By Dr. Rachel Greenberg
Life can be challenging. It can be hard to know how to make it better on ourselves. So many of us are busy with full plates and long lists of to-do’s, incessant notifications of the latest news updates, meeting alerts, appointment reminders, tasks to get done, people to visit with and reply to, things to remember, and routines to stay committed to. The reality of keeping ourselves going each day can sometimes be overwhelming, and even the most productive, organized, and time-efficient of us can find ourselves experiencing the weight of the stressors we must deal with and confront on a day-to-day, minute-to-minute basis. It’s not always (or often) easy, even if we feel fulfilled and satisfied in ourselves, relationships, careers, and interests. For those who struggle to find the balance, meaning, purpose, or ability to regulate the intense and heavy emotions that can come in response to life’s realities, the following is a list of practices that can help alleviate some of the burdens, enhance joy and contentment, and achieve a more buoyant overall approach to life that just, frankly, makes it better
Evolve: You have to be willing to shed the things about yourself that are no longer helpful to you or are getting in the way of your relationships and movement. This process of regeneration is powerful, and can feel deeply satisfying and necessary for life to be something you can contend with from a more peaceful place. It’s true that shaking up the status quo in yourself can be scary and challenging, and it is also what is required to meet life in all it has the power to provide you with. You have to be willing to take the risks to develop. The process of evolving is something we’ve done as a species, as a country, as a people, and is a true requirement to live an enriched, awakened life. Be willing to change and expand yourself, your beliefs, and the extent of your consciousness. It will surely lead you down paths you have always wanted to visit. And this type of opening makes the experiences you have in life and how you show up for them way, way better.
Have good sex: Sexual health is a fundamental, primary, and potentially complicated part of our overall experience of wellness, and I strongly recommend that you take a look at how you are or are not connecting to who you are sexually in a relationship with yourself and/or your partner(s). Sexual health and expression is unique to what you most need, and no matter your specific interests, proclivities, or desires, sex should be good, safe, fun, connected, and satiating. It should be defined by you and the person you’re doing it with, and there should be explicit consent along the way. It can be casual, committed, partnered or autonomous, but it should be experienced abundantly. Women should be considered in terms of what they most need from their partners to experience the height of the rendezvous and it can be as sensual, romantic, rough, or wild as you and your partner deem. It can change, be fluid, experimental but always a priority. Whatever it is, whenever it can happen, it should be an alive and awakened experience that you give yourself often to enhance life and the gift of connection pleasure, and erotica.
Slow down, give space: We are on the go-go-go, often headed to the next meeting, task, call, job, meal, text, activity, responsibility. Staying busy and building meaning are important and can help us feel purposeful and fulfilled in our lives, AND we need to give ourselves the space to be still, to pause, slow down, check-in with ourselves and each other. We are more prone to mistakes, misconnections, missteps, and experiencedissatisfaction when we operate from a rapid place that we become lost in. Our awareness of what we most need to stay well and regulated to handle our varied roles and responsibilities can come forth when we give ourselves even a moment to be slow and still and spacious. We create more room in our lives for the things we most want and need when we can trust that slowing down doesn’t mean letting go of goals or productivity but, rather, helps us most achieve what we’re driven to by creating pockets of much-needed time amidst our endeavors.
Listen and attune to your body: Valuable information lies here. Our bodies are where our emotions live viscerally, intuitively, and physiologically. We can so easily become so disconnected from the experiences that live there and what they’re telling us about the crux of our experiences and reactions. Checking in with our bodies, aligning with what happens there, becoming friendly and in touch with the shape, size, configuration and operations of our bodies helps enhance our comfort and safety in ourselves overall. It helps us navigate what’s thrown our way, and it provides an enriched ability to self-regulate and modulate internal experiences. Our bodies provide us with so much and, despite any limitations or different abilities you may experience in your body, we can achieve an enhanced sense of health and wellness when we get better and more consistent at noticing what happens for us there, learning language to describe bodily-based sensations, and allowing it to guide us. If you’re feeling disconnected or mad at or unhappy or disgusted with your body, this is vital to look at with a closer, more critical eye. It’s an expression of a need for some type of attention and change. Harmony between mind, spirit, and body is required for life to be and feel better. So, be willing to listen to your body and what it’s communicating to you. Learn to build a trust in that communication and the messages it’s relaying.
