Here’s a tip: happy places aren’t just clichés!
A happy place is a portable and free mental health solution. It is a skill anyone can cultivate, and I’ve gone back to it for nearly half my life.
So…what is a happy place?
A happy place is somewhere you can go in your mind when where you actually are isn’t happy.
For a while my happy place was my high school best friend’s hangout room, but it changed when I lost my association with that place. Now I think of a particular walking path on the Huron River.
A happy place can be any place, though. It doesn’t even have to exist in a corporeal sense, so long as it makes you happy.
But what is happy, anyway? It should be a place where you can be you and that doesn’t hurt you at all. No one is mean to you, not even you.
Especially not you.
Your happy place is the place you wish you could be. It’s where you could be right now, if you could.
And you can, and least in your mind’s eye, through some simple steps.
First, you’ll need to pick your happy place. Remember, it doesn’t have to be real!
Get in a comfortable position, whatever that means for you. Close your eyes.
(Ok, maybe finish this description, then close your eyes :p)
Observe your breathing and any thoughts that may rise up without investing in our following them. Begin to slow and deepen your breathing. Try to take as long to exhale as it takes to inhale. It might help to place your hand on your belly and feel it expand when you inhale. Focus on your breathing for as long as you need to until it becomes your main focus.
You are probably more calm and relaxed now than when you started. The mental space this creates should allow you to begin to focus on the idea of happiness.
Imagine that you are happy. Not judged. Appreciated. Seen. Valued. You don’t have to hide anything you don’t want to, and anything you do want hidden is plain out of sight.
What associations does this bring up? What do you see? Who is there, if anyone? What do you smell? Are there sounds? What are you doing, if anything at all?
Are you not quite there yet? Let your mind keep wandering.
Maybe you say something nice to yourself when your belly fills up with air. Maybe you check in to see if you are clenching any muscles. Imagine sending attention to anything that hurts. And know that sometimes, even just looking is enough.
And if you are there? Take notes. Remember everything you can. Make this place a story you can tell yourself later. Your happy place is a safety blanket you can carry in your mind, so get to know its texture.
You can even fudge your happy place to make it cooler, ’cause no one ever has to know 🙂
If you’d prefer a more hands-on approach, or if you’d like to flesh out your meditation, start here!
Grab some paper and your favorite writing or artist’s utensil (or, hey, papier mâché or whatevs!), and work through free-association on the idea of happiness. You can do this with intention or automatically, for five minutes or five days.
It may be helpful to give yourself some prompts, such as:
- happiness is…
- I am safe when…
- I can be really me when…
By making words or images out of your thoughts about happiness, safety, and security, the same goal as in the meditation is reached: you can look at what you’ve now recorded while thinking about happiness, and a happy place may begin to emerge for you.
Once you’ve noticed any patterns or important information, make a mental or even artistic image of your happy place. The more detail the better, as considering the details of your happy place is part of your toolkit.
Now that you’ve got it, it’s time to work it into your life.
Calling on your happy place is immensely helpful in times of distress, and the good news is that the hardest part is remembering to do it.
There’s this game – ‘the game,’ actually – I was taught it college. The premise of the game is that every time you think about the game, you lose.
That’s it. Lol!
I have no idea why that’s a thing, but your happy place can be kind of the inverse: every time you think about your happy place, you win.
Happy place extra credit: association. Carrying a tangible reminder on your person of a mental goal or habit you’re working on can be immensely helpful. A ring, a hairclip, a small stone or even your left shoelace can serve as an anchor to remember your happy place. Just spend a couple minutes associating the two things. For instance: “Whenever I think about my left shoelace, I’ll think about my happy place.” If a reminder of your happy place is everywhere you go, it will be, too!
The association doesn’t have to be physical either. For instance, you could load up a song or playlist on your mobile device designed to help take you to your happy place. An audio or video reminder for your happy place means you’re always just a couple clicks away.
Passive association, like seeing your shoelace, can help cycle your happy place into your regularly scheduled thoughts. If you’re going to idly be thinking about things – and you are going to be idly thinking about things – then some of them might as well be your happy place!
You’re also going to need a plan for more actively calling on your happy place. Ideally you can take a couple of minutes to yourself, have some water, close your eyes and focus. Regulate your breathing, maybe stretch a little. Do this for as long as you need to, and be as alone as you need to be.
There are often going to be times, however, when you need to go to your happy place precisely because you can’t take a couple of minutes to yourself to refuel and recenter. So often in these situations, when we need our happy places the most, they seem the most remote.
Here’s the good news: you already have the mental bandwidth you need to run your happy place in these situations. I know that for a fact because you’re already using it to do other things.
You’re using it to say mean things to yourself, or to repeat to yourself the mean things other people have said to you. You’re using it to picture how things can get worse, or how they’ll never get better.
I can’t speak for everyone, but my mental illness is a lot like someone doled out my mental resources incorrectly. My strengths were given huge insecurities, and my weaknesses were given bullhorns. Worse, half my strengths parade as weaknesses, which makes my weaknesses seem stronger than they really are.
But you can pick what to think about. No really, you can.
Not 100 per cent of the time, not without nothing else to do with your time. But you can always catch yourself, and set your mind off in a new direction. Interrupting the voice that brought you to this website might be the most important skill you ever learn.
It’s that simple. Observe the thought and interrupt it. Try to separate the signal from the noise.
Do you ever find yourself shadow-boxing the same match all day? Having that pretend fight with your boss or your s.o. or yourself over and over in your head, for hours without resolution? The thing is, you’ll never reach a resolution, because it’s a fake fight. My mind has gotten a lot quieter since I committed to noticing and interrupting this pattern. When I observe myself doing it, I say, “no shadow-boxing,” which is my way of telling myself I won’t have imaginary fights.
Any amount of mental clutter you can clear out is space you can replace with your happy place.
Try different strategies when thinking about your happy place. Picture yourself as though you were there. Look around at the familiar happy sights. Linger on any details that make you happiest of all.
In a rush, this can be as simple as flashing on one happy time you had there. Or a happy time you’re working toward in the future. Knowing that you’ll get to go back to your happy place, even if just in your mind? That’s one of the best feelings of all.
Regulate your breathing. You can. Just notice how you’re breathing now, and then work toward making your inhales and exhales the same length of time and same volume of air.
If you can, imagine your happy place supplanting something else you don’t want to be thinking about. You can picture it sliding over that mean thought about yourself, or kicking it to the curb. Your happy place is about claiming the sovereignty of your thoughts, and I promise you can do it.
If you can just stop for long enough to notice the thought you’re having, you can stop having it. Not forever, but right then. And then right after that. And then right after that. You feel me?
It doesn’t mean the world will stop spinning, but it will mean you’ve started on the road to picking better mental priorities.
If there’s going to be noise in your head, let it tell you nice things. If you’re going to be distracted at your terrible job, be distracted by the mental image of a place where there is only you and love, whatever that means to you.
It takes practice. It takes vigilant practice. And you know what? Practicing something new is a pretty cool reason to stick around, too. Every day is a day to try.
❤ – Schlomo