If you have not already watched them, the videos on Understanding Our Difficulties are crucial for giving you a foundation for both understanding your difficulties and what you can most fruitfully do to become happier and less distressed. The videos on Making Happiness and Practicing Making Happiness will give you an introduction to the specific skills that will serve you best.
This section is under development. In order to make deeper, long-lasting changes in our well-being, ultimately we must turn to face the intrusive feelings that taint our lives. As discussed in the videos noted above, this involves actively listening to our feelings of fear, shame, and pain, and living our lives more fully such that these feelings will inevitably come up and need to be faced.
There are also many aspects of our day-to-day lifestyles that can promote us feeling much less distressed and happier in our lives. Each of these is well supported by the scientific research and I consider them to be the “low hanging fruit” of well-being. For many of us they are fairly easy to add to our daily lives and simply knowing that they will really benefit you maybe all you need to include them. Most of them are fairly well-known, and what I offer here is both some of the evidence of how valuable they are and some practical direction for including these Lifestyle Practices in your life.
Physical Activity or Exercise
Time in Nature
Relationships with Others
Develop Non-Material Values
Spiritual or Religious Pursuits
Service to Others
Of course for some of us, difficulty including these in our lives is part of our distress. We may want to sleep but be struggling with insomnia, we may want to eat well but struggle with an eating disorder, we may want to exercise but lack the energy due to depression. While it is valuable to know what to be aiming for, and some useful steps to get there, being down on ourselves for not being able to do them yet will not help anyone.
Presence With Ourselves
The most crucial ingredient for becoming happier and less distressed in our lives, and for creating happier relationships, is presence. Presence is necessary if we are to live genuinely fulfilling lives, where we are fully ourselves, expressing our beliefs and feelings, and following our heart’s desire. Without it we will inevitably succumb to patterns of avoidance, making ourselves and our worlds smaller in order to avoid intrusive feelings. Presence involves a fierce, courageous determination to honour both ourselves and others. It involves protecting ourselves from the ways that we typically mistreat ourselves, with the same ferocity that a mother bear protects her cubs. It is not an airy-fairy, fanciful concept, but rather the most important, practical skill you will ever learn.
This skill includes five sub-skills that were introduced in Practice Making Happiness.
- We need to work at realizing that the distressing feelings we experience are intrusive, that they are triggered by things in our current lives but are not actually about now.
- We need to practice being present with all of our feelings, turning to face the very feelings we have habitually avoided.
- We need to recognize the ways that we typically mistreat ourselves when intrusive feelings are triggered, and replace this mistreatment with a wise, compassionate perspective on our feelings.
- We need to identify the ways that we have made ourselves and our lives smaller in order to avoid triggering intrusive feelings, and stop doing them.
- We need to come alive to who we really are by expressing what we like and don’t like, what we want and don’t want, what we believe, and how we feel.
These sub-skills are intertwined, and you don’t need to work on them in order. It is most useful, however, to begin by practicing wise, compassionate presence with our feelings. This guided meditation will introduce it. After practicing this meditation for a few times, you may also try the shorter version, below (17 vs. 27 minutes).
A Meditation for Practicing Happiness
Through Wise, Compassionate Presence
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You can download this guided mediation to listen to on an audio player, either as an M4A file (AAC – higher sound quality) or as an MP3.
The Short Version: A Meditation for Practicing Happiness
This shorter version can be alternated with the longer version, and will be most useful to you after you have listened to the longer version a few times. Even after you know it well, listening to the longer one once every several days will serve you well.