By Kate Taylor
Many years ago I visited the stunning Greek Island of Sifnos. One day while I was there, I took a long walk from our hotel through olive groves and terraced farms to a little whitewashed village by the sea. I don’t remember its name, but I’ll never forget its sugar-cube homes, dazzling ocean views and peaceful island-life rhythm.
In fact, I think of that Greek village nearly every day. In particular, I picture a white bench on the village’s highest terrace overlooking the blue Aegean. I think of it when I meditate, or want to take my mind off something or simply need a break from life’s chaos.
It’s my happy place.
No doubt you’re familiar with the term. These days, people toss it around in dental offices, grocery store lines and office cubicles. One person will appear agitated or upset, and another person will say “go to your happy place.”
It’s unfortunate that the remark is usually flippant. Because going to a mental happy place when you’re stressed is one of the wisest choices you can make. According to experts, visualizing a place that brings you joy boosts serotonin, calms stress and prepares your mind for making better decisions.
A happy place can be any familiar or distant place that you’ve been to or imagined. It’s usually based on a physical place, but it can also be a somewhere with no physical structure, such as a bubble of white light.
Because we’re all unique, our happy places vary wildly. While it’s common to imagine a beautiful spot in nature, some peoples’ happy places are busy and chaotic. For example, one New York musician’s happy place is the subway, because she loves sharing her gift with hundreds of people at a time. A disabled New Jersey man’s happy place is in an airport, because having so many travel options at hand provides him with a sense of freedom.
Most importantly, a happy place is somewhere that provides a sense of calm and happiness that you can access no matter where you are.
The best happy places are easily accessible and full of meaning, according to the late positive psychology professor and author Christopher Peterson. In his book “Pursuing the Good Life” he describes the best happy places as easily accessible and full of meaning.
By creating a vivid happy place in our minds, we’re building a personal paradise that repeatedly affirms, supports and restores us.
If you’ve never had a happy place or a happy place that worked well for you, no worries. Here, we provide six great tips on creating and enjoying your very own spectacular happy place.
How to Create Your Happy Place
Relax your body
Find a comfortable place to relax and do what you can to be certain you won’t be disturbed. Turn off or mute your electronics, inform your friends or family that you need some alone time. Wear loose clothing and (sitting up or lying down) close your eyes. Concentrate on relaxing each part of your body, from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Be sure to release your shoulders so they’re relaxed, too. This will help you to unwind, destress your mind, and release tense muscles. If your muscles are especially tight, try tightening them for five seconds, then allowing them to relax.
Exercise Your Imagination by Remembering Good Times
Research shows that thinking about happy memories increases serotonin, one of the body’s happy signals. To increase these serotonin levels and lift your spirits, try thinking about your favorite memories. What was the last thing that made you laugh? Where are some places where you’ve really enjoyed yourself? What were your favorite holidays and vacations?
Think of happy things
There’s a reason pictures of cute puppies and babies make the rounds on the Internet. It’s because smiling or finding joy even for a moment releases happy neuro-chemicals that tend to make us feel happier in seconds. Much like remembering happy memories, thinking about happy things boosts serotonin. Consider inspiring art, a beloved pet, a beautiful sunset or a child’s toothless grin. These happy images will help take you to your happy place.
Listen to music
Music activates many parts of our brains, in particular, the areas controlling emotions. Listening to your favorite movie soundtrack or Pandora to hear new, unfamiliar tunes can distract you from troubles. Let the music take you where it wants, and simply drift away to a happier state.
Happiness is found in the small details, the brief moments when you feel content and at ease. Happiness is not a destination, but rather an expedition. Activate all of your senses to reveal your “happy place” and try to visit it often.
Physically Visit Your Happy Place (If Possible)
If you’re new to creating a happy place, visit some of the places (if you can) that bring you joy. Stay in those physical places and take notes. You’ll be happy to have them later when you’re remembering what you love about a happy place.
Be Patient, and Keep Trying
Just like meditation, concentrating on and finding your happy place can take practice. If you’re new to meditation or visualization, you might have to practice summoning the look, sound and feel of your happy place. But if you’re patient and put your heart into the effort, chances are your happy place will be easier and easier to access.