While visiting my old stomping grounds in New York City a few months ago, I remembered an important truth: We all want to be happy.
On a lunch break during a meeting I stood in line for soup in the basement of Grand Central Station. As I watched the interactions with the customers ahead of me and the woman at the cash register, I grew increasingly nervous. Eyes slanted, jaw tight, this woman behind the counter seemed to wear a perpetual scowl that intensified anytime someone hesitated while placing their order or fumbled for change in their wallet.
Flashbacks of Seinfeld's "Soup Nazi" episode flooded back to me. Such pressure! Did I want the black bean, vegetable, or split pea soup? Would she let me taste them to decide? Would she hate me if I spoke slowly and calmly, rather than barking my order in a succinct and decisive command?
Then I remembered, "Hey, this woman just wants to be happy, too."
So, instead of morphing into the mold the other barking customers had set, I chose something different.
I decided just to be myself. I smiled. I spoke slowly and remembered to breathe. I asked for samples to decide what I wanted. No doubt, I annoyed her; but I hope and trust that at some level I also relieved her because I reminded her of her own humanity.
Obviously, this encounter has stuck with me. Now that it's been over a decade since I lived in New York City at that frantic pace, I see how much I have grown by taking time to savor and enjoy my life since then.
I'm not saying that I don't still get lured into the hustle and bustle. That exists everywhere, not just in New York City. But I've found practical ways to approach my life from a less hurried, and therefore, happier, place inside of myself.
Here are some secrets that I carry with me everyday. They're really simple and anyone can do them.
1. Intend to be happy. When I wake up in the morning, before getting out of bed, I consciously choose happiness. And by happiness, I don't mean ecstatic glee. That's a mood. It's fleeting and circumstantial. Instead, what I mean here is contentment, an overall OK-ness, that doesn't depend on externals. It's simply an inner willingness to embrace whatever I'm facing, whatever the new day brings me, from a place of trust. Trust that whatever comes my way is an opportunity to grow, to surrender, to have faith, to become more of the person I want to be. In this way, I'm no longer a victim. I'm empowered because I control the only thing I can: my perspective.
2. Breathe deeply. I know we've all heard this one a gazillion times before. And I say it again here now because IT'S TRUE. Deep full breaths speak an embodied "YES!" When I'm faced with a challenge, I can choose to armor myself by holding my breath, or I can choose to inhale fully, all the way down into my belly. Somehow, magically, this lessens the resistance to the situation. I invite it in. Then I exhale, and I'm still alive. It's OK. I'm not annihilated by inhaling a "Yes" even when all of me screams "No". From that place of acceptance, I can soften and find a more skillful place from which to respond.
3. Practice Gratitude. Just as I begin each day with the intention to be happy, I end each day with a reflection of gratitude. It's nothing fancy: just my journal, my pen, and me. When I get into bed, before turning out the lights, I make a list of all the things--little and not so little--that really touched me through out the day. The funny thing is, usually it's the really simple things that really light me up. The people who supported me and showed kindness during the day or the way the sky looked at dusk. It's amazing what I remember and how it opens me to look for the goodness the next day when I do this practice. Even on the darkest days, I always can find things to be grateful for.
What about you? Do you have any secrets to daily happiness?