21 Days to Happiness

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I recently came across this Ted Talk, by Shawn Anchor, recommended by a fellow student. The insightful, well-delivered, entertaining talk is important in the field of naturopathic medicine because it stresses the importance of positivity for living a life of health and happiness. 

Shawn expresses the idea that only 10% of our inner happiness is due to external factors: our job, possessions, education, etc, while the other 90% is attributed to how we perceive those circumstances. We live in a society where we focus on reaching goals, thinking that once we reach those goals we will be happier: “When I lose 20 pounds, I’ll feel happy with myself,” “When I get that raise, I’ll like my job,” or “If I get into that school, then I’ll feel great.” It reminded me of a story our Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction teacher told us on Tuesday night:

There was once a fisherman, sleeping in his boat. He had caught all his fish for the day and so he was enjoying the sunny afternoon by taking a well-deserved nap, when along came a businessman.

“What are you doing?” Asked the businessman.

“I’m resting.” Replied the fisherman, “I’ve caught all my fish for the day.”

“Why don’t you go out and catch more?” Asked the businessman.

“Why would I do that?” Wondered the fisherman.

“Well, if you went out and caught more fish, you’d make more money.” Stated the businessman, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

“What would I do with more money?” Inquired the fisherman.

“You could buy a bigger boat.”

“And what would I do with a bigger boat?”

“Well,” replied the businessman, “You could catch even more fish, then. Then you could make even more money, buy a fleet of boats, employ other fishermen, catch even more fish and make even more money.” He finished, seeming pleased with his insightful advice.

“And what would I do then?” Asked the fisherman, who by now was very confused.

“Well,” exhaled the businessman, on a role now, “then you could really enjoy life!”

The fisherman looked at his beautiful surroundings, the afternoon sun dancing on the calm waters of the harbour; his humble but comfortable boat serving as the perfect place to rest. He looked back up at the businessman, who by now was looking quite triumphant, and replied,

“And what the heck do you think I’m already doing?”

Like the fisherman, being content with your life’s present circumstances is the key to increased enjoyment and satisfaction. According to Shawn Anchor, becoming more positive isn’t hard: he proposes a way to increase your satisfaction and overall happiness by spending only 2 minutes a day for 21 days in a row.

He suggests a list of activities that one might engage in, including exercise, meditation or journalling. One of the activities that stood out for me is expressing daily gratitude by taking 2 minutes at the end of each day to journal 3 things you have been thankful for in the past 24 hours. According to Shawn, this simple task is enough to set the brain on a different path, one that leads to increased happiness.

I often find that, in my life, I spend my time focusing on my goals and aspirations for the future. While this striving for future goals is what I’ve been taught to do in order to experience successes in my life, it results in my inability to pay attention to and enjoy my life in the present. Changing my lens of focus to the life blessings I have now allows me to marinate in the present. I find that, while it may takes some time to shift my gaze to the things I already have, rather than the things I’d like to have, once I got started, it was hard to stop at just listing three things. I felt like I wasn’t doing my life justice by excluding the numerous gifts I’m given on a daily basis.

I also like the idea of putting these pieces of gratitude on small pieces of paper and storing them in a glass jar in a visible place. At the end of the month, or during a bad day, I open my jar and pull out a few pieces of gratitude, reminding myself how charmed my life actually is, and thus rewiring my brain to truly appreciate and enjoy it.

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