To begin 2017 with optimism and purpose, I took a class on Jan. 1 called “Mindful Intention for the New Year” at The DEN, a meditation center right in the middle of LA’s very busy La Brea Avenue. I wasn’t alone in seeking a positive beginning. The class was packed, a solid sea of meditation cushions.
So, for this first blog post of the year, I thought I’d share some tips from a recent chat I had with Joseph Emet, PhD, author of Finding the Blue Sky: A Mindful Approach to Choosing Happiness Here and Now.
I asked Dr. Emet three ways to begin a happiness habit. Here’s what he suggested:
1. Practice mindful meditation.
A mindfulness practice, Emet says, strengthens your ability to regulate your mood and return to a baseline of pleasant functioning after you encounter the inevitable bumps in the road.
Simply sit with a straight back and breathe very slowly—six slow counts in and six slow counts out—filling your abdomen with each breath. When you’re beginning a mindfulness practice, guided meditations and songs can be helpful. You can find more than a dozen, from the three-minute “My Heart is at Ease” to the 12-minute “Reducing Rumination” on Emet's website.
2. Become aware of what brings your happiness.
Go through your day mentally, reflecting on how much happiness each activity brought you. If you listen to the radio in the morning, remember what you heard. If it wasn’t conducive to happiness, would you consider listening to something else or just having silence? What was your daily commute like? If you stressed and fumed over the traffic, can you imagine spending the time listening to an inspiring podcast or an audiobook? Recall the conversations you had with your family. If they didn’t make you happy, can you envision different ways of relating?
3. Cultivate positive states of mind.
At the end of each day, instead of cataloging grievances, spend a few moments contemplating what brought you contentment, joy, gladness and gratitude. Don’t fret if you’re stuck. It’s often easier to connect with negative emotions like anger, fear or frustration. Emet suggests making a list of positive emotions and reading it aloud daily. Along with the ones mentioned above, you might add serenity, engagement, hope, amusement, awe, wonder, confidence, admiration and appreciation to the list. Slowly, over time, checking in with these emotions every day can help train your mind to notice not just clouds, but also the blue sky behind them.