I wish I let myself be happier.
– The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware
My family is crazy.
The good kind of crazy.
A typical morning in the Kavinta household:
My shirtless brother jumps on me in bed singing a catchy one-hit wonder you were certain faded into pop music obscurity.
(His go-to: “The Thong Song” by Sisqo.)
Downstairs, the breakfast table is overflowing with eggs, sausage and my favourite Filipino bread (pandesal).
I can hear bossa nova in the background.
My dad greets me downstairs with a beaming smile and an even bigger hug.
“Hi honey!” he says. “I bought coffee already – it’s on the table.”
“Ray is a GD saint!”
Written testimonial from one of Ray’s clients.
My mom looks up from her laptop and says, “Hi baby!” and plants a huge kiss on my face.
Before I can say “Good…”, she’s preparing a plate for me.
It only takes a couple of bites before I’m choking on my eggs – my parents are having a water fight in the kitchen. They are chasing each other and laughing like children.
When I started writing this post, I thought about my happiest memories. I was sure they would be grand events like getting into university or moving to a new city.
But instead, I remember moments like these.
My happiest memories are often the simplest, during the most mundane of days.
I truly believe it’s important to strive for happiness every day, instead of waiting for the big milestones in our lives to make us happy.
My happiest moments have fallen into two core areas: authenticity and relationships. I’ve also included an additional section stacked with practical things you can do to be happier today.
Here’s to happy days ahead.
I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, rather than one other’s expected of me.
– The top regret of the dying, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware
Everyone keeps talking about the importance of being authentic, following your heart, and being true to yourself, but what does all of this really mean?
It means this:
You are living an authentic life when your daily actions align with your core values.
When your daily actions DON’T align with your core values, you have what leadership guru Robin Sharma calls, an integrity gap.
He tells his clients to show him their schedules to determine if this gap exists.
Let’s say health is a core value for you. If there is no time scheduled in your calendar for the gym or any type of exercise, then you’re probably not living a life true to your values.
Gandhi said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
(Yes, I’m quoting Gandhi.)
So check your own schedule to see if you have any integrity gaps.
If so, here are some ways to lead a more authentic and happier life.
Laugh until you pee.
I grew up around people who genuinely love to laugh.
The ugly kind. The guttural, wheezing, snorting kind.
Several studies support all the benefits (and there are a ton!) of humour and laughter. If you want to get all sciencey, laughter reduces the stress hormone, cortisol, and triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals.
So take laughter seriously.
As 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.”
I watch short funny videos on YouTube so I reach O-LOL (optimum levels of laughter) throughout the day.
My go-to is stand-up comedy:
But the Jimmy’s are hilarious too:
It’s easy to forget how good it feels to laugh.
I keep an online journal of funny moments and stories.
I read it from time to time and I am transported back to that moment.
I erupt with laughter not only at the situation described but also at the detail in which I described it.
My flair for drama and exaggeration makes for hilarious (and embarrassing) material.
“Yes, I miss my family…but I think it’s more than that. I don’t know, maybe i’m just PMS-ing. I wonder if I experience the same symptoms but without the actual monthly gift. This is heading towards a serious tangent. Regardless, I’m feeling sad right now. Just a matter of time before I dust myself off and pick myself up again. WOW I’m lame. I wish I didn’t need this type of therapy anymore. I’m regressing back to my high school days. I don’t know why I hate feeling weak or inferior. Maybe I do have a penis. I’ve got this macho complex…it really disgusts me sometimes.”
Excerpt from my online journal, 10/03/2010
I also remind myself to laugh with the tools I use on a daily basis.
My notebook cover:
So don’t be shy – laugh your heart out!
Do what you love (even if it’s not for money yet).
“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.”
– Bob Dylan (1959 – ), singer-songwriter, artist, and writer
Some of us are lucky enough to work at a job we love.
But even if you’re not, continue doing the things you love.
Immerse yourself in your hobbies and passions.
I’ve always loved writing.
Stephen King said, “If you want to be a good writer, you have to write a lot and read a lot.”
I took this to heart and have since developed a habit of writing every day.
