Let’s Try Something
Let’s start with a quick experiment. Let a thought come to your mind, and then move on. Ready? First, think of an animal. Now think of a food. Now think of the animal eating that food. Now think of a place. Now think of a person you know. Now think of a color. Now stop.
This was my own little psychological demonstration of how fast our brains are moving. You probably blew through those thoughts in just a few seconds, and could probably go on for much longer. I told you exactly what to think and in what order, so you thought decisively and moved on quickly. Such is our minds’ nature, always jumping around between thoughts, except without a proctor to guide us. Because of this, the regular activities we do like eating food and walking are generally overlooked, and life almost seems to pass us by. Our minds and bodies are continually pin-balling around, and it looks like there’s never a moment to spare where we can just stop and smell the roses. Heck, how often do we stop and smell anything?
Smelling the Roses
It feels like without someone or something to guide us to do this, we never will. We get caught up in what’s going on and worry about what’s next – totally natural, we just want to be prepared. With our lives gunning at such a fast speed, it’s so more important to take a moment to enjoy what’s going on. If you’ve seen NBC’s The Office, one of my favorite quotes by Andy goes, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” He makes a great point reminiscing about his workplace’s past experiences and how great they seem in retrospect. I love this, when seen in the context of the show, one which intends to portray the mundane nature of the modern American workplace, you can go to realize that it’s actually in the most tedious and standstill eras of one’s life that the most is to be appreciated. And by doing this, they can last longer. Finding moments where nothing seems to be going on can shine a light on the undertones and more minor events that you could be smiling about. If I know anything about the world right now, it’s that a smile could help all of us. Suppose you feel that merely acknowledging things to appreciate has no definite purpose. In that case, I see where you might be coming from but would like to retort: perhaps once you try it, you’ll find the real things to appreciate, and until appreciating what you’ve got lifts your spirits, I say you ought to keep trying.
Have you ever wondered what makes roses smell good? Sure they’re flowers, which are naturally meant to smell good, but why does that appeal to us? Being mindful of what you can appreciate in the present moment is one thing, but understanding why you appreciate it is a whole step further. You can develop a deeper understanding of yourself and what makes you happy, what makes you feel fulfilled, or in a much less conceptual way, what things you rely on too much (your phone, perhaps?).
Smelling the Dirt
Humans are like machines, and you’ve gotta keep that machine well oiled and check up on it to keep it running smoothly. Our bodies make it easy for us by having our complex moving parts run independently of our thoughts. Can you imagine having to consciously digest food or process sounds? Like a machine, though, we need to do routine checks to make sure everything is fine, smelling the roses. But just as importantly, is when things aren’t going quite as well. You need to stop and smell the dirt, too. We’ve all noticed that when life is going great, things speed up, and time seems to zoom on faster. On the contrary, have you ever realized why your lower spells tend to feel prolonged? There are many proposed reasons for why times of sadness tend to feel longer-lasting: because we are more vulnerable, we don’t know how to be happy for prolonged periods, or we feel a lack of control over the circumstances causing that feeling. One study of high schoolers reported that sadness lasts about 240 times longer than some other emotions.
So when I say smell the dirt, I’m suggesting you do the same thing you do when you’re happy. I’ll give you some concrete ways to go about this at the end, but basically, take a moment to acknowledge and appreciate what’s going on. A significant first step is realizing that you’re in a lower period; recognize that you aren’t as happy as you are at other times, overall don’t feel as well, or supposedly don’t have the same opportunities you once did. From here, acknowledge why you feel this way. What parts of your life, external or internal, have guided you to embrace your current emotions? Why do these things matter to you, and what does that say about who you are? This self-reflection seems like a lot of work, but it’s worth it. One of the most valuable takeaways that I’ve experienced from being present and mindful during my lower periods is the great emphasis it places on the higher ones. When you realize that you’re feeling down, it makes it that much more awesome when you’re “high.” It helps you develop an heartfelt value for what you have in any present moment, as there could always be worse times, and will always be better ones. In a way, without the dirt, we would have no roses to grow on. Sure, you could appreciate the flora, but when you go ahead and nurture your soil, the best roses grow.
But like… How?
We at Heads Up Teens have said it before, and I’ll repeat it once more. Journaling. This is a great way to get your thoughts down concretely and understandably, and it works well. Goal setting will make things more comfortable as well. It makes it possible to track how much you are presently appreciating and acknowledging what’s happening around you. You can meet standards you see fit for yourself to engage in a healthier lifestyle.
I once had an excellent friend, and every day what we would do is list 5 things we are grateful for and discuss them together. After reflecting on parts of our days or lives that weren’t as favorable, we would set a goal the next morning to actively grow to hit the opposite side of the spectrum. For example, if one day I had an incredibly tough time paying attention in class, the next morning, I’d set a goal to find more favorable parts of school and take concrete steps to aid my attention. After reflecting and realizing that paying attention is essential to me because I want to get good grades. Why are good grades important? Because they set a standard for me to evaluate the quality of progressive and goal-oriented life I’m living. Later that night, I would go through my list of five and express gratitude for the friends in my class who make it easier to be there. I know that’s a mouthful, but I wanted to give a detailed description of my process. Having someone else with similar intentions as you certainly helps keep accountable. You should try to find someone like that in your life.
One thing I’ve been trying recently is mindful eating. It’s a process where, while eating, you devote specific attention to the senses that are engaged during your meals. It helps me slow down and really appreciate the food entering my system (or not appreciate it… sometimes the McFlurry gets the best of me). You can pay attention to the look, feel, texture, smell, and of course, the taste of your food. It’s really relatively easy, and I try to do it at least once per day.
If you can consistently do it, it is possible to engage in this process of stopping and smelling the garden mentally without aid. You can try listing different things about your life on a varying basis and do your own internal reflection. There are really tons of ways to go about this, and I believe that slowing down our active lives and acknowledging what is going on in the present is a cornerstone to feeling happier. Give it a try!