Forgiveness in the face of mistakes: We all make mistakes! Welcome to humanity. Forgiveness is imperative! If you’re interested in emotional freedom and levity, if you want to achieve progress and wellness, if you’re interested in cultivating deep and meaningful relationships with others, get comfortable letting things go and taking a forgiving stance. Why? Because it feels better. Why? Because emotional turmoil and psychological rigidity is the trappings of resentment and because pride, fear, and anger can become destructive if we hang onto them for too long. You and others will undoubtedly fumble, say the wrong thing, do something regrettable, slip-up or take a wrong turn, make an error, do something hurtful, etc. The more comfortable you are with your mistakes, the more opportunity you’ll ensure not to keep making them (at least not the same ones). Our mistakes expose us to things we don’t want to do, or things we don’t want to say, or ways we don’t want to say them. Ultimately, really, our mistakes expose us to who we really want to be, who we really actually are, and how we can start to live in ways that are more aligned with ourselves in the truest and deepest sense. Make mistakes because they expose you to who you have the potential to be and what you need to become the version of yourself that will feel the best and will make life better.
We certainly all need to be validated, and surely we should expect respect and kindness in our relationships to ourselves and others, AND we need to hold space for people to falter and for intentions to sometimes not match up with impact. During these times, in these experiences, forgiveness can come to the rescue in a way that relieves us of an emotional burden and can ultimately strengthen the bond. In Dr. Brené Brown’s Rising Strong, she shares her research on the positive impact of asking the question- “What if they’re doing the best they can?” This stance can reduce irritation, judgment, and expectations that people should be different than who they are, and can flex the forgiveness muscle knowing that hanging on to righteous anger or resentment is making life less good, less easy, and more demanding than it needs to be. For all of these reasons, letting go of destructive anger, fostering a forgiving stance, and giving others the benefit of the doubt makes life better.
Accept yourself and things as they are. Ideal, desired or not: It can be incredibly and phenomenally challenging to foster acceptance of things that suck, or hurt, or are not what we want, hope for, wish for, or think is fair. We have ideas about how our lives should go, what should happen to us, what we deserve and don’t deserve, what conditions we want to experience, what events should happen and how they should unfold, what people should do, say, be, exhibit, offer, etc. The list really doesn’t seem to end when it comes to what we desire or think about how our experiences should pan out. In many ways, our desires and ideas and beliefs help fuel our movement, help us know what to work on, help us achieve important goals and live our ambitions. They can also, depending on how firmly attached we are to them, become an impediment to our experience of life. They can get create in us a sense of longing for things that we don’t have but want, or latching on to things we have but fear we’ll lose. Either way, in whichever scenario, radical acceptance helps us be with whatever is actually happening for us in our lives. With so much outside of what we can control, it is in these moments that accepting ourselves, all we are, and all we go through is really the only way for life to be better. It’s the longing and latching that elicits the suffering. Acceptance provides an incredibly satisfying settling in that creates an opportunity to release. Acceptance provides relief, and relief makes life better.
