Finding yourself feeling less-than-thrilled with your lot in life is hardly unique. In fact, according to the results of the 2016 Harris Poll Happiness Index, just 31 percent of Americans considered themselves “very happy.” However, it’s not just a tumultuous political climate or stagnant wages bringing people down: in many cases, it’s a lack of optimism about what the future might hold. And while adding zeroes to that paycheck may not be a possibility, there’s one simple way to improve your life in an instant: find your happy place.
According to licensed mental health counselor and life coach Dr. Jaime Kulaga, Ph.D., there are few stressors you can’t fix if you find your happy place.
“Having a space that you can go to, to center and find clarity, is extremely beneficial. When you step away to a calm space that brings you joy or peacefulness, you allow your mind to destress so that you can make clear minded decisions and see things from alternate perspectives,” she says. “Another benefit to having a place where you can escape is that you allow yourself to be more present in the moment. Being present often welcomes in thoughts of gratitude. Gratitude increases overall life happiness and minimizes anxieties and anger.”
Here’s where things get interesting: Your happy place doesn’t even need to be real. If you’ve got a perfect cabin on a scenic bluff overlooking the ocean that sets your mind right—or even just a bench in a nearby garden where you can cool your head—that’s great. But your happy place can merely be an imagined place that exists in your mind—and conjuring images of being there can boost your mood in mere seconds.
According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, thinking of traveling to a fantastical location and merely planning such a trip in your head can actually increase your happiness more than reminiscing about the actual vacation afterward—suggesting that the fantasy is frequently all you need to make yourself happier in no time.
Here’s how to do it
“Start with listing out dreams and goals, and go big,” suggests Dr. Kulaga. “Want that bungalow, overlooking crystal clear water with palm trees that have coconuts you drink from? Great! Dream it up. Or, is your dream to walk across a university stage, while hundreds of people are screaming your name and jumping up and down for you as you grab your hard-earned diploma from the Dean of a school? Great! Dream it up. Your happy place is subjective. It is a place that makes your mind smile, calm down, and feel positive. It is a place that is safe, secure, and problem free.”
It’s not a waste of time. In fact, there could be real health benefits. According to a study published in Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, more individuals undergoing chemotherapy who did guided meditations and similar visualization exercises had more improved outcomes than those who didn’t. Among the most notable results of the study? While stress continued to increase over the course of treatment among those who didn’t participate in these activities, it continued to plummet among those who did. Perhaps more surprising: those who performed the visualization exercises actually experienced less fatigue over the course of treatment, too.
Even if it feels silly to encourage those flights of fancy and retreat to your happy place now, Dr. Kulaga suggests that people don’t discount what a positive direction doing so might take your life in. “Know that anything is possible and your ‘happy place’ can become your permanent reality in this lifetime,” she says.
And for more genius ways to lift your spirits, see these 20 Top Tricks from Therapists on Finding Happiness.
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