Friday, October 17, 2014

5 Practices for a Happier, Healthier Life

As many of you know, I turned 40 this year; and as such, it's become my year to quiet myself, listen to the source, be present more, and find my authenticity. I can't summarize every little "ah-ha" moment in one post, but back in August, I realized that for me to truly be happy and at my healthiest as a human, I need to practice five things every single day.

I'm not saying you have to do this. I'm saying, this is what I have found works for me. Every one's journey is their own, and if you don't practice these five things daily, you're not "doing life wrong" and you're not doomed to eternal unhappiness and poor health. Whether it's these five things, or something else, I encourage you to find your own list of what you can do daily to become a healthier and happier person. Because that's when we can all live our best lives (following our dreams) and fulfilling our purpose (serving others).
Ironically, I've been putting this blog post off for nearly two months. I jotted this list down in August, in a moment of quiet brilliance, and then let it sit...and sit...and sit...and then I got "busy" and let my roles and tasks take over, instead of listening to my soul.
And then...
Today I stumbled across a beautiful and timely post from Momastery creator and author Glennon Doyle Melton...and it was exactly the internal shift I needed in my life at exactly the right time. And there are no coincidences.
Glennon recently did a series of video interviews for Oprah Winfrey's OWN, and they were about "5 Habits Every Strong Woman Keeps." There are so many points I took away from this series that will live in my heart forever. She is extremely articulate at expressing the views that live within my soul, and I am thankful to her for putting words to my wings. I wish every human would watch these videos, not just women. Because to me, these "truths" are about nurturing and protecting your soul, your core, your authentic self, so that you can soar in this lifetime.
Like me, she is not telling you that you are not enough, or that you need to change. Rather, the secret truth is that you ARE enough. And she shares the five habits she has learned, to help others realize that as well. Because at the end of the day, she's just an average girl trying to change the world. She showed up. And she reminded me that I needed to show up, too.
So what five practices help keep me sane each day, and have moved me from "existing" to "living"? They're simple. But they are also some of the hardest things to do when you are hiding, existing, numbing. Sometimes finding the energy to just take one step in the right direction can feel like the hardest thing in the universe.
Do it anyway. 

My 5 Daily Practices

1) Move. We all know that exercise releases "feel good" chemicals in our brains. And I don't know about you, but every time I work out, I feel like I am ready to take on the world. And I always think to myself, "Damn! Why don't I do this every single day?" And then life gets in the way. I become "too busy." But I spend more time and energy feeling guilty about not moving, and coming up with excuses why I can't that day, than it would actually take to just move already!

I like Glennon's motto: "Show up before you're ready."
We all have hiding places where we retreat until we are "good enough" to "show up" in life. I recently experienced this with a fitness boot camp I have wanted to try for the longest time. But I kept feeling insecure, that I wouldn't be strong enough. I needed to get skinnier and stronger first before going to boot camp, so I didn't make a fool of myself in front of skinnier and stronger girls. So I get it. But I showed up before I was ready. And what did I find? A network of other supportive women and moms, many who were experiencing the same emotions as I was, whether they were skinny or not!
But moving doesn't have to mean grueling workouts that you hate. Find something your body and soul loves to do. Even if you feel like you will look like a fool. Show up. Find it. Move.

Here are a few fun ways to move*: Climb a tree, ride a bike, jump on a trampoline, have a dance party by yourself or with your kids, do some yoga, go to the park, take a walk, find a friend and play tennis (even if it's badly!), shoot some hoops, do a Wii workout, roller blade, or do some simple exercises while just "living." Seriously, I often do squats while loading the dishwasher, do side leg lifts while standing at the stove, do push ups with the kids, lift heavy toys up and down before putting them away. Are these silly? Sure. But they are the spark. The more you find ways to move and create positive forward energy (momentum) every single day, the more you will want to move, the more "feel good" chemicals are released, and it becomes a happy little cycle.
*Don't do anything dangerous. If you do, it's on your own accord. I'm not a doctor. Please check with yours if you have concerns about moving more each day.

2) Love. First let me start by saying: You don't have to be in a romantic relationship to show love every day. We can all find ways to be kind and loving to ourselves, a pet, a family member, a friend, a child, your waiter. The point is to find ways to be loving toward someone else. We get so busy in our lives that sometimes we simply exist side by side, forgetting how important it is for our souls to truly connect and see another person. Even the smallest words of kindness, or a simple act of love and friendship can turn someone's day around, and their whole outlook. You never know how one small act of love will ripple across the water and create a wave of positivity in someone else's life.

One of my favorite quotes of all times says: "It doesn't take a Herculean effort to be a miracle in someone else's life." 

