Finding Happiness Through Mindful Observation

With one year coming to an end and the start of another rapidly approaching, this is a time of year when we tend to take stock of how our lives are going.
Aware that another year has passed, we look at our mental scorecard and tally up our wins and losses.

These assessments typically focus on the big things in life: families, careers, relationships, promotions, holidays, bonuses, etc. There’s no question
that’s these things are important and can have a significant impact on your life. However, focusing on them too much – especially when they are influenced
by factors outside your control – can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

Indeed, it is often the little things in life that have the greatest impact on our day-to-day happiness. So if you’ve reached the end of December and you’re
not feeling as jolly as you’d like during the holiday season, maybe it’s time to tally up the little things in your search for happiness.

A thousand grains of happiness

Would receiving a promotion at work make you happy? Of course it would. But how often are you going to be promoted? Maybe once per year, if you’re lucky?
Perhaps once every two or three years?

Regardless of the frequency, how much control do you have over whether or not it happens? Sure, you can work hard, put in overtime and make every effort
to produce top results. However, you can’t control a boss who’s prioritising another part of the business, or your company’s overall performance or
the broader economy. Yet these factors may determine whether your promotion materialises.

When you pin your happiness on a big-ticket item like a promotion, there’s a good chance you’ll end the year feeling disappointed, likely through no fault
of your own.

So if your happiness shouldn’t depend on a promotion, what should it depend on? This is highly personal and can vary greatly from one person to the next,
but it’s important to remember that a thousand small moments of joy, pleasure and delight can add up to a mountain of happiness.

Five minutes of mindfulness

We’ve written previously about the benefits of mindfulness and ways to incorporate it into your daily life. As you search for your path to happiness, mindfulness can once again be useful in helping you observe and reflect on the things that make you happy. Here’s a small exercise you can try:

  1. Set aside five minutes at the end of your day to sit somewhere in a quiet spot, away from the distractions of your phone, the TV and other people.
  2. During these five minutes, think about something in your day that made you happy and something in your day that made you upset or stressed out. Be
    as specific as possible. Rather than “my kids made me happy” or “my big project made me stressed”, try to home in on the details about what exactly
    made you feel that way – for example, “I laughed a lot while playing a board game with my kids after dinner” or “I felt stressed when I had to
    present during today’s meeting because I don’t like public speaking”. Write down your answers.
  3. Repeat this process daily for one week (don’t worry, that’s only 35 minutes in total!).
  4. At the end of the week, review your list of things that positively and negatively influenced how you felt each day. While you might have had a big
    win or a big loss during the week, chances are that most of your list will consist of small pleasures and minor annoyances.
  5. Now use the insights from your list to think of small changes you can make in your routine to maximise the drivers of happiness and minimise the sources
    of frustration.

Focus on the small joys in life 

The big milestones in life are absolutely worth pursuing and celebrating. But when you fixate on them as your source of happiness, you risk feeling
disappointed or underwhelmed during the long stretches between these milestones.

On the other hand, a few minutes of mindful reflection per day can help you identify and better appreciate the little things that make your life
brighter. And once you’re more aware of the small things that make you happier – a coffee date with friends, a homecooked meal with family,
a walk through the forest – you can take active steps to make them a bigger part of your life.

With the end of the year fast approaching, this is one way you can charge up for a happier year ahead.

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