I read a ton of personal development books, business books, and even books about writing (#meta).
(Recommendations: On Writing by Stephen King, On Writing Well by William Zinsser, and the classic, Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White)
If you love something, go deep.
Try to learn as much as you can about the subject.
Become obsessed with it.
It becomes a virtuous cycle.
Not only will you love it even more, but you’ll also be better at it.
And if you’re better at it, you’ll love it more…
Do you see where I’m going with this?
And why not fall in love again?
Remember that thing you used to love in high school or university but don’t seem to have the time for now?
Schedule just one hour a week in your calendar to do that thing.
Up until I was 18 years old, I wanted to be a professional singer.
So every week now, I schedule 30-minutes in my calendar to sing.
My piano is in my family home across the country so instead I sing with karaoke versions of songs on YouTube.
It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to make you happy.
My next goal is to start playing piano again. I played for 9 years and stopped because I got “too busy”.
Make the time for the things you love.
But I get it – maybe you’re ready to move on.
Your passion served its purpose for that period in your life.
You had a great run, but now it’s time to say goodbye.
Just remember to find a new love.
I’ve recently taken a liking to old-man sports.
You know – speed walking, stretching for beer, and golf.
I worked at a golf course for five summers, but only caught the bug in my last year.
It’s a difficult sport and it’s easy to get frustrated.
But as mentioned, the better you get at something, the more you enjoy it.
So try something new and if you hate it at first, be patient and keep at it.
I like to try something new at least three times before pursuing it further or writing it off.
The first time, you’re awkward and uncomfortable. You’re getting more familiar with your new environment and you’re learning the basics.
The second time you’re more comfortable, relaxed, and self-aware. You can focus on the task and pay attention to how you’re feeling: are you actually enjoying what you’re doing?
If by the third time, you’re still not feeling it, it’s probably best to pursue something else.
Last week, I tried a hip hop class for the first time.
I felt super uncomfortable and out of my element at first.
Everyone was visibly cooler than me.
Girls were wearing crop tops, snapback hats, and had flannel shirts tied around their waists.
I was wearing lime green running shoes and my boyfriend’s Molson Canadian tee that came free in a 24-pack.
(The dress code said “casual workout”.)
And all those mirrors! So I can watch myself flail awkwardly from every angle. Cool.
But I soon got over it – the energy of the music and dancing was overpowering.
It ended up being super fun.
I fully intend to go back a couple more times to see if it’s something that will stick in the long-run.
I get it though – despite our best intentions, finding the time and energy even for things we LOVE can be challenging.
What does this mean in human speak?
When Achor wanted to practice the guitar more, an activity that makes him happy, he moved the guitar within his immediate reach instead of 20 seconds away.
He says to lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt and raise it for habits you want to avoid.
“The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change.”
Excerpt from The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor
Try the 20-second rule to promote activities that make you happy.
Come on, you know what I’m talking about.
When you’re in “the zone” – completely focused and enveloped in the task you’re doing.
You can be in the zone when you’re writing, playing soccer, or even answering client emails at work.
This state is also known as “flow”.
When a person is in flow, he or she doesn’t even focus on their emotions but is instead completely focused in the present moment.
The hallmark of flow is feeling spontaneous joy, even rapture while performing the task.
From Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Daniel Goleman, p. 91
Watch his TED Talk, Flow, the secret to happiness, here:
Find the activities that give you flow and do more of these.
Bring back traditions.
When I think of what makes me happiest, family gatherings come to mind.
My favourite is Christmas Day.
It’s hosted in my family home in Edmonton and is spent indulging in a huge feast of paella, meat and seafood, and a plethora of heart attack-inducing desserts.
We are unable to move or stay awake, so we play charades to reboot our energy.
This typically ends in deafening roars of laughter.
(You try keeping a straight face watching your grandma act out a scene from Titanic.)
Later in the day, my Grandpa sits in a big chair and I hand him presents from under the tree to give out.
He usually wears a Santa hat or reindeer antlers.
One year we couldn’t find either:
It’s loud and crazy and I love it.
Traditions are constant and they give us something to look forward to. They keep us grounded and focused.
