Cultivate the Soul: 10 Ways to Live a Happier Life

The moment I walked into my positive psychology class my junior year in college, I was so ready to dismiss it. The cynic in me thought – “Pfft! Come on! As if! To teach someone how to be happy is an equivalent to trying to make Mara Rooney smile in pictures – absolutely pointless.” You either are or aren’t and that totally depends on your brain’s chemistry and the circumstances you’re in. But, was I wrong?

Although you can’t dismiss the nature vs. nurture debate, there are definitely ways to improve our quality of life by adjusting our attitudes a little bit. Just because there is not much we can do with the chemical imbalance of the brain, it doesn’t mean that everyone is not destined to live a happier life.

Here’s what I remember from the class and what remained engraved in my brain to this day. I’ll also add some things I’ve learned from my own experience.

1. “Happiness is a journey, not a destination.”

Once I’ve grasped the concept of this, my life changed. The happiness is not a constant state of someone’s existence and it’s not like you’re either a happy person or not and that’s it… Happiness comes and goes, just as sadness does. You’re going to have good days and the bad and that’s absolutely alright, because that’s life. Instead of setting goals for yourself and saying – I’ll have time to think about happiness when I achieve this and this, why can’t we all just take baby steps and work on our dreams and our overall well-being, all at the same time? Why are we always thinking about reaching the peak of the mountain, when we can’t even see the base of it yet? Why can’t we just enjoy that journey? Happiness is in flux, just as life is in flux, all we can do is make the best of it.

2. Show gratitude.

Yes, show gratitude. Be grateful for what you already have. It is okay to want new, shiny, fancy things, but till you get them – rejoice for what you already have. Write a daily list of things you’re grateful for or even carry a “stone of gratitude” in your pocket and every time you touch your pocket and feel it, say one or three things you’re grateful for. I’m definitely grateful for Professor Froh (whose last name translated from German literally means “happy, glad, pleased”), who had such a wonderful way of teaching that he even managed to change the mind of the good old cynic like myself. Thank you for teaching me how to live a happier life.

3. Share it with your friends.

If something good happens – tell your friends! Surround yourself with friends. Years and years of research have shown that our social lives play an important role in our overall well-being and further result in a greater satisfaction with life.

4. Be “in the flow.”

Get so consumed by something that you don’t even notice the time passing by while you’re doing it or your thirst and hunger. For me that was ceramics. I could make pots and sculptures for days without even noticing the world around me. In those moments, time is such a foreign concept, because you’re just so focused and immersed in what you’re doing. Being “in the flow” only results in greater enjoyment of life. So, why not pick up a hobby?

5. Be mindful, live in the now.

This concept I’ve learned in class, but honestly have been trying to apply to my life only recently. I am a worrier. If I’m not worrying about something, then I’m worried about not being worried about something. You get the point. Lately, I’ve tried living in the present, instead of thinking about past or future and honestly – present is a much happier place to be. Lao Tzu once said that: “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.” And here’s another great quote and this time from my mom: “If you take a broom to sweep the street and you look at the end of the street,
nnthen you’ll get stressed out and think: “Oh no, look how much I have to sweep!” But if you take it step by step, without looking at the end, you’ll get there without noticing.” My point – live in the now, stop worrying.

The following steps towards the happier life I had to learn from my own experience, even though they’ve been scientifically proven to work.

6. Change your diet.

Start eating healthy – more fruit, more veggies, more fibers and more water. Kick out carbohydrates, sugars and soda. You’ll notice a world of difference. And also – try at least lowering your caffeine intake. (Although this one has proven to be the hardest thing for me to do.)

7. Get moving!

Sign up for the gym. Run outside. Do whatever’s your cup of tea, just get moving. For me personally, that’s yoga. I love that I can strengthen the body and the mind at the same time. “Savasana” or the “Corpse Pose” is especially helpful when it comes to relaxing. And it is no wonder it’s the hardest pose to do, because we’re just having such a hard time with relaxation in general. What I love about this particular pose, is that after an intense session of switching poses, you get to lay down and feel your heart and mind slowing down, your blood flowing through your body and finally you’re in a state of deep relaxation.

8. Don’t take things personally.

As you might assume – I say this because I take things very personally. It has always been that way, ever since this gal has been born on the Pisces/Aries cusp. It’s just so easy for me to let people throw me off balance. But listen – sometimes it’s just not you. People make mistakes; people forget things, dates and plans. Accept that sometimes that’s the reality and don’t overthink it.

9. Don’t expect others to make you happy.

The media has messed us up so much with the whole “your other half” thing, making us think that we’re not actually complete without the other person. Your happiness is a very personal journey and no soul on this planet can take it for you. You already come into this world complete, you just haven’t realized it yet. So just keep working on cultivating your soul. Grow that inner garden, so that both of you get to enjoy it.

10. Don’t compare and contrast.

Don’t compare yourself, your life, your things, your anything… to other people. Yes, you might be way behind in life compared to your siblings, friends and peers, but everyone takes things at their own pace. Some people just need more time to get to that point in life, it absolutely doesn’t mean they’re failing at life, because life is not a game. There is no winner or loser and success is a highly subjective thing. Your definition of success will never be the same as someone else’s.

Just listen to what Oprah had to say about failure:

I just want to end with this: there are no mistakes. There really aren’t any, because you have a supreme destiny. When you’re in your little mind, in your little personality mind or you’re not centered, you really don’t know who you are that you come from something greater and bigger. We really all are the same. You don’t know that, you get all flustered, you get stressed all the time, wanting something to be what it isn’t. There’s a supreme moment of destiny calling on your life. Your job is to feel that, to hear that, to know that and sometimes, when you’re not listening, you get taken off track. You get in the wrong marriage, the wrong relationship, you take the wrong job. Yeah, but it’s all leading to the same path. There are no wrong paths. There are none. There’s no such thing as failure really, because failure is just that thing, trying to move you in another direction. So you get as much from your losses, as you do from your victories because the losses are there to wake you up. The losses are to say, fool, that is why you go to school, so that CBS can call you.

So when you understand that you

ndon’t allow yourself to be completely thrown by a grade or by a circumstance because your life is bigger than any one experience and if I had, I always ask people on Super Soul Sunday to tell me, what would you say to your younger self? Every person says in one form or another, I would have said, relax. Relax. It’s going to be okay. It really is going to be okay because even if you’re on a detour right now and that’s how you know, when you’re not at ease with yourself, when you’re feeling like oh, oh, — that is the cue that you need to be moving in another direction. Don’t let yourself get all thrown off, continue to be thrown off course. When you’re feeling off course, that’s the key. How do I turn around?

So when everybody was talking about, when I started this network, if I had only known, good lord, how difficult it would be. The way through the challenge is to get still and ask yourself what is the next right move? Not think about oh, I got all of this to, what is the next right move and then from that space make the next right move and the next right move and not to be overwhelmed by it because you know your life is bigger than that one moment. You know you’re not defined by what somebody says is a failure for you because failure is just there to point you in a different direction and that’s all the time I got right now.