We humans prefer feeling happy to any other emotion. We tend to crave BIG experiences of happiness, like winning the lottery, meeting the love of our life or seeing our book published (shameless plug). Those moments are both rare and fleeting—which is precisely why we value them so much. Our day-to-day emotions are typically lower-key and can fluctuate depending on what’s happening around us, as well as the stories we’re creating about those events.
Yet in my experience, it is possible to find moments of subtle joy throughout each day, regardless of what’s happening around us. As Eckhart Tolle writes, “Happiness depends on conditions being perceived as positive. Inner peace does not.” Inner peace is a form of subtle joy. It’s always accessible, if we’d just stop believing it isn’t. It lives beneath the bigger emotions, so it takes a quiet mind to access.
This is not a recipe for happy-happy-joy-joy-happily-ever-after. It might be more appropriate to call this “Five Ways to Find Split-seconds of Peace Every Day,” but that’s a terrible post title.
I offer these as practices to add to your inner peace toolkit. If one or more spark your interest, I encourage you to read the linked post in the section.
Look for things to appreciate
Appreciation is so central to my well-being that it was one of the first things I wrote about on this site, back in 2014. Appreciation isn’t the same as gratitude (though I’m a fan of that, too). It’s gentler, and it doesn’t have to be about you, specifically. I can appreciate a beautiful sunset, a piece of artwork, or a child (or adult!) blowing bubbles, regardless of what else I’m feeling. In my lowest moments, admittedly, my appreciation can be a bit begrudging (“Yeah, the sky is gorgeous today,” as I struggle to remember why I’m even noticing). Yet, over time, the practice has become such an ingrained habit that nearly every day, there are at least a few moments where I can get out of my head and focus on something, or someone, I appreciate.
Try a giving practice
Developing a giving practice was (and is) the best mood-booster I’ve ever found. I’m not talking about money, necessarily. Many of the most meaningful gifts are simple and cost little to nothing—like leaving a post-it with an encouraging note on the mirror of a public washroom, putting coins in other people’s parking meters, or letting someone go ahead of me in line.
Giving gets me out of my head and makes me focus on the world around me. Where can I find opportunities to give? It’s like a treasure hunt, keeping me present to what people around me might need. As I wrote back in 2015, all of us need something, and all of us have something to give.
This practice also makes me realize how much I actually have. Most of us (and I’m no exception) tend to focus on what we don’t have, what we want, our debts and obligations. We live in a state of perpetual craving, which is partly capitalist conditioning, but also human nature. When I can give something—and for me, this is especially true when I give money or a grocery gift card—I realize that I have enough in this moment. And this moment is all we need to navigate, because it’s all any of us have.
Give the mind a break from itself
If your brain is like mine (and especially if you’re neurodivergent like me), the mind has, well, a mind of its own. I can wake up at 2am and notice ten streams of thoughts running through my mind, as though my thoughts had continued and multiplied while I was asleep.
We need to think, of course. We need to discern. We need to solve problems. All of those are essential in this world. But the brain doesn’t stop churning when we finish solving a problem—it moves to find yet another problem, because as part of the ego, it wants to feel important.
That constant overdrive is exhausting. Your car wouldn’t last long if you had the pedal to the floor 24/7. Make an effort, at least once a day, to come into fierce presence—the one practice I’ve found that consistently can stop the mind’s incessant whirring.
There are many ways to do this, but one you can do anywhere is this: Rub your hands together vigorously for 15 seconds. Now focus all your mental energy on the tingling sensations in your hands. The mind will try to distract you, but keep coming back to that sensation.
This isn’t going to bring back a dead loved one or cure clinical depression. What it will do is give you a brief respite from your thoughts about the situations you’re in.
Get into nature or watch nature videos
I’m beyond fortunate to live in such a gorgeous location with abundant nature within walking or short driving distance. If it’s at all possible, I always recommend people spend time in the biggest nature they can find. A provincial or national park is awesome. Yet 83% of Americans and nearly 82% of Canadians live in cities (I’m one of them, though my city is small), and few North American cities outside the Pacific Northwest offer access to awe-inspiring nature.
In winter, our rainy season, I often spend days at a time indoors, either because the downpour is too heavy to go for a walk or because (when it snows) I literally can’t leave my building. On those days, I watch YouTube videos of nature. While they aren’t quite the same as the real thing, they do put my brain into pause mode and help me remember that the world is much bigger than what’s in my immediate circumstance. This is one of my favourite videos—but search for the type of nature you enjoy most, whether that’s the Scottish Highlands, Norwegian fjords, the Himalayas or expansive beaches.
Make contact with an animal
If you have an animal friend at home, you know the restorative power of being with them. When you play with your cat or take your dog for a walk (or vice versa), really notice how they seem to experience the world. Non-human animals are so much better at living in the moment than we are.
If you don’t have an animal at home, see whether you can visit with a friend who does, or go for a walk to the local dog park. Never approach a dog before talking to their human (pro tip: everybody loves to hear how adorable their dog is). As long as the human is okay with it, give the dog some pets and let them share their love and joy (and quite possibly, slobber) with you. This, too, stops the relentless agitation of the mind and reduces cortisol levels.
If there are no animals nearby for you to interact with, consider visiting a shelter. Many of the animals there would love some visitors. This is what I did when I didn’t have a home (much less a pet) of my own. I wasn’t able to go every day (it was a long walk), but when I did, those interactions boosted my mood for hours.
My intention with Living the Mess is to help people find enduring inner peace, because for decades, I never believed it was possible; now I feel peaceful (not always happy) most of the time. This post offers just a quick taste, because it’s going to take a while to turn all my notes (more than a decade’s worth) into posts. But these “quick tastes” add up.
If you try these practices, please let me know in the comments how they worked for you. And if you found this post helpful, please consider sharing it.
Photo credit: Alex Alvarez via Unsplash
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This is so true. Some of us know this instinctively while others take years to figure it out. For those who seek happiness, it isn’t a reward and it can’t be found in another person. Like the food we eat, the friends we make, the walk in nature, happiness is a choice.
Thank you Sarah – I have no idea how I found your site but it rings true in my life. I find myself doing some of the things you mention and it’s nice to know that others are out there attempting to change the big energy while keeping ourselves present.