Summer of Happiness: Six Simple Things You Can Do This Summer to Let the Sunshine In
If your life could use a little lift, Todd Patkin says there’s no better time than summer to make small changes that will have a big impact on your outlook.
Summer is a time of warm temperatures, sunny skies, green leaves, neighborhood cookouts, family vacations, ice cream cones, and more. In short, it’s a season that’s full of opportunities for enjoyment—so why do so many of us drift through these warm weeks in the same hum-drum fog we’re lost in during the other three seasons? The fact is, most of us have become numbed by life, feeling that we’re victims of circumstance and simply trying to survive each day. So while a refreshing dip in the swimming pool might put a smile on your face while you’re submerged, your good mood usually doesn’t last long.
Don’t despair, though—you can influence your level of happiness to a much greater extent than you think. And the best news of all is that there’s no better time to start than during the summer.
“Most people don’t realize that happiness is a choice,” says Todd Patkin, author of the new book Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In (StepWise Press, 2011, www.findinghappinessthebook.com). “It’s true—happiness is learning how to live your best life by figuring out a better way to react to what happens to you. It’s the culmination of all of the little actions, choices, and habits that fill our days, as well as how we think about them.”
If that’s true—if your happiness really is determined not by what your life looks like but by how you look at your life—then why is summer an ideal time to start changing your focus?
“Life doesn’t completely stop in the summer, of course, but it does tend to slow down and give us more time to reflect on how happy we are with our lives, and to think about what changes we may want to make,” explains Patkin. “For many families, the daily pace is less hectic, and you’re more likely to spend time relaxing. Plus, since summer is a time of warmth, light, and growth, it’s naturally uplifting. Put together, that all means that over the next few months, you’ll have more time and (hopefully) energy to devote to making meaningful lifestyle changes.”
Patkin knows what he’s talking about. After realizing that financial success, recognition, accolades, and atta-boys didn’t bring the fulfillment he thought they would, Patkin set off to identify the ingredients of a happy and contented life. And he’s found that surprisingly simple lifestyle changes and habits can make a tremendous difference in your attitude, mood, and outlook.
“If you take the following suggestions to heart, I promise that you’ll be a much happier person by the time the leaves start to turn,” Patkin asserts. “And don’t worry—most of these habits will take only a few minutes out of your day, and some won’t take any extra time at all. Plus, they’re activities the whole family can get involved in and benefit greatly from.”
If you’re ready to put a genuine summer smile on your face, then read on for six simple ways to up your contentment quotient:
Enjoy the weather: Exercise. No one except the most avowed couch potato can resist venturing out into the great outdoors when the sun is shining and the grass is green. Take advantage of the wonderful weather and up your activity level! Exercise will begin to relax you, make you feel stronger, and improve your sleep. It’s also a natural anti-depressant that will boost your attitude and outlook. And as time passes, you’ll gain the added bonus of being happier with your physical appearance as well.
“I think exercise is the single most important thing you can do to improve your life right now,” Patkin asserts. “It’s a fantastic energizer, and it actually opens you up to future change by invigorating your mind and body. And don’t worry—I’m not saying you have to start training for a marathon. Commit to walking just twenty minutes every other day to start out. Or if circumstances allow, take a walk in the woods or swim a few laps in the pool instead. Lastly, take your kids along—you’ll be instilling exercise in them as a great habit that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.”
Get some new sunglasses: Be easier on yourself. Most people tend to go through life as though they’re wearing glasses with prescriptions that allow them to focus only on the negative things: their failures, mistakes, worries, etc. This summer, put on a new pair of shades with a more positive prescription that enables you to focus on all of the good things in your life, too! The fact is, we’re all human—and thus fallible—so it’s normal to make mistakes. However, it’s not healthy or beneficial to dwell on them.
“Most of us tend to be out and about more in the summer than in the colder months, so really take note of all the positive interactions you have and compliments you receive,” Patkin urges. “For instance, let yourself bask in your family’s compliments when you grill a great meal and savor your neighbor’s praise of your backyard garden. Basically, extend to yourself the same love and kindness that you would to others you care about! Until you give yourself permission to break free of the cycle of self-blame and negativity that causes you to be stuck demanding perfection from yourself in every situation, you’ll never have a chance to be a truly relaxed, content, and happy person.”
