All of us on this small, spinning sphere full of humans are seeking happiness in one way or another. It's an elusive things to find, and the distractions and noisy filler of the modern age don't do anything to help us hear the inner silence that helps us on the path.
I really do feel that this age is harder to feel calm and happy in than any other. There are a million distractions out there, and multitasking (which has been heavily lauded as a modern desirable trait) actually makes us feel more frenzied and less capable. Every time we get on social media or turn on our televisions, we can easily see what appears to be thousands of other people who have nailed this whole happiness thing, and it makes us feel worse. Or, conversely, we see thousands of people in dire straits, and feel guilty and helpless, which also makes us feel worse. So what do we do? Well, I'll share a few snippets of wisdom and pebbles I've picked up along the trail, through plenty of trial and error. I'm not saying I have all the answers, and of course YMMV, but maybe some insights will give some of you a bit of help along the way.
Phaedra's Guide to Finding Happiness and Maintaining Sanity in the Modern Age
RULE 1: Depression has a hard time hitting a moving target.
This is a multi-faceted thing rule, because I mean "moving" both physically and emotionally. Through my life I've had times of stillness and times of motion, and it's finally stuck with me. If I am physically active, I really do feel much happier and in control of my life. Turns out those scientists ain't lying. Endorphins are a real thing, and they are your friend.
The trick to getting this rule right for me has been forgiveness. I've tailored a workout plan to what I can realistically do, and I stick to it as well as I can, but I no longer give up when I fall off the bandwagon. I have two small children under the age of five, and I am alone with them a lot. So that means I can no longer do distance running, which is what I used to do. So I adapted: Now I work out in my garage. We got a rowing machine (which I am a hugely avid fan of) and some weights, and jump ropes. So as much as I can, I take a half hour or so to work out. This plan has been working great for me, and I've discovered something. No matter how alone I feel, or stressed, or how many of my favorite things my little angels have broken that morning, if I get out there and move around for a while as hard as I can, magic happens. I feel better afterward, EVERY time. Suddenly I feel powerful and strong and capable and in control. And things really ARE better.
Having a strict plan doesn't work for me. I get bored if I do the same thing every day. So I vary it in HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) format. Usually I start of by rowing for 20 minutes, then for the next 10-20 minutes I do one minute intervals of the most intense work I can do. I'll sprint as fast as I can down my block, jump rope, do kettle bell swings, push-ups, pull-ups, weighted squats. The goal is that I do them as hard as I can. I also have a Tabata timer that I'll use some days as well (8 rounds of 20 seconds intense work, 10 seconds rest). And I love it. I find I'm working so hard during my exercise that I can't think about anything but the work. If worries or stresses start to creep in, that means I'm not doing it hard enough. I essentially get a meditative state going on, so my exercise ends up being beneficial mentally as well.
I went into a lot of detail there, but I get asked quite a bit what my exercise plan is. And that's the answer, but it's also what works for ME. I'm not trying to force it on anyone else, because I find that's when the plan breaks down. If I miss a day or two, I don't beat myself up about it. One of the keys to my success has been allowing myself to fall off the horse without judgement.
The other part of RULE 1 is staying active mentally as well. I always have a lot of things I'm doing, because if I'm bored, I get upset. I am creatively driven, and while I know in many ways it's a blessing, it's also a double-edged sword. Part of being a creative person is that I feel a NEED to make things. If I go too long without creating something, I am unhappy. That took me a while to identify, but now I know that's part of how I work. I need to make things, sometimes just to feel productive, sometimes to bleed poison, and sometimes just to show love. So that's what I do, and it fights off the blue devils. Stay busy, stay happy, is how I operate.
RULE 2: Stay In Your Lane
We humans are very social animals. We are tribe driven and socially adapted, particularly females. While the males would go out and hunt in silence, we stayed home with small children and talked. I think this was likely to teach our offspring the rudimentary elements of speech...and here we are, all talking it up. So while communication is a positive and essential part of our lives, it's easy to take it to excess. There's the keeping up with the Joneses element that happens, there's the gossip and judgement. It's very easy to fall into these traps. There's also the "Everyone seems happier than me" factor, which is a particularly nasty one. So what are we to do? Take it in moderation. Stay in your lane, focus on your life as much as possible, and try to be forgiving of those around us and their choices. It's much too easy these days to feel as though we are just part of an audience when we see the lives of others playing out online; remember, these are real people we care about. It's not just entertainment. Every single person is struggling with something, so step back a bit. If your friend is posting overmuch about politics, particularly the name calling kind, try to remind yourself that they aren't a caricature; maybe they're angry at other things in life and blowing off steam. Try to focus on your life rather than holding up yardsticks to those around you.
