Are you happy? How do you know? – Janet Fouts

Are you happy? How do you know?

How do you know you are happy?I’ve mentioned before that there was a time in my life I saw no way to find joy in my life. I was stuck in a loop of negativity and just couldn’t dig myself out of it.

Over the years since then I look back on those days a lot, in part as a reminder of how far I’ve come. Thanks to learning mindfulness and self-awareness, I’m able to snap out of the negative spirals more quickly and bring to mind the resources I’ve built up that help me remember that happiness and joy are always nearby, I just have to make the effort to take a breath and find it again.

So how do we know when we are in a negative or positive space? Being aware of our feelings and our body is important here. Our physical reaction can tell us so much if we learn to listen to it. Tune in to what you feel in your body. Does it feel contracted or expanded?

Contraction
We experience negative things like fear, anger, ignorance, or meanness in our body as a sort of contraction.
Some examples:

  • Shortness of breath- tight chest
  • Pulse racing, heart pounding
  • Tightness in the body, clenched fists
  • Sick to your stomach
  • Can’t focus thoughts
  • Wanting to run or hide

All of these are demonstrations of contracting, sort of like a puppy when you shout at it. When we are contracted it can be difficult to reason through what to do next.

Expansion
We experience positive feelings in our body in what is sometimes called “opening”. Expansion lends itself to learning, awareness of self and others, communication, kindness, and love.
Some examples:

  • Breathing flows easily, effortlessly
  • A feeling of lightness in the body
  • A swing in your step
  • Expansive, freedom, openness
  • Smiling or laughing
  • A sense of wonder or delight

Of course, it’s not really that cut and dried. For example, you might get a promotion at work, or take on a big project. You feel a rush of adrenalin and your breathing is short and fast, your stomach tight. This is contraction at work, even though you know you should be happy. It’s confusing.

So what to do?
Take a breath or two and allow the feelings you are feeling to be what they are. Don’t fight it, just allow without judgment. Observe how you are feeling, and being mindful of what is happening in your body.

Now choose actions and thoughts to can help you open, to expand. In the above example you might:

  • Smile and allow yourself to celebrate the promotion, let it soak in
  • Feel gratitude for the opportunity
  • Notice that the change in workload is an opportunity and think about what benefits it might have that will bring happiness.
  • Listen to some happy music, dance, sing, celebrate!
  • Planning where you’ll go on a vacation when the project is finished
  • Going for a brisk walk in the sunshine

The key to moving toward expansion is to do something that helps you feel even a tiny amount of happiness. Then allow that feeling to soak in. Bask in the glow. Give yourself permission to relax. Let the positive feeling grow and feel your body relax, your face soften, your breathing slow. Stay in this state for a few seconds and feel the expansion. Enjoy it.

This doesn’t happen for everything, or immediately either. It takes practice to be able to call up a changing state of being. But that’s all it takes. Practice. Next time you’re feeling lighthearted? Don’t let it go too fast. Soak in it, enjoy it. Allow yourself to fully feel it and recognize it. Now it will be much easier to find next time.

Having more joy
This is one small way to start experiencing more joy into your life. Just think what a whole mindfulness retreat focused on creating more pathways to joy and enhancing it will be like? Learn more about our “Bring on the Joy” retreat in Santa Cruz, Ca, May 28 2020!

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