Our circumstances don’t necessarily have to change in order for us to experience serenity and satisfaction. Because sometimes we can’t change a situation. Most things are not within our control.
This is a hard realization but tends to feel liberating when you can accept it. And it certainly takes practice to keep accepting it. But we can always look within ourselves. We can change our beliefs, thoughts and actions.*
In her book The Wholehearted Life: Big Changes and Greater Happiness Week by Week author Susyn Reeve shares a slew of exercises for contentment and community. Below are nine ideas and activities to help you cultivate calm, kindness and connection throughout your days.
1. Notice your bountiful breath.
“Breath is life,” writes Reeve. It helps to calm us. It helps us refocus. She suggests setting all sorts of reminders to breathe, such as creating a Breathe screen saver on all your devices and putting sticky notes in your house, car and workplace.
When you see these reminders, pause and take a full, deep breath. Use your diaphragm: “When you inhale, your belly expands, and when you exhale, it contracts. Experiment with simply focusing on expanding and contracting your diaphragm, and notice how breath is automatically drawn into and expelled from your body.”
2. Identify a different thing you’re thankful for every day.
According to Reeve, this could be anything from “I am grateful for the wrinkly lines on my fingers that make it easy for me to bend them” to “I am grateful for the parents of the person at the checkout counter of the supermarket who smiled at me today while checking out my groceries.”
3. Be kind to yourself.
“Be kind to yourself today in your thoughts, words and actions,” Reeve writes. For instance, if you have a work deadline, and a colleague stops by your desk to chat, be kind to yourself by telling them you have work to do and aren’t able to talk. “Treat yourself as though you are precious, because you are.”
In moments throughout the day, you also can ask yourself: What is the most self-compassionate choice I can make right now?
(Check out this Weightless piece on the many different ways you can practice kindness.)
4. Express your love.
Express your love to at least 20 people today. Reeve suggests getting creative. For instance, send a card or a text. Leave a voicemail. Help someone carry a package. Listen to a loved one. And don’t forget to include yourself in this group.
5. Remember that everyone is doing his or her best.
According to Reeve, “Today, practice the idea that everything you and everyone else do is the best they can do in the moment.” She’s found that when she thinks this way, she’s better able to accept both herself and others.
6. Focus on your thoughts.
Thoughts are the seeds of the life we create and live, Reeve writes. We can create new thoughts — thoughts that are supportive and nourishing. “You have the power in each and every moment to choose thoughts that generate peace of mind,” she writes.
Tune into your thoughts throughout the day. For instance, what are you thinking as you’re waking up? What are you thinking as you look in the mirror?
Reeve also suggests making a list of thoughts that support the life you’d like to live, such as: “I am love” and “Health and well-being are my daily experience.” Then make signs to serve as reminders of “the thoughts you want to think often enough to create new brain pathways and a new set of beliefs.” Put them around your house, car and workplace.
7. Smell the roses.
“Smelling the flowers is a reminder to see the beauty and magnificence of Life,” Reeve writes. She suggests stopping and smelling flowers as you walk to work, pass a flower shop or anywhere you notice flowers. Pick an image of flowers as your screen saver.
8. Meditate while walking.
According to Reeve, “Living life fully requires a direct, conscious connection with your inner experience to which meditation opens the door.”
As you walk slowly, focus on each of your steps. When you bring your left foot forward, say “left” in your mind, and do the same with your right foot. When you get distracted or lose your way, gently refocus on your feet.
9. Take a vacation in your mind.
Close your eyes. Take five deep breaths, “inhaling a sense of relaxation through your nose and exhaling any undue stress or tension through your mouth, into the earth.”
Think of your most relaxing scene, seeing the colors, hearing the sounds, smelling the scents, tasting the flavors and feeling the feelings. Stay with your image for about a minute. Take several more breaths. Whenever you’re ready, open your eyes.
Our lives are complicated. Bad things happen, maybe regularly. But in the midst of it all — whatever comes our way — we can try to carve out some calm and contentment for ourselves. In our breaths. In our minds. And in our hearts.
* This is in most cases with most people. However, if you’re struggling with a mental illness such as depression, changing your thoughts, beliefs and actions is absolutely possible but typically requires working with a psychotherapist. So try not to blame yourself for having certain kinds of thoughts and not being able to work through them. You have an illness, which will improve with treatment.