What if you could make yourself significantly happier?
You absolutely can!
Do these rituals every day for 45 days and you will almost certainly significantly increase your authentic happiness. Don't believe us? Take the pre and post test yourself to measure your progress! You will need to create a user name to login to University of Pennsylvania's website to get access to the Authentic Happiness test. Here are the 7 Rituals that will change your life:
1. Waking Up Ritual: Rise with the Sun and Body Scan Because there are many, many studies on the benefits of regulating your circadian rhythm, because we need a full 7–9 hours of sleep for our brains to function properly, because regulating our waking time to the rise of the sun improves mood and energy levels, and because we process trauma primarily when we sleep...start this Waking Up Ritual tomorrow morning! After a full 7–9 hours of sleep, wake up with the sunrise daily, stretch, think of how lucky you are to be alive. Next, do a body scan to release anything that’s holding you back from having an incredible day. Body scans involve paying attention to each part of your body to assess if you’re holding tension or any discomfort in your body, and then to fo- cus your breath on that area to release the associated tension. In addition to releasing tension, body scans can help us be aware of any emotional stress that we are carrying and work intentionally to release it. I find that starting from my head and focusing my attention down to my neck, chest, arms, hands, stomach, legs and feet and the connective parts in between to be an efficient way to become aware of what I am holding.
2. Breakfast Time Ritual: Receive and Interpret Emotions If we’re conscious enough to even allow ourselves enough time for break- fast, it’s rare. Breakfast tends to be one of the more rushed times of the day so why not use that feeling of being in a hurry to our advantage. If you eat breakfast, great, if not, that’s ok too...just remember to practice this step when you might normally be having breakfast. When we are rushed, stressed or hungry we are especially vulnerable to old memories interfering with our happiness. So it’s an ideal time to Receive and Interpret Emotions. If frustration or anger comes in as you are trying to get to where you need to be, understand the true meaning of anger which is tell- ing you that need to take action on something meaningful to you. We of- ten get frustrated about small things like getting a ticket because we were speeding but the deeper meaning of that isn’t “don’t speed” (though that’s a helpful behavior to modify), the deeper meaning would be to control your emotions so you don’t end up speeding. And how do we “control” our emotions? By correctly interpreting them and releasing them.
Fortunately, you don’t need to be a psychologist to correctly interpret emotions. Let me show you what we psychologists learn: Anger and all its forms (Agitation, Sarcasm, Annoyance, Rage, Frustration, Hostility, Jealousy, Negative Intensity, Irritation, etc.) mean you need to take action on something meaningful in your life. It fuels us with energy which we can channel to get things done! But if we don’t channel that energy toward completing a task we need to complete to feel good again, it can eat away at us.
Sadness and all its forms (Loneliness, Shame, Embarrassment, Guilt, Sensitivity, Depression, Disappointment, Discouragement, Sorrow, Feeling Empty, Grief-Stricken, Hurt, Living with Regret, etc.) means you need to slow down and heal! And the ever popular Anxiety / Fear and their forms (Busyness, Agitation, Apprehension, Concern, Need for Control, Feeling Edgy, Fidgeting, Hesitation, Feeling Hurried, Jittery or Nervous, Worrying, Be- ing Afraid or Scared, Feeling Tense or Troubled, etc.) mean your mind is trying to tell you that you don’t feel safe and need to make a change.
Check in with your emotions throughout the day and listen to the essence of what they are trying to tell you. Understand the true meaning of emotions. When you experience agitation during the day, it is an opportunity to release past experiences. Watch your inner chatter – know that it is not you, just your thoughts; let go of the inner voice, instead observe. Don’t distract yourself.
3. Therapeutic Driving I love practicality! Anytime I can do personal growth while I have to do some kind of mundane task is a huge plus! That’s why Thich Nhat Hanh is my favorite monk. He doesn’t claim you need to go on a 10-day silent meditation retreat to find contentment, or even sit quietly every day meditating. He teaches conscious multi-tasking. For example, when you are doing the dishes, you can use the warmth of the water on your hands to help you meditate, you can do it while you’re walking (even with lots of noise around you in an urban area), and my favorite: the driving meditation.
