As kids, most of us were very clear about what did and did not make us happy. Play outside? Yay! Go get ice cream? Of course! A brand new puppy? Yes, please! What happened to us?
As an adult it can feel almost impossible to get back to that time when you prioritized your own satisfaction instead of postponing your happiness until you find a better job, lose 20 pounds or pay off all of your debt. Yet, according to renowned priest, professor and writer Henri Nouwen, happiness is not something that just occurs automatically, no matter how many accomplishments you have. “Joy does not simply happen to us,” Nouwen once said. “We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”
The truth is, you must consciously and intentionally elect to be happy on a daily basis. Otherwise, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut for months or even years.
Here are a few strategies you can use to stop delaying your happiness and enjoy your life now, not later.
1. Make a list of all the things that make you smile.
We can get so stressed out trying to manage our day-to-day lives that we forget what we’re even living for. To jog your memory, write out a list of 100 things that make you happy. Yes, 100! By challenging yourself to do this exercise, you will be reminded of what truly lights you up, especially if you’ve been in a funk for a while. Include all the activities, people, music, places, foods, etc. that make you feel alive. When you get clarity on what you most enjoy in life, you will be inspired to experience it more often.
2. Take yourself on a “happiness date.”
Every week, block off a few hours in your calendar to spend all by yourself—no work, no kids, no chores, no friends, no Facebook. Use that time to do something that makes YOU happy, regardless of what other people might think or say about it. For instance, if you love art museums or foreign films or long walks in the park listening to the birds, go out there and have fun doing it. Take time for you and notice how good it feels to savor the moment.
3. Keep a daily gratitude journal.
According to psychologist and author Robert Emmons, gratitude can increase your life satisfaction, self-esteem and optimism, while being ungrateful is related to anxiety, depression and loneliness. To begin incorporating more gratitude into your life, put it into writing! At the beginning or end of each day, simply jot down a list of three things you’re grateful for. Ask yourself: What am I thankful for right now? You can also use a journal to record your gratitude lists so that you can refer back to them as often as you like.
Remember, you can and should choose to be happy right now, regardless of your circumstances. Happiness is always available to you. And you deserve it.