“The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality.”
– Andrew Soloman
Everyone wants to be happy. Happiness as we usually think about it connotes a heightened sensation. In our minds, happiness is a moment that shines out in contrast to the average activities of our day to day lives. Often we find happiness on special occasions: holidays, weddings, beach vacations; or when spending time with our loved ones: our children, our partner, our friends.
But what about finding happiness within ourselves? This is where we arrive at vitality.
Vitality is happiness embodied. By definition, it means zest, enthusiasm, vigor and energy. It means to approach life with excitement and energy, to not do things halfway or half-heartedly, to live life as an adventure, and to feel alive and activated.
Vitality is aliveness, presentness, and engagement with life. It is wholeness of self. These five key practices can help us grow our own unique expression of vitality:
These days, we rarely take time to be by ourselves. We are inundated with noise, activity, and “busy-ness.” All of us carry the whole world in our pocket with our smartphones. We are constantly checking texts, Googling, reading the news, and ingesting information. The world is so loud, it’s difficult to hear ourselves think.
What we need to remember is to be with ourselves, too. Sounds boring, right? When we spend time with ourselves, we remember our own unique spirit, our inner voice. We remember the things we want to do, the goals we want to accomplish, the quality of our own thoughts. Being alone is critical for vitality because it helps us to check in with how we are feeling and what’s going on for us, without distraction.
It’s wonderful to be with other people and to be part of the world. But it’s equally necessary to spend time by oneself. Alone time is rejuvenating, clarifying, and grounding. Often we are pulled in a million different directions. Being alone allows us to come back to ourselves.
Try going on a solo walk, or sit on the patio with a cup of coffee and a journal. Leave your phone inside. Take time to check in with yourself. Ask yourself how you feel. Become aware of your energy levels. Are you tired, energized, stressed, or excited? If your body is tense, can you hone in on that tension and try to relax it? Take some deep breaths into your chest and heart area. Feel the fresh air fill up your body. When you breath out, let go of tension brought on by the stress of the world.
Being alone allows us to reconnect with our spirit. It allows us to check in with ourselves and remember how we are feeling. It allows us to ground and center ourselves in our own space.
“If you send out goodness from yourself, or if you share that which is happy or good within you, it will all come back to you multiplied 10,000 times.”
– John O’Donohue
Positivity feels good, and it’s also strengthening. It takes work to be positive, to constantly adjust your reactions and attitudes to reflect goodness. It’s also contagious; when you shine light out into the world, other people appreciate it and pass it on.
The secret to authentic positivity lies within our hearts. When we interact with the world from a place of love, we experience boundless beauty and support. Our love is mirrored back at us. We seek out and notice the good things, and we do not let the negatives get to us. We are strong and soft at the same time. Love conquers all.
Try shifting your words and actions into a positive frame. If you feel yourself wanting to complain, gripe, or criticize others, switch your language to the positive. Try to come up with a connective action. Reach out to others with your heart.
Then, try shifting your thoughts into a positive frame. Often the things we don’t say out loud are much more negative and judgmental. Often our thoughts are extremely self-critical. If you have a meditation practice, take time to notice your thoughts. Are they negative? Are they self-critical? Just notice the quality of your thoughts. Our thoughts are important because they are the origins of our words and actions.
Make an effort to see the best in other people, and to see the best in yourself. We all have goodness and light. Capture that light, and emanate it outwards.
Many of us sit all day: at our office, in cars, and on the couch at home. All of this sitting causes our energy to accumulate in our heads. Physical stagnation allows our thoughts to take over, which whirl into stressful scenarios around past and future events. The body becomes tight and compacted when it internalizes stress.
Movement opens the body and helps us feel free. Movement helps our tensions soften and unfold. Movement is healing. So simple, but so critical. When we move, we balance ourselves, integrating body and mind.
Do you have a daily movement practice? Movement is not necessarily exercising; movement can be a few simple stretches. It could be a walk around the block. It could be a gentle yoga flow. It could be working in the garden. We tend to have an all or nothing mentality–we’re either sitting passively or we’re doing vigorous cardio at the gym. There is a middle ground, a gentle flow that we really need to dissolve stress and help us enjoy the vitality of our physicality.
Do you remember the last time you danced for joy? Try it! Make an appointment with yourself and your favorite album. Maybe invite your partner or friend to dance with you. Let yourself go a little bit, and move your body in ways it wants to move. We can get self-conscious about what others think–but if no one is watching, what’s the harm?
If you thrive in a class or learning environment, try finding a Tai Chi or Qi Gong class. These eastern practices are designed to integrate body and mind, and harmonize our energy. Both practices integrate breathing and intention into movement, and allow softness and balance to enter our physical state. Try these simple movement exercises for stress reduction and vitality.
Being present with the world makes us feel like we are a part of it. Present moment consciousness is also known as Mindfulness, or paying attention to what’s happening around us and how we interact with the world. When we interact with the environment with presence, we are paying attention to what is really happening. We are letting go of preconceived ideas or expectations around what we think the world should be and practicing acceptance of what is.
Often we are immersed in recollecting (and sometimes judging) the past, or anticipating and even fearing the future. Present moment consciousness helps us to center in what is, not what was or what is to be. Being in what is brings us joy because we can actually appreciate the amazing world around us.
Mindfulness aids vitality because it centers us in our body, in the Now. Because we are not distracted, we can fully appreciate the world around us. Not only do we appreciate it more, but we can also feel like we are truly a part of the world. We are one component of an intricate and infinite composition.
When we are stressed or busy, we have trouble noticing, much less feeling curious about the world around us. We often just move through the motions of our day trying to get things done. We rarely ask others questions about themselves.
But learning is crucial to vitality. Learning keeps our brains flexible and our hearts open. When we learn, we connect with the world and ignite our vitality. If we give ourselves the space, we can be learning every day, and not just in a traditional sense of reading a nonfiction book or taking a class. We can learn about the people we interact with, the spaces we exist in and their histories, and about the stories of the world.
Think about when you travel. Traveling is a great way to learn and express our curiosity about new places and people. Try to employ that same sense of adventure to your everyday life. What can you learn about your cashier at your favorite coffee shop? Or the coffee itself? Maybe it was harvested in another country? How does coffee get produced, anyway? There is so much to learn throughout the day.
Next time you are chatting with someone, make an effort to be connective. Everyone and everything has a unique message for you. Curiosity can even lead to opportunity. As you connect with the world, the world will want to connect with you.
Mindfulness helps us to become aware of, accept, and appreciate the world. Curiosity allows us to connect with it. Curiosity is the path to wonderment. There is so much magic in the world, all around us. All that’s missing for us to notice it.