Do you, boo: What works for me may not work for you. What works for you may not work for me. What works for you may be different than what your mom says should work, or what your primary care provider says may help, or what your favorite fitness guru says about how you should work out and what you should eat, or what works for Oprah, or what works for your best friend, or your manicurist, or your Uber driver. It’s true that connecting to others about their strategies to make life better can be impactful and powerful, and it’s also true that there are some undeniable practices that scientific research has proven to enhance neurobiological realities that enhance happiness, satisfaction, regulation, etc. So, it’s undeniable that physical activity is good for us. It has neurological benefits, it boosts neurotransmitters that support healthy moods, it enhances sleep quality, reduces stress, improves energy, lowers blood pressure. But, you may determine that what works for you is strength training instead of marathon running. You may figure out that what works for you is exercising only 3 days a week, even if your sister benefits from 6. Neither is better, neither is worse. Knowing and accepting what works for you and doing that is what makes life better. You have to discover which specific practices are best for you, in what way, how you can make them fit your unique style and needs and biology and time constraints, development, historical influences, and so on. We have a natural inclination to compare ourselves to others, particularly when others have or encompass or exhibit the things in ourselves that we most want or think we need. During those times, a gentle acknowledgment of this tendency and a bringing back to what it is we most need given our individualistic experiences and realities enhances our power, authenticity, integrity, and acceptance. And this makes life better.
Embrace the Unknown: The truth is, the unknown can be brutally mortifying. The stories our minds tells us about what could potentially happen is often wrought with anxious anticipation, and people so often find themselves sinking into their familiar comforts despite how limiting and dissatisfying. Fear is powerfully dichotomous, either fueling a courageous and brave stance to confront and explore that which is unknown, trusting that whatever this ominous murky unidentified thing brings will be well within the confines of adaptability, coping, and perhaps may even bring delight! OR, fear elicits shut down, anurge for safety and protection even if the unfamiliar may not actually be dangerous. In this case, an exploratory stance, an adventurous spirit and a brave approach just fundamentally improves things. It invites you to experience and learn things that are new, and that’s expansive. That feels good. That creates more space, opportunity, and enrichment in life. And, that makes life better.
Psychological and Attitudinal Flexibility: Psychological flexibility can be described as the ability to adapt to life’s circumstances in any given moment, situation, or environment, maintain balance in the midst of uncertainty or changes, stay connected to values and live aligned with those values while giving enough space for divergent expressions if the situation calls for it, the ability to shift perspective or mindset, to let in new information and consider it thoughtfully, and to shift routine or behavior when necessary. The challenges of daily life require a flexible stance, otherwise we find ourselves in perpetual loops of chronic ruminative worry, impaired social functioning, destructive interpersonal patterns, and an overall sense of emotional dysregulation. This isn’t about ridding yourself of your beliefs or values or routines so much as it is giving yourself enough space to deviate when indicated. It’s about responding to the situation (traffic) with enough flexibility (take the back road even if it’s longer) to elicit emotional balance and health (put on your favorite Spotify playlist, Marco Polo your best friends, catch up on your favorite podcast). These postures support mental and emotional health, and make navigating life’s hills, valleys, and plateaus more fluid and approachable and less stressful. Rigidity is a generally ineffective stance to take in the face of environmental stressors. Resiliency, distress tolerance, and strength to confront challenges come when we cultivate flexibility, and this practice makes life better.
Laugh Often, Use Humor: When asked only days before her 65 birthday what her greatest life’s wisdom is and what she’s learned as the most primary of lessons so far, my mother proclaimed with ease “Laughter is the best medicine! If you can keep laughing and find things funny, make other people laugh, it makes life a lot, lot nicer.” That very same day The Greater Good Science Center posted The Science of Happiness Podcast which described the benefits of learning to laugh at yourself. Humor allows us to connect, join with others, and communicate. It helps foster safety in relationships, and laughter relaxes our spirits, lets us know we’re okay. It helps us cope. Laughter also has biological implications; it helps shift our cardiovascular health, our autonomic nervous system relaxes, and dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for feeling happy, is released in our brains. And feeling more connected, relaxed, and happy in life always makes it better.
Dr. Rachel Greenberg is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who practices privately in Orinda, CA. She is influenced by eastern philosophy, western evidence-based approaches to psychotherapy, and creative arts that can help you achieve a strengthened relationship to yourself, behavioral changes to enhance mastery and happiness, and healthy and satisfying relationships. If you’re interested in learning more about how to achieve well-being, inner peace, emotional stability and vitality, or are interested in deepening your connection to yourself through awareness practice, feel free to call or email for a consultation and to schedule an initial session.