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4 simple, Buddhist-approved ways to boost your happiness


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Buddhism for Busy People
Photo: Shambhala Publications

Some people, no matter how hectic things get, just never seemed frazzled. Sleeping through your alarm, shattering your iPhone screen while changing after a workout, dealing with a deadline that’s been unexpectedly moved up at work…. For many, one of these alone would be enough to cause a minor freak-out—but the lucky ones, well, they just don’t sweat it.

What’s the secret to being so Zen? Longtime Buddhist practitioner and corporate communications consultant David Michie has experienced firsthand the difference a few mindful habits can make. (Yes, meditation is involved—but really, you just need 10 minutes a day, studies show.)

His book, Buddhism for Busy People: Finding Happiness in a Hurried World tackles one of life’s biggest questions: What does it take to be happy? For Michie, it comes down to where you choose to put your attention.

Here, Michie shares four habits rooted in Buddhism that can lead to a happier life.

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1. Start your morning unplugged

The morning sets the tone for the rest of the day, which is why Michie recommends spending it focusing on something other than your inbox—or even the news. “Avoid the usual stampede to your phone and social media as soon as you wake up,” he says. (This is easier if you banish electronics from your bedroom altogether.)

What should you do instead? He’s a big believer in starting the day with a few affirmations. “Something along the lines of, ‘I am bursting with energy and robust good health,’ or, ‘By living more mindfully, I am becoming happier and more efficient in all that I do, both for my own sake as well as for others,'” he says. 

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2. Savor the little things that make you happy

When you think about the things you do on a daily basis—packing your gym bag, making coffee, driving to work—most of it’s done on autopilot. But Michie says a Buddhist would move through these activities mindfully, contemplating their goodness. “Focus on the sensations of taking a shower, or every sip of your coffee,” he says, adding that even your commute is an opportunity to focus on something that brings you joy.

And it isn’t just advice for the a.m.—it’s a habit to practice all day. “Use your commute home after work to let go of the day’s events, and take simple joy in where you are,” he adds.

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3. Change the way you think about your coworkers

Even Buddhists encounter people who are less than pleasant to deal with. The key to not letting it get the best of you, according to Michie, is by turning down the volume on your judgmental thoughts. “Practice compassion by first starting with those who are closest to you, and work outward to be authentic and heartfelt,” he says. “There’s a Tibetan Buddhist concept that can help: All beings are just like me in wanting to avoid suffering and enjoy happiness.”

Another Tibetan Buddhist teaching Michie says that can help make your workday better: “The best way to cultivate happiness is to share it with others.” This can be put into practice in many different ways. Got an email that praises your company? Share it on Slack. Discovered an awesome new smoothie place on your lunch break? Invite a colleague to join the next time you go—especially one you might be having trouble connecting with. 

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4. End the day with an affirmation

Michie likes to end each day the same way he starts it: with an affirmation. “I suggest a short meditation, or at least turning away from all electronic media for half an hour before turning off the lights,” he says. “Spend this time reading, playing with a pet, or spending quality time with your family. Affirmations as you turn out the light are also a useful way to return to the river of mindfulness you wish to flow thought your day.”

The secret to lasting happiness, it seems, isn’t living in a bliss bubble, somehow escaping the daily grind and a high-stress job (although, by all means, take some vacation days and really unplug). The reality is, whether you’re in bumper-to-bumper traffic or sipping on a spritz poolside, it’s all about perspective—and making an effort to make the minute-by-minute of each day better.

If you’re looking for more ways to start your day in a positive mindset, these mood-boosting tricks can help. Or, if you’re ready to make meditation a regular habit, these apps can help you get started.