It’s going to be amazing: I’m teaching in Aruba! In a year full of dreams-come-true, leading a yoga retreat on one of the top-rated beaches in the world is a waking delight! The theme of this journey? Happiness. Aruba is known as One Happy Island – what better place to explore the art and science of creating a happy life?!
“Happiness”, when I use that word, isn’t about chasing attachments or a quick-fix “up”. The kind of happiness many people think of has a come-down. True happiness is a steady-state experience: abiding contentment (samtosha) and a pervasive sense of well-being.
Happiness is a physiological combination of a balanced autonomic system and higher levels of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. Thoughts, perceptions and lifestyle habits influence our true happiness so strongly we could say that happiness is actually an approach or perspective.
The approach to happiness has been studied a lot in recent years. We’ve learned that there are a great many everyday choices that amplify our sense of upliftedness. These include hopeful thoughts, helping others, moving our bodies, and being part of a community (bonus points if it is a spiritual, service, or creative community). Yoga offers us these things!
Weekly yoga classes promote friendships based on peaceful practice and personal growth. Asanas make or keep us mobile and strong. Philosophy inspires us to heal our inner worlds and extend kindness to others. Quality teachers educate us to witness thoughts/feelings and choose our beliefs. We learn to hold balanced perspectives and emotional equanimity. Yoga is one of many paths to happiness.
In training Classical Yoga teachers and meditation teachers, I often hear people question emotional equanimity. “I don’t want to be a robot,” they say when facing a balanced state of mind. Equanimity does not mean the absence of happiness or numbing our emotional range! In fact, by facing things with a balanced perspective, we are better able to experience all of our emotions because we can witness and welcome – rather than fear – them. Witnessing and accepting emotions helps us understand how to balance them and, by extension, our minds and nervous systems. From there, we are better-equipped to make choices that uplift our lives and shift our baseline hormone and neurotransmitter levels towards a higher happiness “set point”.
Think of something that makes you unhappy. Notice the thoughts that come up when you think of that thing. Have you had these thoughts before? Has there been progress or inspiration in how you think of this thing, or do the same thoughts repeat themselves? (Repetitive sad thoughts and beliefs can lower our happiness set point.) What happens to the depth and rhythm of your breath? What do you notice in your body: areas of tension/relaxation, heightened/diminished sensation, etc.?
In unhappy people, thoughts tend to circle around a painful core belief. If that is happening in your mind, you don’t have to do anything about it right now; just notice. In time, this objective noticing will build a bridge to different kinds of thoughts/beliefs or concrete action steps. By witnessing it from a balanced, equanimous perspective, you are already shifting your relationship with the unhappy thing.
Most people, when reflecting upon a sadness, will think the same story again and again. In other words, we program ourselves. While there is a way to untangle that whole process and use it for the power of good, it is beyond the scope of today’s post.
Try this now:
Think of something that makes you happy. What thoughts and images occur? Do you notice your breath and body doing anything in response to that happy thought? If the corners of your mouth aren’t already turned up, do that now! Simply activating different muscles in the face can shift our emotional state.
Finally, hold that happy thought while you do a small, everyday task you usually avoid, like weeding the garden, washing dishes, or dusting. Notice your breath and body as you hold the happy thought throughout the action. What changed compared to your usual approach to this common task?
Now that you are watching the thoughts, you aren’t so involved in the story. In the witness perspective, you move from character in to author of the narrative. Similarly, you are the author of your life. You set the scenes of your days and write the scripts of your interactions. You can choose a comedy or feel-good genre!
If you join me in Aruba, I will teach you plenty of evidence-based approaches to cultivating joy in everyday life. We will combine yoga classes and workshops with excursions that directly relate to each day’s topic. Time away from your everyday life offers beauty, fun, and a fresh perspective. Highlights of community connection, quality education and personalized support leave you vitalized and inspired long after the retreat is over. The process starts on One Happy Island and is progressive throughout your life – happiness grows exponentially through a series of small shifts!
Concepts like mindfulness, meeting many levels of need, and facing addictive tendencies are powerfully woven into unique experiences like a yachting trip, paddle board yoga, and dinners under the stars. The lessons are infused with joyful, one-of-a-kind memories so once you return home, it’s easy to recall the take-aways and apply them to your everyday life. Yes, dusting and dishes become more meaningful and enjoyable. Beyond that, your happy choices open a range of unimagined possibilities for your life!
I know that happiness is possible for each of us and look forward to supporting you – whether through this blog, books, workshops, or destination retreats – in connecting to your own true gladness.