When it comes to our own happiness, we often find it difficult to carve out time for activities we consider frivolous or selfish. But when life gets busy, the first thing we should do is take time for ourselves, and this is perfectly OK. If we don’t take responsibility for keeping ourselves energized and happy, our ability to cope with even small setbacks may diminish.
It’s often said that you can’t help others if you don’t first help yourself. It’s also true that we can’t help our future selves if we don’t take care of our present selves. One way to do this is to accumulate positive emotions now.
Picture this scenario
Imagine that you and a friend are both in the middle of a very frustrating experience. For months, you’ve been planning a week-long vacation … fun in the sun! You have everything ready to go and have prepared yourselves for any possible mishap that could occur along the way.
You arrive at the airport extra early with all your important travel documents ready. But at the last minute, you’re told that your flight has been cancelled due to bad weather, and you won’t be flying out until the next evening, at the earliest! Your trip will be cut at least two days short, and there isn’t much either of you can do about that, aside from accepting the changes and trying to enjoy the rest of your planned vacation.
Your friend has been busy, overwhelmed and exhausted and hasn’t had any time for herself. This was the week she planned on using to unwind. You, on the other hand, have been doing one small thing a day to make yourself feel good. You’ve been just as busy and just as exhausted, but you’ve scheduled in a small, pleasant event each day and have allowed yourself to enjoy that event.
As a result, while this disappointing change in plans has left you upset, it hasn’t taken away your ability to cope or look ahead with a positive attitude. Your friend, on the other hand, is left feeling crushed and unable to deal with the change. She’s broken, and has a difficult time recuperating in time to enjoy her vacation.
Everyone has different ways of coping, and there’s never one single reason for a reaction. However, in this scenario, your emotional buffer came from your ability to enjoy something every day, knowing that the next day would bring the same because you were in control of that schedule. Your friend hadn’t actively created this buffer, and was counting on the week’s vacation as her “slice of happiness.” Now, the week’s not happening as planned and she has nothing else to look forward to.
Pleasant events don’t need to take a lot of time
“But it’s not that easy/there’s never any time to spend on myself/others always need me!”
It may seem that way, and trying to come up with something pleasant to do every day can be stressful in itself. However, these pleasant events can take anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes or more—it’s all about finding the right things for you. They don’t need to be activities, either. They can even be thoughts or silent reminders to yourself that you’re a wonderful person.
The only thing that matters is that you do these things just for you, letting go of worries and allowing yourself to truly enjoy each moment while it’s happening.
One daily pleasant event, scheduled and enjoyed mindfully, starts to build up that emotional buffer. Over time, this decreases our vulnerability to unpleasant events and leads to increased happiness.
Often, we feel like we can’t come up with anything to do, or we don’t think simple things will do the trick, but that’s where the list below comes in.
Just pick seven things
Each week, pick seven things from the list above that you can aim to achieve daily, and make a log of what you end up doing or not doing. It doesn’t matter if you stick to the plan—all that matters is that you fully engage with whatever it is you choose to do.
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