Welcome to the “Happy Habits” of the Life In Focus Experiment

We’re inviting you, along with members of our campus, professional and local communities, to be part of the Happy L.I.F.E.  We begin with many thanks to Shawn Achor for the bridge he builds (or, as some might say, in the leaps he takes) in his TEDx talk between some of the existing research in positive psychology and simple, practical applications that may help us increase the positivity in our lives.

We hope that you’ll find all the activities of the Happy L.I.F.E. meaningful and continue to build on each one as you add the next habit to your daily positivity practices.  By the end, you may just have five new habits that create greater satisfaction, success and, yes, maybe even a greater sense of happiness in your life.

There’s strength in numbers so many people choose to participate in the “Happy Habits” together.  Couples, best friends, study groups…we’ve heard about all kinds and sizes of groups starting on the Happy L.I.F.E. together.  Many of the businesses and doctors’ offices that have participated as groups designated start dates for each of the 21-day periods (with some also having kickoff events – from modest to a little lavish – to mark the start of each activity).

It’s important to note here that, while the group approach is a great way to add an instant support network, in the end, the Happy L.I.F.E. is an individual journey so anyone can just jump right in with a positive intention and get started from right where you are.

Or, if you’re already practicing one of the habits, we encourage you to go to the next level in the practice of your habit.  For instance, if you’re already meditating, add compassion or self-discovery to your intentions.  If you’re already exercising, add intention to your workout by turning off the noise – or the iPod – and truly focus inward on the mind-body connection…you get the idea.  Whatever you’re already doing, find some way that’s meaningful to you and take it up a notch.

Feel free to take “breathers” between each 21-day phase so that you can experience the satisfaction of continuing each activity past the initial 21-day period until it is truly a habit.  Then, start the next activity for 21 days to try it on for size, as you continue the preceding habit – and so on – until you’ve tried each of the five Happy L.I.F.E. activities.  If you’re like most people, you’ll find that you enjoy some of the activities more than others and, naturally, those are the activities you’re most likely to adopt as habits.



Habit 1 – Saying “Thank you”

The first activity in the Happy LIFE journal that we invite you to do, with the goal of making it a daily habit, is to send an email or note out to someone in your support system or network.  It can be anyone – and you can thank them for anything you’d like as long as you feel like it’s a benefit to your life.  It might be a parent, child or partner – or you might even post a comment expressing your appreciation for a great YouTube video.  You might even write a note to a favorite artist expressing thanks for a song, story or book that really moved you.

You might get stuck some days – they don’t call it “writer’s block” for nothing!  If you do, here’s a list of 100 things to thank people for that might help get you unstuck.  And, it might also help to remember why it’s important to say “thank you” and how to make them most meaningful to the recipient.

And, you might want to take some of your expressions gratitude to the next level by sharing them in person, like the folks at Soul Pancake.

The important thing is developing our ability to feel and share gratitude for the people who enrich our lives.


Habit 2 – Meditate

The next “happy habit” is the practice of meditation. If you’ve never meditated before, a simple breathing exercise is the best place to start.  And, even if you don’t have the ideal, quiet and calm location in which to add a meditation break to your work or school day, you can still focus your intention on developing greater connectedness to your inner life and thoughts simply by slowly, gently breathing in and out, keeping your focus on your breaths. At first, your mind will wander and you will gently bring your focus back to your breathing.  As you develop greater awareness of and focus on your breathing, you may want to attach statements or affirmations to each inhale and exhale.

NOTE: For a idea of what the practice of mindfulness meditation focused on the breath is like, please find an audio of Dr. Brendan Ozawa-DeSilva doing a guided meditation here.  The narrative of this guided meditation audio is found below.

Guided meditation narrative

To begin the meditation, find a place where you can sit comfortably, with your back upright. You can sit with your legs folded, or in a chair with your feet on the floor. The important thing is to maintain an upright spine. Have your shoulders be broad. You can fold your hands in your lap, or rest them on your knees or thighs. Allow the muscles in your face to be relaxed. Allow your eyes to be downcast, looking at the floor 2-3 feet in front of you. If you can, keep your eyes in a half-opened, soft-focus state. Or, if you find it more comfortable, you can close your eyes entirely. If you do close your eyes, be alert to a sense of drowsiness arising in your mind. If that happens, you may wish to open your eyes slightly. Keep your lips and teeth in a natural position. You can place your tongue against your upper palate, behind your upper front teeth.

To bring about a state of calmness and peace in the body and mind to begin with, take in three deep inhalations and exhalations. So, breathing in intentionally with a sense of filling your body with a revitalizing energy. As you breathe out fully, let out all the stress and tension in your body and mind. Then, again, a second time, breathe in deeply, filling your abdomen, filling your whole body. Then, slowly and gently having a sense of releasing anything that would hinder your meditation. And, a third time, breathe in deeply this revitalizing energy, then exhale and release completely.

Now, having taken these three intentional breaths, just allow your breathing to return to its natural pace, without trying to control it. Whether it is fast or slow, whether it is deep or shallow, just bring your mind to the inhalation and exhalation of your breath. Place your attention in the nostrils or on the skin of your upper lip just below the nostrils or the rise and fall of your abdomen as you breathe.

Whatever location you choose, just be aware of the incoming and outgoing breath as it enters and leaves your body. Whenever your mind anders off to something else, whenever you notice some internal chatter, whenever your mind is distracted by an external stimulus, like a sound or sensation, just notice that and gently bring your mind back to noticing your breath in the present moment. And the practice is simply attending to the breath, moment by moment, non-judgmentally, without distraction, without dullness, distraction or lethargy in the mind.

Whenever you notice a distraction, whenever you notice the mind has wandered, simply bring it back, just as an elephant trainer brings the elephant back to the stake to which it is tethered. Just gently bring your mind back to the breath, back to the present moment. Reconnect with the breath and gently hold the breath with your mindfulness, moment by moment. Observe and be aware of the breath without any analysis, without any inner commentary.

Allow that to bring a state of stability and clarity to your mind. If you feel like these distractions, thoughts and memories just keep coming and you cannot get away from them and they just seem to come in a never ending stream, you can just relate to them like the waves on the surface of a great ocean. When the wind blows, when there’s a storm, those waves naturally rise and fall but in the depths of the ocean, there’s always a silence, as sense of stability, as sense of peace not matter how turbulent the surface of the ocean may be.

So, in a similar way, without trying to fight all these distractions, all these thoughts, simply allow your mind to rest, allow yourself to connect with that deeper stability, that deeper inner silence without trying to force the mind one way or another. You may notice sometimes when you practice that the problem is not too many thoughts and distractions but rather that the mind becomes dull and sleepy. If that happens, then you need to bring about a state of alertness, a little bit more alertness to your mind.

You might wish to check your posture, make sure that your body is still upright, that your spine is still straight. You might need to open your eyes just slightly, not paying any attention to visual stimuli. You might need to perk up your mind a little bit, bring a greater sense of brightness or clarity to you mind.

The mindful state of awareness of the present moment is a perfectly balances state that is free from distraction and over excitement but its also free from dullness, sleepiness, torpor. That’s the balanced state that we’re striving to cultivate through this mental practice.

Now let’s draw this practice to a close by dedicating whatever benefits have come from this practice to our own achievement of a greater sense of flourishing and wellbeing in our lives and for the greater happiness and flourishing of all others throughout this world as well.