The Buddha famously said that “All of life is suffering”. As heavy as that sounds, it’s not necessarily a recipe for unhappiness.
Regardless of what line of faith (if any) you adhere to – we all share a common human experience. More often than not it is one of suffering and pain – which we often make worse by how we deal with it.
I used to think that I’d reach a certain point in life and reach a happiness peak – a point where I’d just wake up more often than not joyful.
I’ve come to learn, however, that joy is not something that happens – it’s something to be cultivated and tended to daily.
Over the years, I’ve found that three things, done consistently, have a tremendous impact on my own state of being.
To make it easier to remember and implement, I packaged it into a simple acronym – “I try to make each day a G.E.M.”
Yes, consider me one more person jumping on the gratitude bandwagon. I jump on it happily because this is a simple practice that actually works.
At the start and end of every day, I’ll aim to think of a few things I’m deeply grateful for.
I’ll try to visualize them, let them sink into my mind, and to really sit with the gratitude.
There’s something about directing your mind to focus on the positive, on the genuinely grateful, that has the power to immediately change one’s focus on the negative, the could-have-beens, the wish-there-weres, the why-did-that-happens, of your life.
On particularly difficult days, I find gratitude is equally difficult – and I always know that it’s moments like those where the practice will bear the most fruit.
I’ve always liked to exercise and tried to sprinkle it in regularly when I had free time, when I felt up for it, and when the stars aligned.
However, having recently read The Upward Spiral, I’ve come to make this an important part of my day that I work to prioritize whenever possible – even if I only have a few minutes.
The book – written by neuroscientist Alex Korb – is a refreshing take on the neuroscience of how to build resilience against downward cycles – whether it’s a bad day or full-on depression.
Korb writes at length about the benefits of exercise, including clinical studies that demonstrate its efficacy beyond that of using antidepressant medication.
The obvious benefits, of course, are getting in great shape, having more resilience in general against the ongoing challenges and surprises of life, and not having to build a dependence on medication – not to mention the impact on longevity and defense against illness.
The final practice that I incorporate into daily life is meditation.
Meditation has deep effects on two levels.
First is the purely pragmatic. Meditation has been demonstrated to help reduce stress, anxiety, lower blood pressure, improve the quality of REM sleep, to name just part of a long laundry list of research.
Beyond that, however, is the potential for meditation to change your relationship to your mind and to the world.
It might take just a few days, or a decade, but at some point in your meditation practice, you will start experiencing the world from a different frame of reference.
Someone once said: “The mind is a good servant but a lousy master”.
As you deepen your meditation practice, the meaning of that phrase will start to ring true not only on a conceptual level but as something you know to be true.
There is the potential for you to be a better and kinder person towards yourself and others, to have more spaciousness in your life. A potential to explore the depths of human existence, limitless silence and truth that point you closer to what saints spoke about – and further from the noise of media pundits, politicians and the Twitterati.
It’s something you have to discover for yourself, and like all great things in life, there’s no shortcut.
Your results will be a direct benefit of the time, patience and habits you build – on the days it feels easy and more importantly, on the days it feels nearly impossible.
We’re all wired differently as humans, yet we share so much in common in terms of our human experiences.
Making each day a G.E.M. has been something that has consistently improved the quality of my life – and if any part of this article resonated with you, I hope you’ll give it a try to see what impact it can have on your own life.