He writes: Most people are forgetful; they are not really there a lot of the time. Their mind is caught in their worries, their fears, their anger, and their regrets, and they are not mindful of being there. That state of being is called forgetfulness – you are there but you are not there. You are caught in the past or in the future. You are not there in the present moment, living your life deeply. That is forgetfulness. While you are driving your car, you might notice the tension in your body. You are eager to arrive and you don’t enjoy the time you spend driving. When you come to a red light, you are eager for the red light to be- come a green light so that you can continue. But the red light can be a signal. It can be a reminder that there is tension in you, the stress of wanting to arrive as quickly as possible. If you recognize that, you can make use of the red light. You can sit back and relax – take the ten seconds the light is red to practice mindful breathing and release the tension in the body.
So the next time you’re stopped at a red light, you might like to sit back and practice this exercise: Say to yourself while you take a deep breath “Breathing in, I’m aware of my body. Breathing out, I release the tension in my body.” The next time you get in the car, let those stop lights, stop signs and traffic that usually irritate you melt away your ten- sion. Along with becoming more aware of your body with the morning Body Scan, Therapeutic Driving will become a regular tool you can use to relieve tension. Traffic never felt so good!
4. Lunch Ritual: Feed Yourself from Within The Lunch Ritual is about loving yourself and increasing your self- worth. It is the most primal human need. Inner nourishment is essential to our survival. Yet, nearly every single one of us is starving in this area. It is one of the most neglected forms of self-improvement. Even the field of psychology has been so caught up with lessening negative emotions that it forgets to concentrate on positive ones. Positive psychology, the type of psychology I practice, is different and looks at what someone has that they can build on to improve their lives, but is unusually rare. Most doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists are all about what’s wrong with you and forget that we are starving inside and don’t love ourselves. Of course, there are multi-billion dollar industries that rely on us not loving ourselves, like most cosmetics, fashion, even food companies, which leave us not only feeling unlovable but broke and fat on top of it.
So, do this for you: every time you sit down to eat lunch, before you put the first bit of food into your mouth, think of something you love about yourself...if that is too hard, imagine yourself as a child, recall an old picture where you were especially cute and think about what you loved about yourself at that age. With each bite, imagine the nourishment of the food filling your heart. You will notice that you eat more slowly and probably much less food as you savor and truly taste each bite. Each bite is a gift you give yourself, a treat. You probably won’t need to eat as much sweets to feel like you are having a treat because now the food that you eat will be seen for what it really is, a physical nourishment that can nourish your soul. Look at your hands and cherish all they do for you, how beautiful they are.
And when you use the restroom, which usually comes just after lunch, when you look in the mirror, look at yourself, see how beautiful you are...and if that is hard for you, remember that photo of when you were a child and experience the beauty of yourself at that time. Then look again, see that child reflected in you now. Look deeply into your own eyes and give yourself love. Do this everyday when you eat.
5. Dinner Ritual: Practice Authenticity and Vulnerability “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” – Brené Brown
There’s a lot of talk about being authentic and vulnerable lately. Brené Brown has practically created a movement with her research on the importance of vulnerability. She has one of the most popular TED talks and is helping people understand the importance of conquering shame in order to heal. Her theory is called Shame Resilience Theory and its goal is to help connect people through empathy, vulnerability and freedom. Her research and others like it recognize that being vulnerable is essential for connection and growth.
By being vulnerable, we are almost certain to connect. Vulnerability is the key to unlocking the door to close relationships. It’s an incredible gift that when we have courage enough to practice regularly leads to powerful authenticity. To be vulnerable involves sharing that which we feel ashamed about. We cannot exist healthfully by hiding our secrets or living in shame. Yet the word “shame” is so loaded. We often fail to recognize that each and every day we experience shame because we feel like we will be judged unlovable. It may be the shame of breaking your diet for dessert, shame of yelling at your child, shame of forgetting someone’s birthday, or the shame of not feeling good about yourself. The negative voice inside our heads that speaks to us daily when we are anything but perfect magnifies shame.