Not to mention all the happy memories you can look back on. Research has shown that looking back on fond memories has a wide range of benefits including making you less lonely, increasing generosity towards strangers, and reducing anxiety.
Did you have any family traditions growing up that you wish you still kept?
Why not try to bring them back?
Ok. By this, I’m not saying you have to go around singing, “Alleluia! Praise Jesus!” a la Yonge and Dundas guy.
(But I wouldn’t judge if you did.)
Instead, self-help and personal development experts profess that cultivating gratitude regularly will make you happier.
As Sheryl Crowe said, “It’s not having what you want. It’s wanting what you’ve got.”
The up-side of being diagnosed with lupus is that it has made me more grateful.
It has made me more present, mindful, and much stronger.
I’ve had days where I couldn’t walk, so I am truly thankful when I am able to jog 5K.
But with so much negativity in the news and in our personal lives, it can be hard to find things to be grateful for.
Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, says to take advantage of The Tetris Effect.
This is the game’s surreal ability to spill into real life. After shutting off the game, your mind still continues to play it, even when you’re physically not.
A study from 2009 even shows how playing Tetris can grow your brain and make it more efficient.
When you perform specific tasks over and over again, they take up less of your brain power over time.
So how does all of this make you happier?
We can train our brain to make positive patterns more automatic.
We can retrain the brain to scan for the good things in life-to help us see more possibility, to feel more energy, and to succeed at higher levels.”
Excerpt from The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor
So actively seek out positive things.
Every morning, write down at least three things you’re thankful for.
I do this (almost) every morning and I can easily think of at least 10.
It takes less than five minutes.
Even the simple act of thinking about the things and people you’re thankful for makes you happy in the moment.
Then every night, write down three good things that happened during the day.
Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, delivered a moving commencement address to the 2016 graduating class at Berkeley University. She spoke about her husband’s death for the first time publicly.
She emphasized the importance of being grateful and knowing that things could always be worse.
Here’s an excerpt from her speech:
A few weeks after Dave died, I was talking to my friend Phil about a father-son activity that Dave was not here to do. We came up with a plan to fill in for Dave. I cried to him, “But I want Dave.” Phil put his arm around me and said, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.”
Watch the full speech here:
So be grateful.
Make the most of what you have, where you are.
And kick the shit out of Option B.
I wish I stayed in touch with my friends.
– The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware
Like most humans, I’m happiest when I’m around people.
Not surprisingly, there are several studies showing that our interactions with others have a large influence on our happiness.
Strong ties (our closest relationships) are super important in influencing our sense of belonging and happiness.
The same goes for weak ties (our relationships with acquaintances) as well, but to a lesser extent.
Go surround yourself with good, happy people.
Start with your strong ties first.
Spend more time with family and friends.
Psychologist Arthur Aron conducted research that found: the single biggest predictor of human happiness is the quality of a person’s relationships.
Further research has shown that strong relationships can increase quality of life by up to 50 per cent.
I keep a list at the bottom of my calendar of the people I want to have a deeper connection with.
Every month, I reach out to these people and make sure we spend quality time together.
Usually, it’s just a great conversation over a meal or coffee.
One friend and I meet at the same restaurant every month. It makes it easier – we don’t have to think about where to meet up, just when.
Keep it simple and make it work for you.
As much as I love connecting one-on-one with close family and friends, I also love socializing in groups.
Be the person that brings people together.
Throw parties as often as you can.
Invite a few different people over for dinner on regular basis.
A few years ago, I started a club called The Society of Beer Enthusiasts for my love of craft beer.
Aside from hosting tasting parties in my apartment, I organized brewery tours and workshops in brewpubs downtown.
If you’re shy, start small.
Invite a close friend out for a drink – you’ll be happy in no time!
Leave people better than when you met them.
My closest friends would say I’m outgoing and gregarious by nature.
I also have a naturally approachable and friendly personality, which makes it easier for people to open up to me.
I listen well and am genuinely interested in other people, which also helps.
I don’t say these things to brag. I’m just happier when I make other people happy.
Whether it’s through a good laugh, listening intently, or simply providing company, always add value to other people’s lives.
