Read an Excerpt
Keys to a Joyful Life
Mindfulness is Key
I've found that most people don't really think about happiness in a structured way. This is unfortunate, because by studying happiness, examining ourselves, and taking action based on our thinking, we can vastly improve our happiness. Of course, doing so requires necessary effort and focused discipline, if we are to sustain a long happiness. Happiness must become a habit, a way of looking at and appreciating life, the door we are always opening to let in more light and richer experiences.
How can we harness our rational mind for greater happiness? The first requirement of attaining happiness is a nurtured and cultivated mindfulness. By developing the capacity to be fully present in each moment, we will live a life of greater depth and meaning, in touch with what is most beautiful in our true nature. We can train ourselves to be awake here and now, right in the thick of things, where we immediately and directly encounter the fullness and complexities of life.
Mindfulness keeps us grounded, in effect, similar to the pull of gravity. Our mindfulness skills need to be developed systematically, through daily practice, by our doing ordinary things wherever we are. We train our minds to concentrate our full attention on the present moment. Simply being aware of the wonderful things that are happening in our lives now greatly increases our happiness.
Awaken all your senses to each fresh experience. There should be no hierarchy of mindful moments. When we pay attention to the reality of this moment, and the next, and the next, we have agreat deal more enjoyment. Seeing a little girl in a pink coat and hat headed off to a birthday party with a gift in her hands makes us feel good. Bumping into a friend on the street and stopping for a chat at a nearby coffeehouse gives us a lift. Sitting at the kitchen table in our bathrobe and slippers, reading the Sunday paper with sunlight flooding in the clean windows and illuminating the blue pitcher of daffodils is a treat. Making a delicious breakfast for the family comforts us. Lighting a fire enhances our evening reading. Helping a child learn to play basketball makes us feel nine years old again. Going for a sunset sail with your spouse stops the clock from ticking. Doing grocery shopping together reminds us we're glad to share each other's company, whatever we may be doing. Simple, everyday activities are where happiness thrives.
Life is not to be found anywhere else but in the present moment. We live to the hilt right here where we are, right now.
Mindfulness is a simple, practical way to absorb as much vitality, understanding, and sensitivity as possible out of the smallest details of our lives. Nothing we do is merely a means to an end. Glancing at the sky as you hurry home from work and noticing a magnificent cloud formation; seeing that someone took the time to plant bright red geraniums in their apartment window box; appreciating a particularly stalwart tree during an evening walk in your neighborhood or the indomitable forsythia that always finds a way to bloom no matter how harsh the winter; smiling at the chartreuse beauty of dozens of Granny Smith apples stacked in the supermarket produce section -- these uplifting, mindful moments are available to us, hidden in our daily routines. When we practice mindfulness, we raise our consciousness to touch the wonders of life for self-nourishment, refreshment, and healing.
When we illuminate a favorite painting, we're immediately uplifted, and so is the artist's work. If we see that the shades on the bedroom swing-arm lamps are old and dingy, they can easily be replaced with some new white shades that will freshen the look of the whole room. Often, it is a simple, inexpensive improvement that gives us a big uplift.
When we walk on a pretty tree-lined street on a spring morning and experience the sunlight dappling the leaves, we immediately feel more sublime. The benefits of the experience linger as we move throughout the day. Paying attention to the smallest things will have a great cumulative impact on our overall sense of well-being. If we feel a surge of pleasure when we discover a new color of ink for our fountain pens while browsing in a beautifully appointed stationery store, we may decide to splurge and buy a box of pretty notepaper that will inspire us to write to friends. One good move informs another.
Caring deeply about the details of all the aspects of our lives magnifies our pleasurable experiences. Open your heart and your senses to the small things that add grace, ease, and harmony to your living experience now. Never underestimate, for example, the positive influence of carefully arranging our favorite books in a logical fashion on our library shelves. Or of organizing our CDs in labeled boxes. Who is to say how much happiness a new saucepan can bring, or a new pale yellow silk scarf to tuck in a blazer pocket, or a fresh bar of lemon soap for the kitchen sink?
Polishing a brass watering can, waxing an antique French provincial table, mending a favorite broken dish, framing pictures of our families, having a favorite fountain pen repaired, organizing our writing desk, putting all our notecards, stationery, and postcards in an attractive box'anything we do with care becomes a pleasure and a path to happiness now.
Many experiences are inherently pleasant. We have -- if we are very lucky -- personal control over our immediate lives. Surely, the saddest words in the English language are: "What might have been." We must not wait to awaken to the exuberant possibilities of life now. Life should be lived fully and lived well in all circumstances as best we can live it, and the time is now. Mindfulness is key.
Beauty of the Everyday
When we are awake to the full potential...Choosing Happiness
Keys to a Joyful Life. Copyright © by Alexandra Stoddard. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.