Several years ago, I was in a very dark place. I hated my job, lived for partying on the weekends and was diagnosed as infertile. Like any typical Irish man, I bottled up my emotions and fell into a depression. Nobody knew how I was feeling inside and I did not want to share my feelings with anyone.
On the outside, it probably looked as though everything was okay but inside I was dying. There was no purpose in my life and I did not know where to turn. To numb the pain, I drank a lot which just caused further anxiety. After feeling sorry for myself for a few months, I decided that something had to give.
It was at during my darkest hours that I took the first steps in a journey of finding happiness. Reading, meditation and exercise were the tools that I used to beat depression. These three daily habits helped me to rewire my brain.
Our brains have developed over millions of years to make us the most intelligent species on the planet. The reason that we have survived for so long is how our brains are wired. The human brain is built to focus on the negative in our environment. 10,000 years ago this would have saved us from the predators that roamed the Earth with us.
Today that threat of wild animals or warring clans is non-existent. As Yuval Noah Harari points out in his popular book Homo Deus, there is no better time to be alive. We live in the safest time that any generation of humans has ever experienced. Today, more people die from suicide than all of the wars, terrorism and violent crimes combined. You are more likely to die from overeating than starvation.
In this time of abundance, we have to rewire our brains to think more positively. Reading many books and practising gratitude has helped me to become a happier person. It took several years of hard work to get to where I am and it was not easy. Being happy is a skill that you have to work on every day. Like any skill, you have to regularly practice to improve it. It does not just happen on its own.
“I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practising gratitude. “
Gratitude is one of the keys to happiness. Being content with what you have is the best ways to true happiness. We all strive for more. A better job, more money, a nicer home, but this desire for more makes us unhappy.
Like most people, I want all of the above and I spend a lot of time focusing on what I want to achieve. This often leaves me feeling unfulfilled. To bring myself down to earth, I have a morning and evening gratitude practice
There are three practices that have helped me to be more content. First thing in the morning, I journal and focus on three things that I am grateful for. Secondly, when I meditate, I always spend a couple of minutes focusing on three things that I really appreciate. Using negative visualisation helps a lot here. Thirdly, reviewing my day has helped me to focus on the positive experiences from that day. I call my nightly practice night notes.
One hour before I go to bed, I write for 5-10 minutes about my day. These night notes help me to see what went well and where I can improve. A journal is an amazing way to collect family memories that would otherwise be forgotten. Sometimes you share special moments as a family and then you forget about them easily. Writing them down gives you a chance to relive those memories in the future.
Here is an example of a night note that would have been forgotten had I not written it down.
Night Notes 25/03/2016
“my heart jumped twice”
“My heart jumped twice” was a beautiful thing that Olivia said today on the train to Grünewald. I felt exactly how she felt. Max was on my knee as the train sped along and he was seeing so many things for the first time. When we Max and I made eye contact we both smiled at each other. I love him so much that my heart skipped a beat. Little did I know Olivia was watching us and her heart skipped a beat too. She then looked at Mathilda who was sleeping in the buggy and her heart skipped another beat. It was such a beautiful couple of minutes.
That is one of the reasons that I started this journal. This moment would have been lost forever if I did not write it here. Now, we can look back on this experience in 10 years, and remember the first time that we visited a forest.
When I really think about it, it is so beautiful to see him, and his sister absorbing the beauty of the World for the first time. What must it be like to experience a forest for the first time? As the afternoon turned to early evening we started to walk back from the forest to the train station. A huge brown horse being led by a smiling older lady crossed our path. I brought it to Max and Mathilda’s attention and they were mesmerised.
Such a beautiful creature is something that we take for granted but a child seeing one for the first time is so special. Once again this memory would be forgotten had I not written about it here.
Their eyes light up at every new thing they see and it makes me feel happy inside.
These little tricks are a great way to practice being happy. It is far from easy to be happy. Our brain has evolved to find the negative. One of the reasons that I do not watch the news is that it plays on our minds natural propensity to focus on the negative. Instead of watching the news or reading the newspaper(social media) use the time to practice being happy. It is a much better experience and it has improved my life drastically.