“Whatever you decide to do, make sure it makes you happy.” ~~ Author Unknown

How many of you remember “The Ren & Stimpy Show”, a cartoon that aired from the early to mid-1990s? I was 19 years old when it first aired, and though I didn’t watch it regularly (it just wasn’t my sort of thing to watch), my friends and I got a kick out of the “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy!”song. Ren & Stimpy sang this song and did a little happy dance whenever something good happened, and my friends would sing the chorus of it and do our own version of the happy dance whenever we felt something was “joy worthy”.

ren-n-stimpy(Photo Courtesy of http://www.bitstorm.org/happyjoy/)

Happy, happy, joy, joy
Happy, happy, joy, joy
Happy, happy, joy, joy
Happy, happy, joy, joy
Happy, happy, joy, joy
Happy, happy, joy, joy
Happy, happy, joy, joy, joy

I can’t speak for my friends, but whenever I would sing it, I’d feel a little silly. But then after, I always felt great. I always felt happy and had a big, goofy smile on my face.

Fast forward a few years, to the time when all of sudden I had responsibility – you know, things like a job, a husband, a house, kids, pets – and I let those carefree moments go.

I didn’t realize I’d even done it until years later. Like, lots of years later. Like, just last year!

During this past year, many of the podcasts I listen to have been focusing heavily on happiness, and how it’s pretty darn hard to find good health when you’re not happy. Lately, even the yoga classes I have been able to make it to have been focusing on this very same thing. And then the Ayurveda workshop I went to last weekend spent quite a bit of time on this topic as well.

OK Universe! I get it…it’s finally sinking in!

So it got me to thinking about what makes people happy. And of course, I came to the realization that it’s different for everyone. What makes ME happy isn’t necessarily going to be what will make YOU happy. But as I got to thinking about it, listening to my podcasts and talking with people, I also came to the realization that so many of us don’t even know what will make us happy, and that made me extremely sad. We are SO caught up in the minutiae of every day life, the busyness, the “go, go, GO!” mentality, that we don’t take the time to think about what makes us tick. What makes us feel fulfilled. What gives us peace and good health.

When I really thought about it, though, there are some general things we ALL can do to bring happiness into our lives. While I am no scientist, here are the top 5 things that I truly feel will make us happy if we do them regularly:

  1. Spend some time in nature every single day. Research has shown over and over again that spending some time in nature benefits your health. According to Dr. Susanne Preston, a Clinical Mental Health Counseling instructor at South University, Virginia Beach, being outside and spending time in nature is good not just our mental health, but also our physical health (see http://source.southuniversity.edu/spending-time-in-nature-for-your-health-how-outdoor-activities-improve-wellbeing-102984.aspx for the full article). Preston says, “…with increased exposure to natural sunlight, incidents of seasonal affective disorder decrease. When individuals are exposed to natural sunlight, the vitamin D in their skin helps to elevate their moods…Spending time outdoors is also linked to positive effects on physical health, most notably obesity.”

    Personally, I can attest to these statements. Whenever I go for a walk or a bike ride outside, rather than keeping it indoors, I always feel so peaceful. When I am at peace, I am happy! When I first started running outside, I always had my iPod hooked to me, with my favorite playlist going. But one day, I forgot it and was stuck running to no music. I thought, “Oh no! The HORROR! What am I gonna do???” I’ll tell you what, though…that was the BEST run I’d ever had up to that point. I loved listening to the birds, to the wind blowing through the trees, to my breath…even the cars driving by was a welcome sound. I haven’t used my iPod on any outdoor workout since! Lately, I’ve been doing my running on the trails, and that is even MORE peaceful to me, because I am enjoying all the sounds of the animals who live in the woods, as well as all the wonderful smells from the trees, flowers and creeks.

    To be fair, I know it’s not always possible to get outside. Sometimes weather gets in the way, or we’re simply not available during the optimal times. But you can still get your nature fix in other ways. Guided meditations in which you visualize your favorite outdoor setting, or simply listening to a recording of the sounds of nature can be beneficial.

  2. Do something for someone else with no expectations. When was the last time you did something for someone else “just because”? Just because you wanted to show them you care, or just because you wanted to bring a smile to their face, or just because you wanted to make their day a little bit better? It doesn’t have to be anything monumental, or even anything that costs you money. Sometimes, all it takes is saying something nice. And when you do this, doesn’t it make you happy? It sure makes ME happy when I see I’ve made someone’s day. Not to mention, you’ve probably made that person pretty darn happy…2 for 1! Woot woot!
  3. Breathe. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? My post from last week focused on breathing well for better health. And of course, when we’re healthy, we’re more likely to be happy – because we feel good! Lately when I wake up every morning, my first thought as I stretch out and take a deep breath is, “Wow! I am breathing! I am here for one more day, so let’s make it a good one!” When you start your day with thoughts like this, it’s hard not to find the joy in even the littlest of things.
  4. Do yoga every single day. So I know that not all of you out there would say you practice yoga, much less say that you practice every single day. Some of you read my blog just because you know me and want to support me. But I would venture to challenge that every single one of you has practiced yoga. See, yoga is not just the poses you do on a mat. Yoga is all about finding harmony and balance between the body, breath and mind (spirit). Some people find that on their mat, by doing a physical practice of yoga poses. Some people find that by praying or meditating. Some people find it by practicing karma yoga, which is the discipline of selfless action. If you can do something every single day that feels good to your body, allows you to breathe well, and brings peace to your mind (spirit), then you’re good. That’s your yoga!
  5. Sleep well. Let’s face it…when you wake up after having too little sleep, or interrupted sleep, are you happy? Are you in a good mood? Probably not. According to an article by the American Psychology Association (http://www.apa.org/research/action/sleep-deprivation.aspx), most Americans are chronically sleep deprived. Too little sleep has been linked to several health conditions, and it’s also been shown to directly affect our mood and our relationships.

    Again, I can speak personally to this one. In 2006 or 2007, I started dealing with severe insomnia. Almost every night, I’d wake up for at least an hour, and many times I was never really able to get back to sleep. And boy, did it make me GRUMPY!!! I was snappy with everyone, particularly those I loved the most. Was I happy? NO! Most of the time, all I could think about was how I was going to stay awake and do all the things I needed to get done at work and at home. In 2012, I briefly tried sleeping pills because I was so desperate, but I didn’t like having to depend on those. That’s when I started meditating regularly, and doing more restorative forms of yoga. Then last August, we found out that I have sleep apnea, so I now use a CPAP machine every night. Wow! What a difference! I am finally getting good sleep, and I think I am a much happier person because of it.

OK. So who’s ready to get happy? All the reasons I’ve listed here in this post are things I feel are important for happiness, but I think the most important thing to remember is: Do something that makes YOU happy. At the end of the day, it all boils down to doing the things I mentioned above in ways that work for YOU. If you don’t enjoy running, for example, then spending time running, even if it IS outside in nature, is going to make you miserable. You can get your “nature time” by doing other things you find enjoyable…maybe you’d rather spend time in a garden, or even just sitting on the grass with a good book. Whatever it is you do, only do it if it makes you happy.

This is your opportunity to purge…get rid of the “junk”, of the stuff that doesn’t serve you in a positive way. When you can do that, you’ll be left with the things that bring you joy. And when you find that joy, that HAPPINESS, maybe you’ll just come up with your own version of the “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy!” dance.

Namaste,

Melanie

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