Want to bring a little more sunshine into your life? Try these proven get-happy tips from a positive psychology expert.
Let’s be honest: Sometimes, we all worry so much about the what if’s in life that we forget to enjoy what’s around us. Sometimes it’s tough to see the glass as anything but half empty.
Kayleigh Pleas can relate. She was always speeding by in life: As a child, she was an elite gymnast, and throughout school dealt with a lot of anxiety and stress. She developed irritable bowel syndrome, and by the time she got to college, she was also having full-blown panic attacks and difficulty sleeping. Pleas realized that her mental health was greatly affecting her physical health and decided she had to make a change.
After graduating from Boston College with a degree in psychology, she attended the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, where she not only became certified as a health coach but also learned how to use mindfulness, breath, food and exercise to achieve balance in her life. “I’ve always felt that once I got to the next step—whether that was my next degree, losing 5 pounds, a new job—then I could enjoy my life,” says Pleas. “I eventually learned that true contentment comes from noticing the beauty that is happening right now. There will always be the next step. Happiness is only possible in the present moment.”
Pleas has made her newfound appreciation for life the focus of her career—she’s a wellness coach in New York City who helps other people on their health journeys. In fact, Pleas received her master’s degree in applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and now spends her days teaching people what they can do to live happier, more fulfilling lives. Here, she shares some tips so you can increase positivity in your life, too:
Designate a Kindness Day
Sometimes, we get so caught up in our own lives that we forget our personal experience is part of the shared human experience. “Everyone is experiencing stress, fear, frustration and loneliness, and when we are having a challenging day, we forget that,” Pleas explains.
One way to “get out of your own way” and think more about others is to choose one day a week as your kindness day. Then, throughout that day, do things to bring happiness into other people’s lives. For instance, surprise your co-worker with her favorite coffee drink in the morning, pay for the person behind you at the toll booth, send an email to a friend telling her how much she means to you. “Research shows that happier people are more attuned to how their actions can serve and elevate others,” says Pleas. “A counting kindness day trains you to notice those around you and how your kind deed, no matter how small, can make a positive impact in the world.”
When you find yourself in a cycle of self-criticism, worrying about the future or harping on something someone said that you found insulting, the fight-or-flight stress response of your nervous system is in full alarm, explains Pleas. The most important thing we can do to interrupt that stress response is calm down the body, which tells the brain that you are safe.
“I tell my clients to think about how they’d soothe a baby with relaxing touch and slow breathing, and then I tell them to do the same for themselves,” she says. For instance, put your hand on your heart and take long, slow breaths. Or think of an image or a memory that makes you feel comforted and connected—it can be a past conversation with a good friend, a recent vacation you took or even the face of a beloved pet. “Calming down your body and remembering the true support in your life allows you to respond to the inevitable challenges and stresses you’ll face with more clarity and wisdom,” Pleas explains.
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