I’ve found that happiness is a choice that takes a concerted effort. It’s anything but accidental.
Three years ago I lost my zen happy-go-lucky nature. My wife and I had just spent the past year going from honeymooning in Hawaii to having a doctor tell my wife she’d have to “deal with being disabled” and “just live with Lyme Disease.”
Mentally exhausted, frustrated, and angry at God, I found myself doing something I thought I’d never do. With a milky white pill in hand, I swallowed my doctor prescribed anti-depressant. Lexapro tasted stale and like chalk and left me feeling drugged throughout the day. I immediately hated myself for taking this pill.
I threw out the pills and decided that I would try a holistic approach. I invested heavily into eating a diet that made me feel good and fueled my body with the proper micro and macro nutrients. I decided to deepen my yoga practice and soon after built up my daily meditation practice.
When I connect the dots looking backward, I can now see that I’ve been training for this type of challenge my whole life. As Patanjali reminds us, “At various points in our lives, or on a quest, and for reasons that often remain obscure, we are driven to make decisions which prove with hindsight to be loaded with meaning.”
Here are five tips to help you find zen and calm in your life on purpose.
1. Keep It On the Positive
It’s only natural to focus on the negative. It’s our natural instinct. We’re attune to pay attention to stressors in our life and fire up the fight-or-flight survival mechanisms we have. As Kelly McGonigal, author of The Willpower Instinct and TED speaker, points out, “Though our survival system doesn’t always work to our advantage, it is a mistake to think we should conquer the primitive self completely.”
We have a choice whether or not to focus on the positive or dwell in the negative. As Wayne Dyer also suggests in his film, The Shift, making small choices each day to consciously focus on the positive will shift our habitual negative thinking into positive thinking.
Connecting the dots in my life, I can see clearly now that this has been a central theme in my life.
My adoption, my father’s alcoholism, and helping to raise an older sister with a learning disability—these situations only made me into a greater person because I was able to see the positive in each. Being adopted gave me that extra edge to feel special as a child and helped me learn self-reliance on a primal level. It also taught me that love and caring for others goes beyond blood relations. We’re all connected.
My father’s alcoholism helped me see that people deserve a second chance. After over a decade of alcoholism, my father found AA and has been sober the past 15 years. His once cold heart is now plush like a teddy bear. I also learned that men of his generation had to deeply suppress their emotions and bottling up emotions only deepens the pit of despair. This understanding of cultural gender norms guides my writing on evolving masculinity along with shaping a men’s retreat I’m putting together in 2016.
Helping to be the big brother to my older sister taught me that we, as a society, love to place labels on people. And, these labels do little to show the true beauty of the individual. My sister may have a learning disability, but she has taught me more about love and kindness than anyone in higher education.
2. Food Zen
As a personal trainer, I saw so many people struggle to get a fit body by throwing around weights in the gym, but then ignore what they ate only to be constantly disappointed with their body image. In triathlon, food is called The Fourth Discipline and those who master proper nutrition feel calmer, more aligned, and have more mental and physical stamina. They also tend to have an incredible physique.
What do I eat? I’ve tried everything from paleo-eating to vegan and have found that there is no one size fits all for finding your proper diet. I tend to eat an anti-inflammatory diet full of fruits, veggies, grass-fed or organic meats, and coconut oil.
3. Sleep Zen
It’s not as simple as getting eight hours a day. Many other factors influence our quality of sleep. I’ve found limiting my food intake an hour before bedtime is crucial to waking up refreshed. As much as I like eating a big meal then taking a snooze, I also feel like I need two more hours of sleep after my alarm goes off when I do that.
4. Meditation Zen
There simply is no substitute for meditation and anyone from any religion could practice it. It’s not just for yogis either.
Meditation is simply calling attention to the self. It grounds a person and forces someone to look deep inside. Meditation helps you see the real you and offers such a beautiful glimpse of the soul. Meditation helps you gain or regain control of what drives you. It helps break bad habits and helps create good ones. When we sit in meditation, all kinds of thoughts and emotions rise to the consciousness. Sitting in stillness helps teach our brains that we have a choice to go for a ride with these thoughts and emotions or to let them pass.
And for those who want that part of it, meditation also helps you grow a closer relationship with the divine.
5. Self-Help Zen
I find it really funny that we no longer have “self help” sections in the book store. They are now called “personal development” or something like that. As a kid I would go to Borders, order a latte with way too much sugar and read through a large stack of books I picked up from self-help section.
I saw self-help as a way to level up much like Mario would level up when he ate a mushroom or any other video game hero would level up after learning a new skill or reaching a new level.
In essence, video games taught me that self-help is a good thing. And self-help is a good thing. We so easily get caught up in our own ego and don’t want to appear to others that we need help. Instead, we bottle up our struggles and shoulder on.
In my interviews, I’ve found that the most successful people are the ones who ask for the most help. They are open about their struggles and call on friends, family, therapists, community members, and anyone else who can help them get to where they want to go.
Asking for help is anything but a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength.
Author: Mark Guay
Apprentice Editor: Taija Jackson/Editor: Travis May
Photo: Author’s own