- Yoga. I started my regular yoga practice in 2008 and got pretty serious about it when I was dating my then-boyfriend/now hubs in 2010 (cause he was already a yogi), but to be honest, I had a love/hate relationship with it for most of those early years. I used it primarily as physical exercise, rarely even focusing enough to align my breath to movement, often opting out for something more intense. It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve slowed down enough to realize the physical practice of yoga is but one piece of the puzzle. Since then, I’ve experienced yoga’s benefits in every day life (on and off the mat) and now it’s a non-negotiable for me. Connecting with my breath, tolerating discomfort, and noticing my thoughts have been total game changers and have been instrumental in healing my depression and addiction. These days, I do yoga on most days, but mix it up all the damn time to ensure my body and spirit are getting equal love (So check out intense and beginner Vinyasa, Restorative, Yin, Kundalini, and Yoga Nidra. All of the yoga.)
- Nutrition. This is one of the most important things in my own life and one of the things I highlight the most with my clients. The importance of good nutrition, of feeding your body and your brain the nutrients it needs, simply cannot be overstated and is absolutely essential for mental health care. It is everything. We literally are what we eat, and as my mentor, Mark Hyman says, you are either feeding disease (both physical and mental health) or fighting it every time you decide what to eat or drink. I had a bunch of nutritional whammies to contend with as an adult (picky eater growing up, eating disorder most of my life, a low-protein, low-fat diet; and let’s face it, the drinking didn’t help!). I have no doubt whatsoever that they contributed to my struggles with depression, anxiety, and addiction and this is why I’m so incredibly passionate about the food/mood connection. (I credit a massive shift in my nutrition to be the catalyst to getting off my personal medication cocktail when I was 30 (though my recovery has been less-than perfect and a topic for another post!).) Getting the right nutrients (including hydration, sunshine, and supplementation with vitamins, minerals, and herbs) is crucial if you want to thrive.
- Movement other than yoga. I know that so many people struggle with sticking with a regular exercise routine and I’m not kidding you when I say that it took 10 years of my adult life (and dozens of months in unused gym memberships) for me to find mine. I already discussed my relationship with yoga above, but it’s only part of the puzzle when it comes to physical exercise. The first things that had to happen were to admit what didn’t work for me (buying all the DVD’s and equipment for at-home workouts that I never used), and to find something I loved (the group exercise classes at the gym that I finally started going to). Since then, my movement has been anything but boring! I mix in all kinds of exercise: cardio (but not as much as I used to and running outside when possible), weight training (I have old-lady bones because of my eating disorder, so this is very important), high-intensity interval training, and hiking whenever possible (see below!). (The reason exercise is essential to my happiness is also just science. It’s no joke that exercise is a natural anti-depressant. It increases blood flow to the brain and releases neurotransmitters (like endorphins and serotonin), supports sleep, and can boost self-esteem like no other.)
- Outdoors. Being outside is one of my go-to, must-do activities for feeling good. I often pair exercise (running and hiking, especially) with being outdoors, but it’s not the only way to enjoy the fresh air! I love walking, picnics, camping, outdoor dining and coffee dates; pretty much anything that gets me outside and as much as possible. Nature is a a great way to engage your mindfulness muscles and provides full-on sensory experiences (click here to read about Mindfulness Through the Five Senses). I personally prefer sunshine-y weather and gorgeous scenery; neither of which are lacking in our adopted home state!
- Novelty. I believe I’m pretty wired for this one! I kinda lump travel and local experiences into this one category of “novelty.” Sometimes I call it “adventure.” This is where my heart sings; visiting new places and having new experiences. (Talk about sensory: the sights, the sounds, the tastes and smells!) Like all of my happiness ingredients, this one only happens because I design my life (in the long-term and short-term, logistically and financially) to allow for daytrips, weekend getaways, and more lengthy vacations. I set annual goals for this, from which cities and countries I want to visit each year, down to which mountains and trails I want to hike. (Any new experiences count, too (taking a class in something fun or new, exploring a new neighborhood, catching the latest art exhibit, or getting tickets to an upcoming music or dance performance).
I prioritize and plan for how I include each of these 10 things in my life because they are the main ingredients to make me happy. They don’t happen by default! I hope this inspires you to think about ways that you can design your life by your happiness ingredients. Even if you just start small, just a pinch here and there, you’ll be surprised at how quickly your happiness can add up!