In Gratitude, Life Management, Managing Priorities

“We live in a culture that tells us we’re supposed to be euphoric all the time, but that feeling isn’t sustainable.  Real happiness is quieter and calmer, but that sense of peace is deeply satisfying and can sustain you through life’s challenges.”

-Martha Beck, Finding Your Own North Star

Winning the lottery or getting a big promotion at work can make you feel bliss in the moment, but study after study shows that these things don’t bring us lasting happiness. You will find your bliss when you pursue activities that align with your values and are most meaningful to you, as well as being aware of the many small pleasures in your daily life, and being grateful for what you have right now.

You don’t have to look far to see that true happiness is something you can have right now, regardless of your circumstances. The key is to know how to dial it in!

June is National Rebuild Your Life Month…a great time to examine ways that you can choose and create happiness in your life right now!

Consider the life of Nick Vujicic, author of Limitless: Devotions for a Ridiculously Good Life.  He was born with Tetra-amelia Syndrome–a rare disorder characterized by the absence of arms and legs. Click here to watch a short video and hear from this amazing man, whose motto is: “No arms, no legs, no worries!”  You can also hear his TED Talk, as he teaches his audience how to turn obstacles into opportunities.

Robert Lustig, MD, wrote a fascinating book called The Hacking of the American Mind: The Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of Our Bodies and Brains. When you buy something that makes you feel happy in the moment, the brain releases the “reward chemical” dopamine into your system. Unfortunately, over time you need more and more of those experiences to get the same effect. At the same time, your stress levels—often created by the need to make more money so you can buy more things–reduces serotonin, which is the “happy chemical” released by your brain. Dr. Lustig says that “the constant seeking of pleasure–whether it’s from shopping, drugs, sex or food–makes it harder and harder to feel happy.”

Instead of buying something, take time to notice moments of joy in your life right now and fully experience it. We have these moments all the time, but we’ve learned to ignore them because they are usually not intense.  Take time to feel grateful for what you have right now.

What makes you feel those moments of joy?  For some, experiencing nature can bring great joy…a beautiful sunset, birds in song, a rainbow, fluffy clouds overhead, the roar of ocean waves. For others, spending time with animals helps us tap into unexpected joy. One of my favorite YouTube videos is of Christian, the lion cub, who was raised by humans and was reunited with them in the wild a year after he was released in Africa.  Watching their reunion epitomizes pure joy.

Passion for Your Work

Those who build a career around their interests and values get a lot of pleasure out of their work and find it much easier to slog through the aspects that are not so enjoyable.  Do you have a burning desire to do something different than you are doing now?  It’s never too late to make a career shift.

Carve out a little time each day to explore possibilities. If your circumstances do not provide the freedom for you to change careers, consider volunteer activities or hobbies that will give you a greater sense of meaning in your life.  You don’t have to quit your day job to pursue something that brings you joy.

When people ask how Debbi Fields, founder of Mrs. Fields Cookies, turned her cookie recipe into a $450 million company, she says she grew up in an extremely wealthy family. But since her father made $15,000 per year as a welder for the US Navy and her mother stayed home raising five children, their wealth wasn’t monetary. Her father taught her that wealth was found in family, friends and doing what you love. She took that advice and built a business empire around a single cookie recipe.

What wealth might you find by exploring your passions?

Practice kindness, compassion & generosity

Another way to experience joy is by practicing acts of kindness, compassion and generosity. By training your mind to focus on these things, joyful thoughts and feelings begin to occur naturally and effortlessly.

Even inmates locked up in prison can experience bliss and joy in their daily lives, as they learn how to practice acts of kindness while giving their lives meaning and paying their debt back to society.

How do they do this?

In 1981, Sister Pauline Quinn began the first dog training program for prison rehabilitation, called Pathways to Hope. She started other dog training programs across the US, providing opportunities for inmates. She believed the programs would offer them renewed hope through the love of animals, just as she had experienced in her own life. She says that dogs “love us unconditionally, and people need that — especially people who are wounded, they need to feel loved. So the dog is very much a healing tool.” Her successful dog training programs have inspired others to follow in her path.

Dozens of prisons across the US have started dog training programs. In some cases, selected inmates work with dogs rescued from high-kill shelters. (The Humane Society of the US reports that 2.7 million adoptable cats and dogs are euthanized in shelters each year.)  The inmates learn how to train the dogs, and once they are trained they become adoptable. In other cases, they are trained to become service dogs to help people with physical or mental disabilities, or leader dogs for the blind.  Other dogs are trained to sniff out narcotics in airports or other public areas, or to track down wildlife threats at national parks. The programs can vary widely in purpose and structure. Some prisons also have programs for cat rescue.

These programs help prisoners to believe in themselves and have a purpose for getting up every morning. It also provides inmates with skills they can use when they are released from prison, and it “softens” the inmates, thus reducing behavioral problems. Bad behavior gets inmates kicked out of the program, so participants are highly motivated to stay on their best behavior. It’s amazing to see a hardened criminal “tough guy” reduced to tears when it’s time for his dog to graduate from the training program.

Be in the Present

If a prison inmate can find bliss, meaning and joy in daily life, you can too, with a little discipline.

Typically, depression is associated with ruminating about the past, and anxiety is associated with worrying about the future. The more you can keep your mind focused on the present, the more control you have over your ability to experience joy and meaning.  Living in the moment is one of the most powerful things you can do to build solid mental health. This is one reason why meditation, yoga, and other mindfulness practices have become so popular.

Martha Beck, author of Finding Your Own North Star, reminds us that “as you start meditating and paying attention to your emotions, you notice that happiness and sadness are like a roller coaster—they both inevitably go up and down. By teaching you to become a witness to your emotions, meditation allows you to get off the roller coaster and watch its movement from the safety of solid ground.”

Sadness and adversity, happiness and joy …without these contrasting emotions we wouldn’t appreciate or even recognize what bliss feels like…so acknowledge your emotions and appreciate them all.

Being mindful and staying focused in the present requires forming some new habits. Mallika Chopra suggests beginning each day by setting an intention for the next 16 hours or so. Her father, Deepak Chopra, taught her this daily practice as she was growing up…

Ask yourself these three questions every morning:

  1. What will make me feel healthy today? How can you nurture your body…healthy food, hydration, exercise? Pick one thing you can commit to today for your health.
  2. What will make me feel connected today? Our relationships with those we care about can bring a deep sense of joy. Choose someone you’d like to reach out and connect with today.
  3. What will give me a sense of purpose today? Choose one meaningful activity or action you will take today that honors your values and helps you feel on purpose.

Lyrics to a song I wrote in 2011 guide my life today. Listen to Your Heart is very much my message to friends, family, and clients – and is the core principle around which my work as a Life Architect is aligned.

Would you like support and encouragement as you identify ways to create bliss and joy in your life?  Let’s schedule a no-cost discovery call by phone.

Did you like this article, Find Your Bliss? What’s one thing you will do–beginning today–to let go of regrets from the past and worry about the future, so you can find your bliss in the present? Please comment below.

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