All of us all want to be happy. And despite the way our culture commonly approaches this conversation, happiness is actually a relatively simple thing to achieve. It just takes practice: as Thich Nhat Hanh said, "There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way".
To a large extent, each of us has a choice around the amount of happiness we experience in our lives. When we choose what to give our energy and attention to, those choices dictate the focus of our lives. It's that old idea that where attention goes, energy flows.
Unfortunately for most of us, it is our habit to focus on the stuff in our lives that isn't working so well. When you hate your job, all you feel is dread when you get up in the morning. When you're on a diet, all you think about are all the delicious foods you're not allowed to eat or how fat you feel. But when you only pay attention to the negative aspects of your life, you end up creating a reality that's based on lack, dissatisfaction and frustration. Yuck!
But don't despair! You choose what to think about, so you can make the choice to pay attention to different things — including the positive aspects of your life. Of course, despite this freedom of choice, making the most productive choices often isn't automatic. With practice you can shift your focus away from lack or frustration and over to abundance, gratitude, and joy. You can literally change your reality simply by changing your focus. How sci-fi is that?!
So if you are ready to be happier and if you are willing to play around with the nature of reality, I have a simple challenge for you.
It's called the "10 Breaths Challenge," and I first read about it from Rabbi Rami Shapiro, author of Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent. It is a revolutionary practice in conscious gratitude that involves mindfully giving your attention to whatever makes you happy.
Up to the task? Well, here’s how it works:
1. Step One: Notice
Begin noticing things in your life that you are grateful for, things that make you happy, things that bring you a feeling of peace. It can be something as small as the smell of the wet earth, or the fact that someone else emptied the dishwasher, or that your legs are strong enough to carry you up the stairs. It can be something as huge as the love you feel for your children. Big or small, whatever makes you feel gratitude, joy or happiness; bring that thing fully into your awareness.
2. Step Two: Pause
Once you’ve found that thing that makes you feel joy, peace or gratitude, pause for a second. The pause will anchor the feeling in your awareness.
3. Step Three: Breathe
Here is the challenging part: Stop whatever you are doing in that moment, hold that good thing in your attention, and take ten slow, deep breaths.
While you breathe, continue to focus on the feeling, the experience, the thought, whatever it happens to be. Focus on that feeling of the sun on your face and just breathe. Hold it with a sense of gratitude. Invite that feeling of joy into your life. Ask it to stick around.
4. Step Four: Practice
That's it. Simple right? Take ten breaths whenever you find something you are grateful for? Easy-peasy. OK, try taking ten conscious breaths right now. It takes about 30 seconds.
I’ll wait while you try it ...
There's a reason I call this the 10 Breaths Challenge. When you start to try this practice, you quickly realize just how fast our minds want to move on to other things — what’s for dinner, that email you have to respond to, your niece's birthday party, whatever.
But do your best to bring your focus back to those specific things that evoked peace, joy or gratitude ... and complete those ten breaths. Take ten breaths for a sunset. Take ten breaths to feel at home in your spouse’s arms. Take ten breaths for laughter with a friend.
Over time, with repetition, those ten breaths create a bookmark in your brain for those feeling states: joy, peace, love, gratitude, and happiness. And just like a physical bookmark, your brain will begin to be able to find those feelings more and more easily. You will start to see more and more things that you want to take ten breaths for.
By consciously giving a small amount of your time and attention to things that make you happy, you form a happiness habit. You are training your brain to be happier. How cool is that?!
That’s it. Ten breaths. About 30 seconds of your time. A happier you, and a whole new reality.
I would love to hear how you do with this practice. What have you found to be grateful for? What did you find difficult? How has this practice changed your reality?
Jude Temple, R.N. is a master certified life coach (certified by Martha Beck) and a registered nurse. She received her Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing from the University of British Columbia. She specializes in helping perfectionists and people-pleasers learn to "open their hearts to the deliciously sloppy joy of real life." She lives in the Pacific Coast rain forest on Vancouver Island with her husband and their dog, Maggie.