Have you ever noticed that some of the happiest people tend to be the calmest, and ones that just enjoy the moment? I’ve seen it in some of those around me and joked many times that the key is just to bottle that up and sell it.
If you’re like me, your mind races, always trying to analyze what might have gone wrong in your past. Or fretting over how you could approach anything that may come up in your future — from unpleasant discussions with family to future income if you ever lost your job to
So what I wanted to know is how to be that calm person: one whose mind could just set things aside and focus on the present. And ultimately one who’s head wasn’t constantly running, day in and day out. So I asked other people questions like, “What do you mean when you say that your mind is blank?” or “How are you not worried about x, y, or z all the time?”
What did I learn?
The responses were varied, from lifestyle insights to dietary habits. But the most consistent answer I got was to slow down as this can leads to mindfulness: where your mind is fully in the moment.
Let me stop for a second because I can hear the responses now — mostly because I have thought the same before: “That’s easier said than done”, “I don’t have time to slow down”, or “How simple minded must one be to think that could actually work?” But isn’t there some truth to the last part, that there’s good in keeping things simple?
So everything I just gave you was a brain dump — something I tend to be really good at. But I can do better. A more mindful way to phrase the entire beginning of this post is this:
When you slow down your actions, you allow your brain to slow down as well. It makes you more aware of what’s going on in the present instead of being 1) depressed over events in your past that you can’t change or 2) anxious about the future which isn’t here yet. Being mindful of the moment is a simple way to boost your happiness now.
If you haven’t written me off yet, then let’s talk about ways that anyone — including you and me — can be more mindful. I’ve listed these based on those conversations with others and by looking at the times in my life where I did feel more at ease.
Talk more slowly
Look at some motivational figures who have mastered the art of public speaking. Many times, they say just enough. They articulate their words. They focus on their audience. They are thoughtful as they speak. And they utilize pauses.
Try this out. When I do, my brain focuses more. It also forces me to actively listen to the other person, rather than try to plan out my next response. It even makes my writing more concise.
Slow your stride
I usually power walk. My husband — who is half a foot taller than me — can barely keep up. He tends to stroll at a leisurely pace. What ends up happening? My heart rate speeds up and I usually feel an adrenaline rush coming on. Not necessarily a bad thing if I’m about to clean the house. It can be bad in other situations — like if I’m heading into a doctor’s appointment where my blood pressure will be taken.
Try walking more slowly. And if your brain is telling you that you’re going to be late, respond to it slowly — like in tip #1. “I can be late for once” or “A couple minutes isn’t a big deal” are helpful mindsets.
Take breaks outside
This is especially important if you’re cooped up all day. Get some fresh air. Feel the breeze or listen to the birds. Close your eyes as you breath in. It will help your mind and body reset.
I’ll also note here to take regular breaks — for lunch, the bathroom, and just water ones too. Sounds silly to have to list it out, but ignoring small things like that on busy days lead to some hard habits to break. If I know that I have a busy day ahead of me, I’ll block off times on my calendar for those moments. You can schedule projects and calls around those planned breaks, which will help you prioritize your time better in the long run.
Enjoy long meals
Another simple way to boost happiness now is to not rush through your next mealtime. Letting your mind focus on instructions allows you to set aside other thoughts.
This is especially important if you’re with friends or loved ones. It may be awhile until you get the chance again, so don’t schedule something immediately after. In our case, if we offer a weekend lunch, we keep the afternoon free. We usually end up spending three hours just catching up, joking around, and letting the kids run around outside and play.
It gives us the opportunity to hear about everything they have going on and the chance to talk about our stuff too. Then, if it’s a few months before we can get together again, at least the outings aren’t rushed.
Listen to something soothing
After the last few months of trying to slow down, I see the appeal of jazz and soft music. With a few long breaths, you can really let it wash over you, lay back, and just relax. Quite a few times, it’s put me to sleep — a restful one too instead of trying to force my mind to stop racing.
I thought about including a line item for meditation, but it hasn’t been easy for me to jump into when I’m anxious and need it most. Instead, I’ve enjoyed using the Relax+ app when I need those moments. It’s free — only paid upgrades if you want them — and gives me a really good nap.
Set aside electronics
This doesn’t mean all the time. But before bed, it can be beneficial to give your brain a break. The National Sleep Foundation says that looking at electronic screens can delay your circadian rhythm. Whether there’s truth to that, I’m not entirely sure. However, I do know that when I put my phone face down across the room at least 30 minutes to an hour before bed, I have an easier time falling asleep. Again, this one is worth a try.
If my mind is still racing as I’m falling asleep, I don’t count sheep. But I do have a technique that helps:
- My brain: “Tomorrow’s going to be a long day…”
- Me: “I don’t care. I’ll deal with it tomorrow.”
- Brain: “There’s that bill you need to pay…”
- Me: “I don’t care. I already set a reminder and it’s not due until tomorrow.”
- Brain: “And the house needs to be cleaned…”
- Me: “I don’t care. Something always needs to be cleaned. I’ll think about it after my long day tomorrow.”
- Brain: “And your [insert family member] said [insert advice about something you’re doing wrong].”
- Me: “I don’t care. If it doesn’t work out, then I’ll try that.”
- Brain: “And –”
- Me: “I don’t care.”
- Brain: “Then there’s –”
- Me: “I really don’t care.”
- Brain: “Or — ”
- Me: “Nope, don’t care.”
This one I got from my husband, not because this is what he does. But one day — right before bed — I was thinking, “Man, hubby is always so damn calm. I wonder what he would do in this situation. He doesn’t seem to be bothered by small things. Maybe I just tell the small things that pop into my head that I don’t care.” So I started saying that anytime my brain would race. There were times that I had to legitimately get up to check on something. But 99% of the time, I had already had it covered and could put off thinking about it until the next day.
Know what’s good for you
Everything we talked about until now are small changes you can make. But we all have bad habits that can add to our discomfort. Think about something you do that doesn’t make you feel good. And I’m not saying every single “bad” habit as some are just harmless vices. In my case, I was snacking all day while at work. I’d feel bloated and many times it would lead me to skip lunch.
So I resolved that snacking every once in a while was okay — everything in moderation — and then I worked on it. Everytime I would crave a snack, I’d drink water. In the mornings, I’d drink coffee when I got hungry after I had eaten breakfast. And overtime, my appetite went back to normal. And being more cognizant of what I was doing (versus just grabbing a bag of chips), made me more mindful of the present. Learn more about easy ways to change bad habits for good.
Along with bad habits, it’s important to recognize toxic relationship dynamics. It’s not necessary to break off contact unless someone’s being harmed. But even getting upset with loved ones because we had a bad day can be detrimental to relationships. So it’s important to acknowledge those bad dynamics and work on improving them. Otherwise, it will eat away at both people’s happiness and be nearly impossible to stay together long-term.
Keep in mind that you want to treat happiness like a climate — a long-term pattern — versus the weather — a day-to-day or even hour-by-hour occurrence. You’re allowed to have bad days, moments of frustration, sad feelings, or times where you’re upset. But the key to happiness is easy: slow down so you can appreciate what’s going on in the moment. Otherwise, you allow yourself to be hung up in the glory days of your past or terrified of your future.