Positively Happy: How to Stay Optimistic in a Wacky World
Updated: Jun 2, 2020
Today's post is written by the wonderful Francesca Imbrogno, who I met during my undergraduate days at the University of Toronto. As someone who has such a contagious energy of kindness and joy, Francesca is such a special and wise soul, and I'm honoured to spread some of this into the world.
“You’re so good at looking at the bright side of things!”
“Wow, you’re always so positive!”
“It seems so easy for you to be happy all the time!”
These are phrases I hear all the time. And for the most part, I’m complimented! Who wouldn’t want to be perceived as a cheerful person?
I have been blessed with a sunny disposition. I’m currently working my dream job—a teacher—and love going to work every day. I come from a treasure of a family that has provided me with a solid foundation for the rest of my life. Most importantly, I’ve been blessed with a sound mind. The mind is such a beautiful and dangerous thing that can be your friend or enemy. Thankfully, mine is a friend that has been good to me over the years.
That said, I find it interesting when people say it seems so “easy” for me to be happy all the time. It seems to me that we judge people by their finished product and not the journey it took for them to get there. And while I may have been born with a natural propensity for optimism, happiness is also something I practice*. It’s no different than being an athlete: they may have been born with a natural talent for it, but you can be sure that they work at it every day.
So, since I love quotations and have filled many notebooks with them over the years, I thought I’d share a few that encapsulate my personal philosophies on happiness.
1. “Happiness consists more in the small conveniences of pleasures that occur every day than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom to a man in the course of his life.” –Benjamin Franklin
Just like washing my face and brushing my teeth (and flossing, people!), I have established daily routines that help feed my happy mindset. Routine. Boy, hasn’t that word taken a whole new importance during the time of covid? Our daily routines have been completely uprooted. Now is the time more than ever to be gracious with ourselves—mind, spirit, and body. But it’s also the opportunity to establish new routines!
According to New York psychologist Dr. Danielle Forshee, “Routine helps us cope with change. It helps to create healthy habits, and more importantly, it helps to reduce stress levels. When your life is organized, and set in a routine, you know exactly what to expect. This takes out the guessing of what is coming, alleviating the symptoms of anxiety.”
Did you like pop quizzes in school? Probably not! Human beings like to know what to expect as it puts us in a calmer state. This is why routine is so healthy for us. It also makes the self-isolation days go by faster! Here are things that are part of my everyday life:
Exercise: I will not spend too much time listing all the amazing effects of endorphins because I’m sure you’ve heard about them. All I know is that I feel better on days I move than on days I don’t. As a morning person, this starts my day on a high note and keeps my energy going throughout the day. You don’t even need to do a vigorous HIIT class. A mindset that I’ve recently developed is some exercise is better than none. Sometimes we think if we don’t have the time to do an hour of an intense workout, we might as well do nothing at all. That “doing nothing” could then continue into the next day and the day after that. Ten minutes of stretching or yoga or a short outdoor walk can do wonders for the soul.
For some, working out during quarantine has morphed into the dangerous idea that we have to be our fittest selves now that we have the time. If you ask me, exercise shouldn’t be about being skinny or gaining muscles for aesthetic purposes. I have watched myself get stronger every day and I’m proud of that. But quarantine is not a beauty contest and if you don’t have abs by the time malls re-open, that’s really okay! Exercise for me is about keeping my mental health in check more than anything. I also love cheese way too much to ever have abs.
Gratitude Journal: I read a study once that said those who practice gratitude live longer lives than those who don’t. At the end of each day, I write a few nice things that happened. I have to do this every day because if I don’t, I’ll completely forget what I did the previous day. I also doodle little stars on days that were especially good so in the future, if I’m ever having a rough day, I flip open my journal and read about a great day in the past. My friends have taken on this lingo themselves, which has been awesome. If someone says they’ve had a “Star Day,” it means they’ve scored high on their Barometer of Happiness.
If this seems like a lot of writing, you can start with a baby step! I have incorporated this practice with my students. I find that Wednesdays can be such a blah day so we often need a pick-me-up to get through the rest of the week. I established an exercise called “Wonderful Wednesdays,” where we each take a turn saying one wonderful thing going on in our life. Sometimes it’s really hard to think of one thing. That’s when we know we need the activity the most. The wonderful thing can range from having had a good night’s sleep or getting a ride to school! It’s all about finding the little joys in life.
Reading: The Benjamin Franklin quotation above was actually in a book I read last week and it really stood out to me! Reading is absolute magic. It allows you to travel without leaving the comfort of your own home. It shows you things that you can’t unsee and widens your perspective. As an avid reader, my to-read list NEVER gets shorter, only longer! Quarantine has been the first time in a long while that I’ve had so much time to read for pleasure. When my students say they don’t like to read, I highlight the fact that maybe they don’t like reading fictional books. You don’t have to read an epic to be “reading.” Articles, blog posts, magazines, newspapers, and even photo captions all count as reading! Even if I only have time to read half a chapter a day, I make sure to read something. It’s best if I establish a set time to read every day so it becomes part of my routine. My favourite is with my morning coffee. It’s so cozy!
If you want some great ideas on how to add joy and comfort to your life, I suggest The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking. It teaches us to never underestimate the sense of well-being that can be brought by immersing ourselves in comforting atmosphere such as candles, pillows, and blankets. I have really been trying to incorporate the Danish concept of hygge as much as possible into my life.