Sometimes, just one little word or act of love will do. The best part? You can't give love without feeling love.    
3) Connect. What do I mean by connect? I mean connect spiritually. Each day, it's important for me to find some way to feel connected to a higher source. For some that's church. For others it might be the feelings of connectedness and stillness that arise in meditation or yoga. For others it's praying or journaling or singing. I do a handful of things to connect daily, including talking directly to God. Whatever fuels your soul and humbles you in the presence of something bigger, greater, seek it. Seek those moments. That's where the magic happens. Where you feel a deep sense of purpose and reckoning.  
One of the things Glennon does is she "spends time in the quiet." That's a place where she can disconnect from the craziness of life around her, and connect internally, soulfully, peacefully.
For me, I feel happiest when I've spent even a few moments each day to stop the noise, shut off the inner chatter in my neurotic head, and listen. Listen to my intuition, to my heart, to the voice that guides me...allow myself to reach out to God, to the infinite, to something bigger than myself. This connectedness does such a wonder for my soul and the peace in which I move through life. It makes me feel healthier inside. Happier in the way I treat myself and others. Calmer. More grounded.
There is a phrase that speaks to me in regards to this practice, and I'm sure you've all heard it before. It's this: "Let go. Let God."
In these quiet moments, I let go of my day. I let go of my stresses for just a few moments. I lay them down and am free. Empty. Open. I breathe. I connect. I listen. And in these moments, when I have truly connected to something higher than myself, and listened with an open heart, that's when I feel the closest to reaching the vast answers of the mysterious infinite, to understanding the meaning of life and my place in it.
Being free of judgment and self, and full of something greater.

4) Be Present. In the hustle and bustle of every day life, it's damn hard to be present all the time. And, in fact, I don't think you can be. We would never get anything done if we didn't mentally disconnect and zip through some of our day-to-day tasks. But the more I slow myself down, and the more present I can be in each moment, the happier and more fulfilled I feel at the end of the day. And the better choices I make for myself throughout it.
Another quote I love is from philosopher and poet Laozi, or Lao Tzu. You may better know him as the founder of Taoism. He said: "If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present."
Whether you agree or not, what I take from this philosophy is this: To be truly at peace, I have to be live more fully in the moment. Not feeling regrets about yesterday, not thinking about the zillion things I have to do tomorrow. But truly living in the moment, experiencing it and appreciating it as it happens. Slowing down. Breathing. Listening to and hearing those around me (really focusing on them and not multi-tasking on my cell phone). When I can let go and appreciate the exact moment I'm in, and just enjoy it, I am infinitely happier overall.
5GratitudeAh, last but perhaps the most important. Gratitude. We hear the term gratitude thrown around so much these days we almost become numb to it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm grateful for everything I have. I know how lucky I am, blah, blah, blah. Pass the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte already.

This goes deeper. Sure, it is important to express our gratitude each and every day. Because energy gathers where intentions scatter.
So when your intentions are thrown out there to the universe as positive, and coming from a place of abundance and gratitude, guess what? More surrounds you. When you can appreciate things on a soul level, you are more content. Even with the little things.

If it helps, at the end of each day, jot down things you're grateful for. Or, say them out loud. No, really. When you see something you're grateful for, say it out loud. "Hey, thank you for this book. I am so grateful to get a chance to read today. For having eyesight, and access to books whenever I want a new one. For getting five minutes to myself to read. Thank you, Universe!" Even if your gratitude seems petty and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, it's not. This gratitude becomes embedded in every cell of your body. And gratitude builds upon itself and multiplies.
But I like to do something even more than that, and it's this: Every morning, I wake up and put on my gratitude goggles. Yep. The first thing I do is put those puppies on. Why? Because when I consciously try to live from a place of gratitude, instead of negativity, the world opens up for me. When I have the weight of the world on my shoulders, and everything is going wrong, I have  a choice. I can either choose to stay there, down in the dumps, or I can choose to look toward the light.
Just for one day, try looking at things from a place of abundance and gratitude, and don't dwell on what's imperfect or lacking. Whether it's in reference to our bodies, our homes, our spouses, our kids, or our jobs, when we are truly able to find something positive and recognize it, love it, honor it, nurture it, proclaim it, own it...that's empowering. That's life changing.
And it's actually harder than it sounds. But the next time you look around at your messy house, try not to see just a messy house. Use your gratitude goggles and see the love that surrounds you. Rejoice in the fact that you have a home, and furnishings, and stuff to make it messy with. See that the pile of blocks on the floor isn't a nuisance, and your kids aren't lazy. It means that your children had a good day. Be thankful for that.
Another aspect of gratitude and abundance is the power of paying it forward and empowering others to succeed. When you realize that there is more than enough to go around, it's easier to get outside of your head (and insecure thoughts) and truly encourage, champion, and empower others to succeed. One of my favorite quotes from Glennon's time on OWN was about just this (please forgive me, Glennon, for changing "women" to "people" to make it more universal for the sake of this post). 
"We are all insecure. But insecure [people] mask their insecurities by tearing others down. Strong [people] raise each other up."  
It's like the author Colleen Hoover says, there's no need to compete against each other. When a reader is done with one book, they're going to want to read another.
I am not perfect by any means, nor do I ever want to be, because then my journey will be done. But when I am at my happiest, and feel the most at peace, I find it's when I am making time for myself and for these five little practices each day. If you're interested in implementing them, but can't find the time, try focusing on one a week for five weeks. See which ones make you feel better mentally, physically, spiritually. Use what works for you, toss the rest, or better yet, create your own. Because after all, it's not about being perfect and having to do everything just so. That won't lead to happiness. Happiness comes first and most when you truly understand and believe that you are enough.  
And you are.