Over the past ten years there has been three things that consistently come up that either, increase my happiness when I do them or decreases my happiness when I do it too much. It does not take a lot of data or analysis to prove this to be true, it is just plainly obvious.
1. Exercise. The ability to manage my mood along with remaining an understanding and patient person is directly related to my ability to regularly exercise. I say exercise specifically because there have been periods over the past few years that I have been active (walking, training clients, etc) but not been consistent with my own running, lifting, swimming or biking. The truth is that I have done pretty much zero swimming or cycling since February or March of 2011.
During those times where my workouts are the least consistent, I trend to being unhappy and quite sad. There are likely physiological reasons for this, as the intensity provides some very positive benefits. I also believe that it relates to an awareness that my personal desires of achievement are not being met. I always have a deep desire to try and push myself to higher levels physically, when the workouts are not happening there is no hiding from the reality that I am not getting better.
I have at least begun to realize that there are seasons in life, which has allowed me to realize that currently I am just in a place of being happy I am healthy. But… the desire to go out there and achieve is never lost.
2. Slow my mind down. You can call it anything you want: mindfulness, meditation, taking a few deep breathes, stopping to smell the roses.. etc. The key is that at some point in the day, I have to take at least a few minutes and stop my mind from going deeper into worry, racing 100 miles an hour and projected what is going to happen in a week, a month or a year and getting worked up over that.
I’ve done this in many different ways. The current behavior strategy that I use is a five minute relaxation / breathing practice with some meditation music on my iphone. It is not incredibly consistent, but happens – when it does happen it makes a difference. I actually start to see my faulty thinking and worry clearly, allowing me to manage or eliminate it. Another thing I have been doing that also provides some of the same benefits is taking my dog (Kelty) for a walk and making sure I pay attention to what my surroundings are. What neighbors are out, what color is the grass, what is Kelty smelling, etc. Allowing myself to stop all the digital input and excess and feel something organic.
I was in Longmont, Colorado for a week back in June. While I was there I went to Cloud 9 and did 3 separate session in a float tank. I really wish that I had access to one regularly because I feel that could be an incredibly positive habit to use.
3. Limit alcohol. This is not a new realization, I have always known that the more alcohol I drink the less happy in aggregate I am. The interesting paradox here is that often alcohol is associated with a lot of social functions and time spent with friends, which also makes me a very happy person. I have most recently developed this rule:
1 beer = good times
2 beers = in a fun social setting with friends, think about what you have going on.
3 beers = it’s time to realize that tomorrow is going to be a subpar day and not positive
more than 3 beers = bad decision, no other observation needed
Alcohol other than beer = in any amount will result in a bad day and tomorrow will not be any better, avoid at all costs
The other thing that I notice is that not only is the amount at one single event important, but observing the regularity of the consumption. For example, if I have a drink once and maybe twice in a week, it would be ok. If I find myself having a beer each night with dinner or to try and ‘wind down’ from the day – it is a sign that I need to figure out what’s going on during the day that needs so much ‘winding down’ from. It is the consistency that I’ve seen most common the past couple years. I hate the idea of a hangover so much that it is easy to not overdo a single setting, but having a beer with dinner is an easy habit to fall into.
One might ask, “Why not just stop all alcohol consumption?” That is a very good question, I would say that it is tied into my perceptions of social settings that I’m worried about ‘being left out’. But the point is a great one I ponder often.
To have a great setup to be happy in a single day: I would have an early morning run, spend 10 to 15 minutes in a breathing exercise and limit my alcohol consumption to 1 beer or less. It seems like a simple enough process!