I'm going to let you in on a little secret I have discovered in the past few years. (Let's say I came to this realization on October 8th, 2014.. Yeah, that sounds good). It's been working for me. It may not work for you, but I'll tell you it definitely will not hurt you to try it. And try you will have to! This practice takes some effort on your part, so if you aren't serious about it, then you can continue on your path and hope one day you don't look back and wonder if you should have tried this. It's an age old practice: The key to happiness you are searching for is within you. Hear me out.
Your subconscious mind is a very malleable and delicate sponge that absorbs everything you've ever consumed. Every article of information, every song, every good or bad word, every movie scene, every act of violence or benevolence witnessed, every advertisement. Everything! You conscious mind isn't aware of this happening and simply writes things off most of the time. Now over time, your mind has been formed by external factors you have had no control over. This can create loads of problems: Anxiety, depression, self-doubt, lack of confidence, apathy, hate, disgust, masochism, bad habits, etc. Majority of people will display and project happiness on the surface but their minds are going haywire or they develop these masochistic tendencies to cope with these external factors that bring them down (I have been here). The habits cover up the underlying problem for the time being but it is merely like adding fuel to the perpetual flame.
Enough with fear mongering, what about the good news? There is plenty! This is exactly where you start. At first this will be uncomfortable and you will want to relapse on the negativity your mind has allowed to curate through external factors but remember your mind is completely malleable and it takes persistence and repetition to change it for the better. Like any great thing, this will take effort and work and this is why majority of people simply let the negativity happen to them. Imagine that, because a few years ago I really could not imagine that, I thought happiness would just happen. But as time went on, it didn't. Things just get worse until you tell your mind you have had enough and you want change (and mean it). I will lay out a few tips that have worked and continue to work for me. You will need to start slow, and as you gain momentum, you can increase how often you do these things.
1. Sit down and think of your life goals and how you want to get there:
This is tip 1 for a reason, without a plan, how can you expect to get to your destination? Through going with the flow and wandering aimlessly? Get real. If I had been mature and honest with myself to implement this at the age of 20, I'd be further ahead than I am now, but you can start today! Focus on goals for the roles in your life: Family member, employee, friend, spouse, business owner, parent, community organizer, etc. Determine where you see yourself going with those (and why), and how you will get there.
2. Be Proactive:
Your mind wants to be productive (in good ways and bad). By staying active and forcing yourself to start doing any good habit, you will develop new synapses that induce learning capabilities. You will feel discomfort at first but refer back to your goals as often as possible and remind yourself WHY you're making a change. It's easy to go back on a good habit when you don't have an important 'why' clearly stated.
I used to think people who practiced meditation were cuckoo. I never understood it or why they did it. Even though I've always over analyzed every situation in my life. Then one day I tried it, thought it was dumb. After reading more about it, I decided to do it more and stick with it. It has had a phenomenal effect. My mind is more clear for when I need to focus on anything important. I am less anxious. I am present. I am more calm in tense situations. It is relaxing! Frankly, I am happier too. Start with this: Download an app (free); (Headspace is where I started), follow the simple instructions, but remember the only goal is to not focus on thoughts, but focus on the moment (your breath, the sounds around you, your body, physical feelings) instead. It will get easier with practice. By doing this, you get your wandering mind a break from over thinking and over analyzing and it will love you for it.
4. Write, read, feed:
Start a journal, get your thoughts out on paper so they don't build inside your mind. How else do you expect to know what you did yesterday so you can improve upon it today? If you are like me at all, you don't share as much personal info about yourself to others (even though you know you should), so the next best thing is writing your thoughts down to let them out. Read as much as possible. By feeding your mind you gain knowledge and put your thoughts to work on things other than negativity or being unproductive. Feed; basically you need to eat better. It is so easy to eat poorly and consume the addictive sugar and caffeine. Your mind believes it needs the poor nutrition items thanks to negative advertisement telling it to consume them since you were a child. Of course, it is okay to indulge periodically, but moderation is key.
5. Be conscious of your habits:
It is very easy to simply let your habits rule you instead of the other way around. Simply by being aware of what you are doing will help you make some changes for the better.
6. Indulge in healthy things you love:
Exercise, hike, outdoors, nature, take pictures (not too many selfies), sports, socializing, eat healthy, seeing family and friends, traveling, learning, reading, writing, meditating, creating, talking, fishing. All good things!
7. Perform positive affirmations:
Last but not least. This is key. Your mind has been bombarded by negativity and it will perpetuate what it is told if not stopped by you. Write down and say out loud positive affirmations daily/weekly. Things like "I am a strong individual who will succeed in my goals", "I am mentally and physically healthy and happy", or what you envision yourself to be. Within reason, you are only as strong as your worst thoughts. Whether you believe you can or can't, you are right! Saying positive affirmations will help instill a positive mindset and change your subconscious mind to help you curate a life you want to live. This step is incredibly important for internal harmony. If nothing else, at least try this one every day that you remember to do so.
I am still developing new good habits and I've realized how easy it is to not try and become a better person. Lethargy is easy, but is it worth it in the long run? I know I don't want to look back and have more "I wish I had" regrets than "I'm glad I did" statements. Now I don't guarantee happiness for anyone. But by taking a few consistent steps in a positive direction and balancing out the negative, you can certainly guarantee yourself you will feel better. It will not happen overnight and it will take time. Just start slow and consistent and you will see major strides. You might even have more fun focusing on developing than you ever thought you could.
One last thing. When you start this, you will immediately notice people telling you that you've changed or something is wrong with you. They will notice you are being more positive and trying to line your life up in a way that best suits your goals and they may distance themselves from you or project their problems onto you. Ignore this, or inform them on what you are actually doing if you really care about them. You need to find like-minded people who think like you and by simply thinking more positively, you will attract those people into your life and you flush out those who are not. Once you think more positively, you will truly wish the best for everyone, even if they do not wish the same for you. Good luck! I believe in you.