Rule 3: Stick to your expertise
Another factor of the modern age that is a happiness leech is how easy it is to get sucked into every possible tizzy that the internet latches onto. What do we do? Remember that usually, we aren't experts, and there's nothing really to do, so stay the heck out of it. How many times do we spin cycles and wring our hands over issues that happen to people who are far away and won't affect us, and then we argue about it. Remember Harambe? Remember how suddenly everyone on the planet was not only an expert parenting advice sage, but they were also completely informed on the behavior patterns and social mores of adult male gorillas? More so than the actual experts that were involved in that tough event? Well, I remember it. Made me want to throw up. So let's all just collectively decide to remember what we actually know about, and what we are expert on, and reserve our pointed criticism for what we know. Every other week the internet is deciding that every issue is a black and white, clearcut decision that should have been made with calm, perfect, clinical analysis. Guess what? Humans are still in charge of their imperfect lives, all around this planet, and as such, human foible and imperfection will be at play in nearly everything that happens. Life isn't an oscar-worthy movie just begging us to go point out logical continuity issues. Let's try remembering our own imperfection before grr facing everyone else all the time.
RULE 4: If it's out of your circle of control, it's out of your circle of concern
Everyone has things they can realistically affect in their lives. If you aren't happy with your haircut, you can change it. That's in your circle of control. If you don't like your stamina, you can move more. If you don't like the laws where you live, you can move to a place of likeminded people with laws that follow your belief system. That is in your circle of control, albeit with a bit more legwork. Those are valid things to think of, and plan about, and worry about to a certain extent. But what if you find yourself worrying about other things? If I find I'm working myself into a tizzy mentally over something, I ask myself, "Is this in my circle of control?" if it is, I try to come up with a realistic solution and goal, and move towards it. If it is within my circle of control, it's also within my circle of concern, because I can take action to remedy it. However, if it is NOT something that's within my circle of control, then I try to place it outside my circle of concern, because that's just useless worry. And life is too short for that. I can't control the fact that we are stuck with Trump and Hillary as our presidential candidates, I can't control the fact that an enormous earthquake could happen, I can't control the fact that I don't like the vulnerabilities of our powergrid....so, I try my best to put them out of my circle of concern. And actively reminding myself of the circles really does help me mentally shut off those voices.
RULE 5: If it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing.
Self explanatory, but I always feel better knowing I've done the best I possibly can in any given task.
RULE 6: Accomplish at least one thing every day. Don't let your day just happen to you.
I try, at the end of every day, to make sure that I've created or accomplished at least one thing. It varies on what it is. Some days it's just getting laundry done. Some days it's making a few batches of candles. It can be finishing a drawing, or working out. But I try to make sure that my day doesn't finish with me thinking, "What did I even do today?" That way I make sure I'm not heads down all day and letting my life pass me by.
RULE 7: Project the life you aim for
If I were to describe life in one word, it would be: setbacks. Because they are a constant. Every single person has them, and every single person seems to forget we all have them. I think at some point, most everyone feels as though they are the only person who is struggling. But we all are. The trick is to not allow the setbacks to define an experience. Learn, move on, adapt and grow. Put forth the best thing face you can. If you force yourself to smile, soon you'll find you actually do feel happier. So fake it till you make it.
RULE 8: Keep moving forward.
Make goals, beat them, make goals, if you get defeated....keep moving forward.
RULE 9: Surround yourself with people who have similar drive.
I'm not saying to stop associating with people if they don't want what you want. But really analyze why people are in your life, and if you have similar interests. Sometimes relationships aren't totally healthy, and sometimes people are there to be tourists. Measure who you give thought cycles and bandwidth to, and figure out if its healthy. Don't waste your time on dingleberries. I'd also say, make sure to do what truly makes you happy, and don't waste time on people who are going to judge you for it. There's well-natured ribbing, then there's active judgement. Ain't nobody got time for that.
RULE 10: Don't complain unless you're doing something to fix the problem.
If you aren't taking action to fix something, don't waste the time of those around you by complaining about it. Now I DO think you can complain if you're actually taking steps to fix the problem, because that's just venting steam. But someone who is still complaining about the same issue years after it arose, becomes a bore. If you hate your job, get a new one. If you can't stand your house, move. But don't make people listen to the choices you've decided to stick with. Besides, the longer you allow angry or sad thoughts to float around you, the harder it is to break away from them. Just keep moving forward.