I ‘ve lived with depression, seasonal affective disorder and a generally negative attitude for much of my life. The last few years I have been on a journey of growth, self-discovery and change, with the primary goal being a modest yet seemingly impossible one: I want to be happy. Although life has its ups and downs and I believe fulfillment to be a life-long pursuit, I am currently happier than I have ever been for a few simple reasons.
Being an insatiable bookworm and moderately lazy person for the majority of my life I have found intense physical activity excruciating and generally not worth the effort. But in the last few months I joined a fitness boot camp class which really and truly changed my life. The exercise is usually 50 minutes of high intensity interval training three times per week. A dramatic difference from the “whole lotta nothin” workout plan I was on before, but not too intense. It’s important to decide on an exercise plan that is realistic. If you plan too much for yourself, you just won’t do it.
Everyone who doesn’t exercise knows on some level that they should. It’s especially important when you’re feeling depressed, or so I had been told. I’ve always known that exercise releases endorphins and that on some chemical level it would eventually make me feel better, but I could never get past the first couple of awful days. When I committed to this class, something clicked. I felt like I had to go and went almost every time. As always, the first week or two were terrible. I kept thinking I was going to throw up, but I never did. After just a couple of weeks I felt noticeably stronger and although I’m still not right where I want to be, I make progress every week. And it really does make me feel better! If I feel depressed these days, it’s usually connected to a skipped workout. Exercise helps me to clear my head of the jumble of negative thoughts that generally reside there by allowed me to focus my energies on something positive. Not to mention that it is the fastest working anti-depressant I know of. Go for a run when you feel bad and although you might be sore, you’ll feel better in no time.
This is another relatively new practice in my life, but an invaluable one. I meditate every morning and it allows me to start my day focusing on a positive thought that I want to center my mind around. I start each day feeling at peace with myself and prepared to face the world with a clear head and strong goals. It has done wonders for my self-confidence and my productivity.
I find myself meditating throughout the day, too. While my morning meditation is guided and set to music, during the day I will sometimes close my eyes wherever I am, take deep breaths and empty my mind. This usually lasts thirty seconds to a minute but it instantly lessens my stress and clears my head. If you have a cup of tea, put your nose in the steam while you inhale.
3. Have faith in yourself.
This is a big one for me and I know I’m not alone. It is so easy to get caught up in what others think of you; to define yourself and your worth by the status that someone else assigns you. Logically, we know that is ridiculous. We are each our own person and our self-worth should come from within.But sometimes that can be so hard to remember.
The way that I’ve trained myself, (and I’m a work in progress) is by saying silently, ‘I am me. (S)he is (s)he. Only I have a say in who I am. (S)he has no say.’ Simple and bash-you-over-the-head obvious. But for me, it works. It breaks the spell that can form when you place the value of someone’s opinion above your own. Remember: only you have a say in who you are.
4. Do stuff.
Keep yourself busy. I find that when I think I just want to stay at home, when the idea of going out and being social seems the most unbearable, that is when I most need to get out of the house and out of my own head. It’s important to not put too much pressure on yourself here, every thing you do doesn’t need to be an epic adventure. It can be as simple as going for a walk, taking your dog to the park or going to Goodwill to paw through old paperbacks. Just do something. Don’t spend all day watching tv online. We tend to tell ourselves that being lazy all day is some sort of treat, that we deserve it and it will make us feel good when the opposite is true. No matter what we think, it will rarely make you happier than anything involving fresh air. Which brings me to my next point.
5. Go Outside Every Day.
Many of us live in cities and we get into this mindset that we need to have a big chunk of free time in order to get out in nature. And it’s true, sometimes it’s great to make a day of it and get way out of the city, into the beautiful isolation of the wild. But it also can be quick and easy. I challenge you to go for a walk every day, for a week. Just around your neighborhood, or down the street; wherever. Just so long as you are breathing fresh air with the sky above you for at least ten minutes a day. I dare your life not to be changed.
6. Use Your Brain.
Try and read a little every day. Reading keeps your brain actively building new connections in a way that watching television or playing video games cannot. Not only does this make you happier in the short run, but when you don’t develop Alzheimer’s because you kept your brain active your whole life, imagine how ecstatic you’ll be!
And that’s it! Simple stuff. But I’ve found that the simple stuff, the small measures that have to be implemented every day, those are the ones that change your habits and change your life. Develop a ritual that you follow each day and by nurturing intentionality in your life, you will find that you are happier and more fulfilled.