Be kind. Period.
A study shows that kindness makes happy people happier.
(That’s like, supremely happy.)
Perform daily acts of kindness.
And they don’t have to be random!
Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor and author of The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, says that almost any types of acts of kindness can boost happiness.
The more we incorporate kindness as a norm, the more it will become a habit in our daily lives.
I make it a point to open doors for people, I strike conversations with strangers, and I help elderly people struggling on the subway.
I don’t say this to boost my ego, but it’s surprising how quickly kindness has gone out of style.
Most of us want to be more successful, wealthier, or thinner. But few of us ever strive to be kinder.
Make kindness a habit. The world will be happier, and so will you.
My childhood home had an open door policy – everyone was welcome.
We were the house with all the parties, sleepovers, and after-school hangouts.
My parents were always generous and they were (mostly) happy to be surrounded by an exuberant collection of kids on a regular basis.
(Ask them and their opinion may differ slightly.)
I remember one story in particular. I was home for the summer – my friend Sarah was having her bachelorette party and we were bar hopping.
Eventually, the stagette turned into a jack and jill and the best man had too much to drink. I drunkenly told him he could crash at my place and he could grab his car in the morning.
You’ll never guess who he is:
When we arrived home, I threw open the front door, stumbled into my mom’s room, and told her that Kyle was going to spend the night.
“Who?” she asked.
I explained the story in greater detail. Her face showed that she trusted me after I mentioned he was the best man at Sarah’s wedding, although I’m sure she was still uneasy.
I told her he was going to crash on our basement couch, but she insisted on making a proper bed with fresh linens for him instead.
In the morning, my mom had prepared a full breakfast spread for our hungover guest.
He was extremely grateful and even embarrassed that he had to spend the night.
To us, it was no big deal. Just part of our open door policy.
Letting a stranger/potential murderer into your home is one way to be generous.
If that’s not your cup of tea, be generous in other ways.
If you can’t be generous with your home or money, be generous with your time or skills.
Mentor a student or junior colleague. Volunteer.
There are so many ways to be generous.
Find your lobster.
Remember that episode in Friends – Pheobe describes how lobsters mate for life and says that Ross is Rachel’s lobster because they are made for each other?
(I grew up in the 90’s, don’t judge.)
A key to happiness is finding your lobster – the one person to spend your life with.
My friend, Tinderella, introduced me to Mike, and I couldn’t be happier.
As someone who has been single for the majority of her 20’s, I understand how hard it can be to meet someone.
(Is it so hard to find a nice guy who showers regularly and doesn’t punch babies?)
Maybe it’s time to bite the bullet and try online dating.
I’ve tried all the sites and apps and can say the most important thing to remember is to be persistent.
Don’t expect to find your guy or gal after a couple of dates. I went on about 15 dates before meeting this gem:
Take advantage of social opportunities to meet people. Say yes to housewarmings, birthdays, and nights out with friends.
If you have a dog, exploit him! Go to the dog parks – love happens there.
Have no shame. Tell your friends you want to be in a relationship.
How else are you supposed to find someone if nobody knows you’re looking?
Most of all, stay positive.
Like a lot of important things in life, finding your lobster takes time.
Just keep focusing on being authentic, having quality relationships, and doing the things you love and enjoy.
You will meet your person in time.
Congrats – you’re now in a fully-committed adult relationship!
Now it’s time to get on each other’s nerves and fight.
But did you know that the way you fight with your S.O. can make you happier?
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, says it’s important to “Fight Right”. She recommends using this list of phrases when you’re in an argument with your loved one.
A recent study about how well couples resolve fights found that how we begin a conflict is much more important than how we end it.
More specifically, setting a positive tone in the first three minutes of conflict was the biggest contribution a partner could make in making amends.
So what should you do?
If you can sense you’re about to enter a full-fledged argument with your S.O., try to be aware of your emotions.
Use humour to relieve the tension and lift the sour mood.
Be empathetic and listen to their side of the story.
I’m not saying it will be easy. In the heat of the moment, all you can imagine is his or her head exploding.
Your only goal in a fight should be to form a stronger connection with your person.