Plan some fun activities: Play to your strengths. The days are longer, schedules are more relaxed, there are several holidays to look forward to, and you’ll probably be taking some vacation days. Resolve to spend some of that time developing your special abilities and talents! If you want to be happy, you need to recognize, use, and share your gifts. Each of us has been given special, unique strengths, and when we are using them, we’re happier and feel much better about ourselves—and the world at large is better off, too!
“If you’ve never done so before, sit down and make two lists: Write down your strengths as well as what you really enjoy doing,” advises Patkin. “Usually, many of the things on these lists will overlap. Then, make it a goal to spend more time doing these things that you enjoy and are best at. Focusing more on a hobby or personal interest you like is a good start, even if, like exercise, you do it for only twenty minutes every other day. After all, your kids get to go to special-interest activities and camps during the summer…so why shouldn’t you get in on the action, too?”
Smell the roses: Live in the present. There are so many moments to treasure throughout our lives, and they’re often especially vivid in the summer: the sound of your kids playing outside, the scent of the herbs in your garden, the feeling of sand between your toes and sun on your skin. The question is, are you really experiencing and enjoying these moments…or is your mind obsessing over the past or worrying about the future while only your body is physically present? If it’s the latter, you’re only exacerbating your anxiety and unhappiness by choosing to dwell on things you can’t control.
“I can’t stress enough how important it is to truly appreciate the present moment,” Patkin shares. “And hopefully, this season will offer plenty of good opportunities to do that. Try to be aware of what your thoughts are ‘doing,’ and please don’t get discouraged when you find yourself going back to your old negative mental habits! In fact, pat yourself on the back because you’re noticing that you’re doing something you don’t want to do anymore. This is a fantastic start. By autumn, you’ll be closer to living the adventurous, wonderful life you were always meant to. Also, keep in mind that your children usually know when your mind is not 100 percent there with them. Don’t unintentionally make them feel less important in your life.”
Break out the barbeque: Strengthen close relationships. Summer is known for cookouts, pool parties, and front-porch sittin’. Don’t be “that family” who always keep to themselves—try to host at least one or two events between June and September and invite the people you love over for some fun. The truth is, it’s worth putting work into improving your relationships with your family and friends all year round, because the quality of your bonds with the people closest to you can make or break the quality of your life.
“Also, I’d like to specifically mention one relationship you need to focus on in particular: your relationship with your spouse or significant other,” Patkin says. “You must put as much time and effort into this relationship as you do your house, your car, or your job. Celebrate your spouse every day. Trust me: This can make such a great difference in your relationship, because when your partner feels as special as he or she did in the early days of your romance, he or she will feel just as loved…and the spark of your relationship will stay alight. Summer is a great time to pick a bouquet of wildflowers, plan a romantic getaway, or purchase tickets to an outdoor concert that you’ll both enjoy, for starters.”
Smile and say hello: Be friendlier. Yes, spend more quality time with the people who are most important to you this summer, but also continue to make new connections. You’re not the only one who ventures outside your front door more often in the summer—so make a conscious effort to be friendlier to others you encounter, too. Introduce yourself to the family next to you at the pool or beach, for example, and say hello to folks you pass while walking in the park. (You’ll also be setting a great example for your kids.)
“Extending simple human kindness to others can make a huge difference in their lives…and in yours,” Patkin promises. “You see, everyone on Earth is carrying some sort of burden. You can’t make their pain, stress, or grief just disappear…but you can be what I call a ‘lamp lighter’—someone who makes others feel just a little bit lighter and happier on their feet, if only for five seconds. When you make friendliness a habit, you’ll attract kindness and smiles in return…and you’ll feel great about yourself for making a positive difference in the world!”
“These suggestions are meant to be a starting point for you,” Patkin concludes. “My hope is that you’ll incorporate these habits into your life and experience a more sunshine-y summer…and that you’ll remember this season as the beginning of your journey toward happiness. It’s true—what may seem like small changes in your actions and attitudes really can make a huge difference in how you experience the rest of your life!”
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About the Author: Todd Patkin, author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In, grew up in Needham, Massachusetts. After graduating from Tufts University, he joined the family business and spent the next eighteen years helping to grow it to new heights. After it was purchased by Advance Auto Parts in 2005, he was free to focus on his main passions: philanthropy and giving back to the community, spending time with family and friends, and helping more people learn how to be happy. Todd lives with his wonderful wife, Yadira, their amazing son, Josh, and two great dogs, Tucker and Hunter.
About the Book: Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In (StepWise Press, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-9658261-9-8, $19.95) is available at bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and at www.findinghappinessthebook.com.