Ironically, that which we most want to hide has the biggest power to connect us in deeper relationships. One of the fastest and most effective forms of healing involves sharing your darkest parts with others, it’s one of the reasons why Alcoholics Anonymous can work. When you share that which you feel ashamed about, people feel connected to you, which has them share more with you, and you share more with them, developing an authentic relationship. But you don’t need to be in AA or even therapy to reap the benefits of vulnerability. You can practice sharing things which make you feel vulnerable daily with your family at dinner. It can be something silly like admitting you passed gas or something larger like admitting you lied. My kids love when I share vulnerable stories. The behaviors from my past that still haunt me like when I teased Dean Harwell in 3rd grade or when I cheated on a test. Sharing and regularly admitting to parenting mistakes is also very popular with kids. As parents we make mistakes with our children regularly. When we are aware enough to recognize our mistakes, admit that we messed up and offer a sincere apology it creates a feeling of safety in the relationship, also known as a secure attachment. Your child doesn’t expect you to be perfect, but does expect you to learn from your mistakes. Being authentic with your child often means apologizing to your child for reacting with negative emotion. “I’m sorry I reacted like that” and “I made a mistake” are great responses and should be spoken as often as needed, which for most of us is very often!
Let children know that we don’t always have it together. Don’t create a false self for your children. By allowing our children to see us making mistakes and trying new things, we help them to learn to be authentic, too. From this they can learn a growth mindset and learn to focus less on how they look to others.
While you are sitting down to eat with your family, share something that makes you feel vulnerable – a mistake you made or something you feel ashamed of.... Vulnerability is the door to connection which heals us. Trust me here, I’ve been practicing psychology for more than 20 years...we all need to feel validated, we need to feel seen for who we really are. You can start right at the dinner table with your family. Share something that you felt embarrassed about. Share something that you made a mistake about...in fact, if you are a parent, not only will this benefit you, but your kids will learn a growth mindset by you sharing your process which will give them confidence to try new things and not be afraid to make mistakes!
5. Before Bed: Happiness Journal It’s so easy to focus on what irritates you, what isn’t working around you, and how your life just isn’t the way you wanted it. If you’ve written in a journal before, chances are you wrote about difficult experiences more than you did about joyful ones. Our brains function in quite the same way. In order to attempt to protect us from harm, we tend to remember the negative more than the positive. We become experts at remembering and noticing that which feels bad. I’m not knocking this information because it informs you of what to avoid in the future, which is helpful. However, we are missing the other half of the coin: what makes us feel good that we want to seek in the future.
We have the opportunity to train our brain to reconfigure its focus, but we have to focus beyond our primitive brain. The primary reason we tend to remember or focus on the negative rather than positive is that our primitive brain is trying to keep us safe. So, if we just think to ourselves to focus on what makes us feel good, our primitive brain is still most likely in control. Let me show you what I mean. Think of something that makes you feel good. Have something in mind? Good... did you imagine food, sleep or sex? The majority of people will...you can see how limiting our focus can be if we let our primitive brain run the show.
In order to access the more evolutionarily evolved areas of our brain we need to be more intentional in our focus. Writing is one of the most intentional practices one can participate in. It requires our full attention and our creative mind. You’ll need a notebook or journal and a pen. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy but I would suggest you choose a journal to write in that makes you feel good, something beautiful and of good quality.
• Write down any time you felt joyful, happy, or inspired. • Write down what lights you up, makes you feel fulfilled, and brings you joy.
Write down things that you saw that were beautiful, strangers that made you smile, kindnesses you witnessed or experienced.
Write down what you feel grateful for.
