimes it’s silly, sometimes it’s the real and raw things. When you identify what you’re grateful for you also begin to get a glimpse at what makes you happy. 

2. Take an inventory of your input. 

What you put into your body, how you spend your time, or what you consume with your mind directly impacts how you feel. When you take in something unfulfilling or unsupportive of your mental or physical needs, you feel bad, exhausted, or insufficient. When your inputs are things that are fulfilling, affirmative, thought provoking, or growth saturating you feel capable, empowered, and overflowing with enough-ness.  This is a big one. This is a challenging one. 

Pay attention to how the things that you allow into your body, schedule, heart, or mind make you feel. Are there things that take more from you than they give back? Are there relationships that make you question your inherent worth? Are there habits that make you feel like you’re taking steps away from the person that you want to be?

For me, this looked like deleting Instagram, changing careers, ending a few friendships, and starting a daily movement practice. What would it look like for you? Happiness can look like giving your energy to the things that give energy back to you. 

3. Minimize distractions, sit with discomfort. 

Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes people are hard. Sometimes the world is too chaotic to digest. Not one single person on this planet gets a free-pass that will protect them from feeling these things at some point in their life. To be a human is to be imperfect. To be a human is to be faced with life’s challenges and discomforts. To be a happy human is allowing yourself to sit with the discomfort without having to identify with it. Then moving through it with grace, a refrain from judgement, and compassion for yourself. 

The easy thing to do when life gets hard is to use things to numb oneself or act as distractions from the discomfort. This can look like toxic relationships, substances, screens, spending, etc. But what I’ve learned (the hard way) is that when you distract yourself from the hard, uncomfortable parts of life you also distract yourself from the good parts, the joyful parts. When you numb yourself from feeling bad, you also numb yourself from feeling good. Numbing impacts our tolerance for feeling, period. 

The next time you have a hard day, you get your heart broken, or feel blue — challenge yourself to stay present despite the discomfort. I will absolutely promise you the discomfort will not last forever, and if you stay present you’ll understand how you move through the hard parts. I will absolutely promise you that leaning into discomfort is what triggers growth. I will absolutely promise you that the hard parts of life have purpose too. Your presence during the hard days will inform your happiness on the good days. 

4. Reflect, Speak your truth, Forgive. 

While I was in the thick of my research and self-study, I realized one of the biggest things that kept me from fully embracing happiness were the endings in my life that seemed unresolved, i.e. loose ends. We’ve already established that to be a human being means to be imperfect, right? Well that also means that not all of our endings in our lives are going to be wrapped up with a pretty bow and a tidy cursive tag that reads “closure”. 

A lot of my loose ends looked like relationships from my past that I felt were unfair in some way, shape, or form. I think we all have our own versions of those things — places where our minds go during major life events that are supposed to make us happy, but instead a voice whispers “this would be better if so-and-so hadn’t left things this way” or “if this-and-that wouldn’t have happened”. Sometimes past trauma tries to tell us we aren’t deserving of our own happiness. Sometimes it’s up to us to stand up to that voice and find closure for ourselves.

I wrote letters, but you can approach this many different unique ways too. I wrote them to all the people who I had those joy-stealing loose ends with. I wrote everything that I ever wanted to say to them. I created the closure that I craved. And then I did the most important thing, I forced myself to find the good that came out of that ending and I said thank you to every one of those people. I didn’t send the letters but that’s also not the point. Healing (and happiness) looks like creating the closure that you need to move onwards and upwards to the happiness you deserve.

5. Play

I learned something life-changing during the research. We’ve been told to think of happiness as the opposite of sadness, but really the truth is that play is the opposite of sadness. I’ll say it again. Play is the opposite of sadness. This entire time, we’ve been putting so much pressure on happiness to be the answer to all of our blues and woes but really, all we needed to do was let down our barriers and relax our shoulders and just play. Remember earlier in this post where I told you the next time you’re feeling blue to find an expectation-free hobby to throw yourself into? That’s play. Something that is free of expectations. Something that brings you joy just by the act of doing. Find yours today! 

6. Connect

Connection is the basis of all human happiness. This resonated all throughout the research. Healthy relationships, eye contact, touch, meaningful conversations, shared experiences, talking about trauma, laughter, literature, art, yoga (!!!). When we engage in activities that support the human condition by allowing us to witness and have access the lives of other humans, we feel seen and validated. We’re reminded that we are not alone in whatever we’re feeling or working through. When we feel seen and validated we know true happiness. Allow yourself to be truly seen and really see others — it’s good for the soul. 

 

 

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About Kirk: 

Kirk was working 80-hour weeks and wearing his shoulders as earrings when he found yoga in 2005. Forever the competitive athlete, he loved the physicality of yoga. When the spiritual and philosophical side of yoga were exposed to him, Kirk was hooked. Yoga provided him with what other activities couldn’t -- the ability to foster the benefits of practice both on and off of the mat. Yoga was something that Kirk could bring into all aspects of his life. 

Kirk knows that yoga can be intimidating, so he crafts a class that is playful and inviting, while still being challenging and safe. His creatively planned classes build strength and flexibility in your body and mind while establishing clarity, giving you more confidence to overcome obstacles in your life, and keeping you injury-free. His classes are themed with a message that is relatable and will inspire you to take it with you off your mat. Kirk has been teaching yoga since 2008 and lead his first teacher training in 2012. Where Kirk truly shines is in coaching, developing and bringing out the best in others.  

Kirk enjoys traveling (40+ countries to date!), snowboarding, and cherishes time with his wife and two daughters. 

About Christen: 

Christen Bakken’s yoga journey began in 1998 in a Bikram studio that provided a safe and secure place to practice. She saw the yoga mat as a place to remember her purpose and a place to play. As she continued her studies and began her journey to teaching in 2006, Christen infused yoga classes with devotion and the yoga mat became a place of personal transformation and healing. Her classes are filled with laughter, song, sweat, and usually heart openers. In 2013, Christen began training yoga teachers. This is the place where she finds the most joy - in community with folks looking to grow and be of greater service in their homes, on their mats, and in the world. Over the years, she has led trainings in Denver, the Midwest, Florida, and now abroad. She has trained in continuing education modules, 200-hour, 300-hour, and 500-hour programs. Beyond the mat, Christen is a passionate adventure seeker - she loves to bike, snowboard, and spend time with her husband and pups. She sees each day as a blessing and hopes to remind all who interact with her of this truth.  

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A Year Studying Happiness Info