I recently attended the Mindful Self-Compassion workshop with Kristin Neff and Chris Germer. There were a number of practices I took away from the workshop that resonated and ultimately could provide a foundation for living a happier and more peaceful life.
While self-compassion and mindfulness were at the heart of each practice the idea of there being 3 ways to cultivate happiness really stuck in my head. Three ways or practices seems rather simple, made it easier for me to remember and more likely for me to actually practice. Because, let’s face it, if it hard or not really enjoyable, it is less likely that one will do it. Keeping that sentiment in mind, below are 3 ways to cultivate happiness:
I often associate savoring with food. However, there is so much more to savor in a day if you bring mindful awareness to it. When you savor something you allow yourself to enjoy it so much that you want it to continue without end. In the process of savoring you stay with the positive such that it blocks out the negative.
Some examples of moments or things you can savor are a hot shower. Allow yourself to be fully present in the moment. Feel the hot water as it runs down your body, the smell of the water or how it brings out the scent of shampoo or body wash, the sound of the water as it makes contact with your body, muscles that may relax when the heat of the water reaches them. Bring all of your senses to the experience and allow yourself to fully enjoy the moment and perhaps extend it to gratitude for the experience.
You can also savor simple things like your favorite team winning a game and the feelings associated or shared with friends. Savoring beauty and looking for things that are beautiful such as the sight of children laughing, the foam on top of your latte, a flower, clouds and sunshine. Let yourself linger with the experience and notice where your feel it in your body, it could be a warm feeling around your heart or a sense of peace. There are opportunities everywhere.
Appreciating things in our life intentionally or being thankful. Robert Emmons who is perhaps the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude in the essay “Why Gratitude is Good” talks about it having 2 components:
- “First, it’s an affirmation of goodness.”
- “The second part of gratitude is figuring out where that goodness comes from.”
When practicing gratitude you can think of all the things, people or experience you are grateful for. They don’t have to be huge things, simply bring to mind what they are, such as a pillow. You can think about why you are grateful for the pillow such as “it allows me to have a soft place to lay my head every night” or “it supports me when I sleep.” But to extend gratitude a little bit further in order to notice the interconnectedness of all things you can think of all the people or creatures involved in bringing that pillow to you. Perhaps a farmer who grew the cotton, the bees that perhaps pollinated the plants that had to be processed by other people to turn it into the fabric that covers the pillow. The people who may have sewn the pillow, inspected the pillow, the people who packaged the pillow and prepared it for shipping to a store. The people who unloaded the pillow from a shipment, the people who put it on a shelf all the way to the person who sold you the pillow and put it in a bag so you can enjoy it every night.
It is through the relational process of gratitude that the feeling of isolation can be alleviated. Because we are all connected when you look closely.
Identify qualities about yourself that you appreciate deep down. They may be things you are able to do well such as fixing things, taking care of a loved one, being artistic, or being a good listener. Think of 3-5 things you appreciate about yourself and write them down. Can you allow yourself to savor the goodness of these qualities?
To take it a step further — were there any people involved who contributed to those qualities? Sometimes it can be people with whom we have had challenging relationships who have contributed to qualities we appreciate about ourselves. Noticing that the good qualities you have are also a part of interconnectedness can decrease feelings of isolation. In addition, if they are tied to challenging relationships or circumstances it can show that there are often silver linings we are not able to see at the time.
I think the challenge with this practice can be allowing yourself to have the three ways to cultivate happiness and take them in. It can bring up a lot of questions of worthiness and sometimes tap unpleasant emotions when you start being kind to yourself. This concept is called “backdraft” or the idea that when our hearts are hot with suffering or we have accumulated pain over a life time when we open the door of our hearts to kindness the unpleasant emotions come flooding out. But what Kristin Neff and Chris Germer were clear about was the discomfort is not caused by self-compassion, it is being re-experienced and transformed by self-compassion. In the practice of happiness try to be kind to yourself and have compassion for any struggle that may come up and know it will not last forever.