Keep an ongoing list of joyful circumstances, activities, and relationships. As mentioned already, writing down things you are grateful for strengthens your immune system and helps you sleep better.108
6. Sleep Ritual: Prime for Happiness Did you ever notice that what you think about, watch or read before falling asleep will often show up in your dreams? Because we are tired and about to fall asleep, we are slipping into an unconscious state which is a very powerful place for programming your mind. If you don’t direct your mind, you may end up inadvertently bringing in anxiety during this time which not only will disturb your sleep but also your ability to release that anxiety. Because we often function from our primitive brain, we tend to give the most attention to negative states, which can be extremely unhelpful at this time of day! Instead, recalibrate your compass to a positive state. How do you do this? Easy: when you fell asleep, recall the nicest feeling you had today, bring up the memory – maybe you felt excited, or grateful, or peaceful, or loved...remember that feeling as if you were reliving it, recreate the way it felt, what you smelled, heard and saw at the time...and if you can’t think of anything from your day, think of something from your life. It doesn’t matter...your mind has a very non-linear approach to time. Reliving a positive memory right be- fore you fall asleep will prime your unconscious mind for happiness and allow you to process the stress you had during the day more easily. Did you know that we primarily process stress when we sleep? That is why getting enough shut-eye is essential. As someone with epilepsy, I can be the first to explain the importance of sleep for processing stress! If I don’t get enough sleep, I have a seizure. Even though you may not have epilepsy, your brain functions in a similar (though less dramatic) way, in that if you don’t get enough sleep stress doesn’t get fully processed or resolved. If our brain can’t process the negative states we experienced during the day, they just stay with us! Often, this negative energy gets stuck in our body and produces headaches, body aches or worse. So, when you fall asleep at night, Prime Yourself For Happiness – you’ll be amazed at the powerful improvement you see!
7. Practice Quiet (Allow Children to “Be Bored”) Ritual Oh how difficult silence can be. Have you ever been to a home with no music playing, no video games on, no television or movies on in the background, and no need to take up space with words – just quiet? It’s almost unheard of. Most homes are filled with noises that distract from creativity, noises that suffocate the imagination and noises that stifle childhood. Susan cannot be silent for more than 15 seconds. A lifetime of using words to cover up feeling uncomfortable has led her to be uncomfortable with any silence whatsoever. She talks and talks and talks. She fills space with words, often words that are unnecessary. Some people tune her out, others feel agitated. Although her excessive chatter is more extreme than most, it is not uncommon to feel uncomfortable with silence. Have you ever felt uncomfortable with silence? Why? What about when you were with someone else? Did you allow for silence between you or feel the need to begin talking? This need to talk or to entertain ourselves constantly masks anxiety and distracts us from recognizing our feelings. Yet, quiet invites sharing...ever wonder how to get your child to share about their day? Provide quiet. Quiet creates peace...is your child distracted and having a hard time paying attention to one thing? Provide quiet. Quiet trains the brain to focus. Quiet invites authenticity.
Quiet also invites boredom. When our children complain of “feeling bored” or when we feel bored, it is a sign that we have been distracting ourselves with noise for too long. If you can allow for boredom, boredom will eventually evolve into creativity. Children will find something to do or create something to do. Over time, the idea of “boredom” will fade as they won’t have the expectation of distraction and entertainment from something outside of themselves.
It can be challenging to not try to “cure” boredom for our children, to try to help them find something to do. But did you know that the mind needs slowing down in order to be creative? If we keep our children busy and entertain them with activities, movies, video games, sports, parties, and social events, we take away their possibility for discovery of the power of their mind, their creativity, their imagination.
Allow quiet time for the whole family. No phones, tv, movies, video games, music...just some time to be. Warning: children will complain at first; hang in there! I find one of the easiest ways to invite quiet with my children is in the car. When I pick up my children from school, I make sure to have the music off so the car is quiet. I used to initiate the conversation with questions such as “What made you laugh today?” but my son didn’t want to answer my chosen topic. Even the creative ways of asking “How was your day” produced the blasé “fine.” But I learned from my son. Instead of me initiating the topic, I learned to greet them and just be quiet. Sure enough, he would begin to share about his day, and what he brought up was more interesting than what I would have thought to ask.
Some families invite their quiet time on the weekends when they are making breakfast, others on a family walk, others just sitting on the couch. If we, the parents, can hold back our anxiety enough to allow silence to invite our children’s communication, authentic conversations can develop and deeper connections can be made. What time of day will you invite quiet time? Or will you create this time on the weekends? Write this down now: ___________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________ Where will you have your family’s quiet time (at home, in the car, etc.)? ___________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________