Fall Back to Happiness

I love Fall; it’s a new season, and it usually means new delights like lovely cool weather and beautiful colors in the trees.

But I’ve been in a funk lately, and I’m noticing I’m not alone.

If you’re feeling tired, struggling with focus, and not feeling motivated, you’re not by yourself. In fact, there is an old Greek word for it, acedia, which was a word often used by isolated monks to describe a mix of boredom, listlessness, anxiousness, and uncertainty.

If you’re like me, there are a few realities sinking in: Covid isn’t going anywhere for a while, the holidays and “normal” celebrating isn’t happening, and… oh yeah, the election stuff.

You’ve already been dealing with a lot this year. You’re working 40% more than before Covid and Zoom fatigue has set in deeply (making the idea of distant holiday celebrating a bit more exhausting).

Whew, just writing that brought on a wave of fatigue! Just remember, you have a right to feel what you’re feeling without inducing guilt because others have it worse.

When I’ve been in a funk in the past, I’ll brush off my happiness books and do a deep dive in order to shift my mindset and gain some new ways to approach my current state (especially since my favorite methods aren’t available to me right now – traveling to new places).

Below are some of the learnings that helped me shift my perspective (some may not be new, but always good reminders).

What is Happiness?

Surprisingly there is no clear definition of happiness. It’s hard to articulate in words because it’s a felt sense that you get to define for yourself (if you take the time to reflect on it).

Shawn Achor from The Happiness Advantage defines it as “the joy you feel striving toward your potential.” Although I like it on some level, it’s still not very clear.

I like thinking of happiness as a process, not a destination. It’s like fitness; once you get fit you don’t just stop going to the gym or eating healthy, you continue your healthy routine if you want to maintain it. You keep it up, because it feels good.

Happiness is similar. It’s a bunch of small moments and actions that make up happiness.  And just like a fitness routine, sometimes there are good days and sometimes not; the important part is to know the tools and techniques that work for you (which may change over time, so keep trying new things).

Here are a few ideas to help you develop your own happiness training.

1. You’re contagious and so are other people (which could be a good thing)

Emotions, such as happiness, are contagious.  Your happiness is co-created by you and the people around you. They influence your happiness and you influence theirs. This is the same for non-happy emotions, as well. Shared experiences are amplified (both good and bad).

Who do you spend most of your time with? Are they helping your emotions or not? What is their predominate emotion? Beware when you are taking on someone else’s emotions, versus when you are feeling the emotion authentically.

2. Stuff matters, especially your environment                      

The material world around you matters: meaning the physical space you occupy influences your emotions. Choosing and creating the space around you will impact your emotions. Is it cluttered, dirty, loud or dark? If so, those factors may be bringing you down. So change it up: even small shifts can make a difference, like getting rid of clutter or getting some bright flowers.

3. Choose your own adventure

How you decide to interpret events around you (the story you choose to tell yourself and the resulting mindset) makes a huge difference in your emotions. Being aware of the story and beliefs you are taking on can help you bring choice into how you want to be.

Ok, you may not get to make up an entirely new reality. But allowing the possibility for entirely different versions of your story and following curiosity will serve you in picking the best version possible.

4. Access happiness right now; go to your happy past

As Dr. Robett Biswas-Diener explains in his TedTalk, happiness exists in our past (or in the current moment, right now) — and we can access it anytime.

Think back on a memory of a very happy event or time. Recount everything you can about that memory: the details, who you were with, everything you can remember. Close your eyes and just feel it, relish in it. Write it down (this is called positive event recall). Fully embody this past moment and you will feel similar emotions to the actual event. More on this process is explained in Rick Hanson’s book, Hardware Happiness.

5. Enhance your happiness by feeling all emotions

To enhance the feeling of happiness, you need to allow yourself to feel the full range of emotions, including the ones that you don’t like to feel, such as anger, sadness, loneliness, frustration, etc.

What typically happens is, if you don’t like feeling sadness, you distract yourself or avoid it — so this emotion never gets fully felt. Instead, you are creating a practice of ignoring emotions, even the emotions you want more of, like happiness. Basically, you’re now dulling all emotions (even the good stuff).

So, don’t push away any of your emotions. Feel them fully. This doesn’t mean rumination, which is just repeating the story over and over. Instead, allow emotions to be fully felt, but don’t overthink what you are feeling.

You know what to do to make a micro-shift when you need a boost. It only takes 5 mins. If you’re looking for more than a little shift and need some Psychological First Aid or a partner to help you, I’m here for you.

P.S. Looking for a few ideas to mix it up and shift into a different mood? Give some of my recent favorites a try: take a class with creativebug.com, mediate with Waking Up, or write a letter (because everyone loves getting happy mail and it’ll make you feel good, too).