Be kind rather than being right.
MORE WAYS TO BE HAPPY TODAY:
Yayaya we get it – moving around is good for you.
But research suggests that even just 20-minutes of movement will provide the most health benefits.
To quote science, exercise releases: BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) to protect your brain from stress, and endorphins to make us feel good.
Take a brisk walk outside or do some jumping jacks and burpees indoors. I always feel happier and more energized after a walk with Bernie.
Take a nap.
It’s not just for pre-schoolers anymore!
Even 10-minutes are enough to reboot your brain and boost your mood.
Shawn Achor suggests that even just 2-minutes of meditation per day over 21 days is enough to make a difference.
Try some beginner mindfulness exercises here.
Get out in nature.
One of my fondest childhood memories growing up is camping with my parents’ Philippine Choral group.
Even today, I cry with joy when I find a nice trail in the woods or smell a campfire.
Take a 5-minute walk or find a park or hiking trail near you.
But Carla, you’re just a hippie, you say. If you’re not convinced, read this recent study that shows how nature significantly increases people’s health and happiness.
Find your park.
A la Beyoncé, is there a spot in the city that inspires you and makes you happy? If not, find one.
Mine is Coronation Park by Exhibition Place. Moreso out of convenience – I live down the street.
Get rid of stuff.
De-cluttering brings you mental clarity and makes you happier.
At the risk of sounding trite, it was seriously life-changing. I got rid of about two-thirds of what I initially had.
Her key for de-cluttering: Only keep things that spark joy.
Surround yourself with happy memories.
Remember that time when John knocked over the boat at the lake…or when Cindy ate those crickets in Thailand?
Neither do I.
To remember my favourite trips and moments, I keep a lot of pictures scattered around my apartment. They constantly make me smile.
AND…get this: research shows that looking back at fond memories reduces anxiety and makes you less lonely.
I like to throw parties whenever I can, but I also believe that we should celebrate the small stuff.
So go ahead – celebrate the start of summer, your successful meeting, or finally cleaning out your fridge.
(It’s a big deal.)
Spend some skrilla.
Yes, money CAN buy happiness.
Get a pet.
I got Bernie when I was diagnosed with lupus and he has made so much happier.
There is no shortage of studies showing the effects pets have on their owners’ happiness.
Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that pets provide meaningful support for owners, improving their lives.
If it’s not realistic for you to get a pet right now, ask a friend to dog or cat sit for them. You can even borrow one!
The Yerkes-Dodson Theory states that performance increases with higher levels of arousal.
If you’re not being challenged enough, you’re prone to being bored and unhappy.
Learn from others.
What makes other people happy?
Schedule time for fun.
I know this sounds contrived, but life gets so busy that it’s important to make time to enjoy it.
Set a daily recurring 30-minute event in your calendar to do something purely for fun.
Shoot the shit with a friend or goof off with your S.O.
Give out praise daily.
This makes us happy because we feel more appreciative and thoughtful.
Send a thank you card and a $5 Starbucks gift card to a colleague who went out of his or her way to help you at work.
Email a friend thanking them for always being a reliable source of wisdom and companionship over the years.
Find your ickigai.
They also don’t have a word for retirement. Instead, they have the word, Ickigai (pronounced “icky guy”), which roughly translates to “the reason you wake up in the morning”.
Find yours, write it on a card, and read it every morning when you wake up.
Being connected to and aware of your life purpose every day will boost your happiness.
BONUS: Don’t listen to advice.
Including this post.
Here is an excerpt from The Happiness Equation, by New York Times-bestselling author Neil Pasricha:
“But happy people know when it’s important to stop taking advice and start listening to yourself. Any cliché, quote, or piece of advice that resonates with you only confirms to your mind something you already know.”
My experiences are different from yours.
Listen to advice to a certain point, but then define happiness for yourself.
African author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie emphasizes the danger of a single story:
This has been my story. What’s yours?
Are you unhappy because you’re still trying to find your life purpose? Read What Should I Do With My Life? 17 Simple Ways to Find the Answer.
What daily rituals do you have that make you super happy?
Would love to hear your experiences in the comments section below.