… and how to develop them!
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from chronic illness is that happiness is a skill, it doesn’t have to depend on our circumstances. In fact, it’s more the result of a collection of many skills which enable us to accumulate many moments of joy, satisfaction and contentment. When I started this post I identified 10 really important but simple to develop skills. Unfortunately the post was getting really long, so here are the first 5 and tips for how to develop them even when you haven’t got much energy:
1. Being present in the here and now
To fully experience joy, you need to be with it in the moment. Being present also means we’re not wasting energy going over a past that can’t be changed or worrying about a future that can’t be known. Being present brings stronger connections with others and a deeper experience of the flow of love, which can be easily taken for granted without the skill of presence.
Developing presence is a lifelong journey, but even the smallest steps bring gains. It all starts with grounding yourself with your breath and other mindfulness tools. Although being present can help you relax, it can be hard to develop presence without being relaxed first, activities that naturally bring you to a relaxed presence are great ways to practise. For me that includes gentle yoga, tai chi, nurturing plants, connecting with nature, and more recently paint by numbers. What activities bring you fully into the present moment in a relaxed way? How could you make them a more regular part of your life?
2. Gratitude and appreciation
Next to presence, being grateful and appreciative is the most powerful happiness skill you could develop. The more that you practise being grateful for things and showing your appreciation, the more you will spontaneously start to notice things what you can appreciate in the moment, and little moments of joy start to build up.
This is also one of the easiest skills to develop, it just takes paying a little attention to what you could be grateful for. You don’t even have to feel the gratitude when you get started, that will come with practise. Start simply, by writing down 3 things that you’re grateful for every night before you go to sleep. Any kind of gratitude practise will do though, you could make a scrap book or share something on social media every day with #grateful or #gratitude. You could even join a gratitude group if that would encourage you.
3. Valuing small achievements
We all need some kind of sense of achievement to feel happy, but when chronic illness strikes it can be impossible to meet the same levels of achievement that we knew before. The only way to get around this is to totally recalibrate what achievement means to you. I always like to use the comparison of the strong man pulling the truck and the marathon runner. The strong man only goes 100m because he’s pulling the truck. We shouldn’t be expecting ourselves to run a metaphorical 26 miles when we have the truck of chronic illness to pull!
What are you achieving now that you could value much higher than you did before, because it’s being achieved despite the obstacles involved in living with chronic illness? Sometime even basic self-care like getting out of bed and making a cup of tea need to be valued as the important achievements that they are!
4. Valuing small purposes
Just like we all need a sense of achievement we also need a sense of purpose to be happy. Again, we need to recalibrate our ideas about purpose and start paying attention to the many purposes we already have but perhaps haven’t been recognising. I always say that my number one purpose is to be as happy and healthy as I can be, as no other purpose can survive without that. I have also learned to value the purpose in loving and being loved, growing and learning as well as finding smaller ways of having purpose through serving others. Last year when my energy reached an all-time low for me and there was very little I could do, I chose to value highly the purpose I had in doing the online grocery shopping and making healthy meals for my household, albeit with help. I was making life easier and healthier for us all. What purpose could you value more highly that you already have?
5. Love and compassion
Maybe this should be no.1 because if you can fill your life with love, happiness is inevitable. But how do you become more loving when your life is filled with suffering? It all starts with yourself. In my work as a coach, I’ve found that helping clients develop self-compassion tends to play a fundamental role in improving happiness and well-being. First there needs to a be a belief in being worthy of compassion, and I’ve found that choosing to believe that everybody is unconditionally worthy is a great first step. Next it needs to be practised. Look yourself in the eye in the mirror and tell yourself you are worthy of your own love. Practise talking to yourself as though you are your own best friend. Write yourself a self-compassion letter to read on your bad days. Aim to bring a loving attitude to all the self-help and self-care you practise.
Once you’re more comfortable with self-compassion, loving kindness meditations are a great way to bring more love into your life. I also practise sending silent wishes of happiness, joy and laughter to everyone I meet outside the house. Paying attention to being present with loved ones is another important practise.
Tune in next week for the other 5 low energy happiness skills!