Happiness is not the avoidance of sadness, anger, or pain. We cannot bypass these aspects of our human experience. While it’s not helpful to dwell or ruminate, if you try to avoid feeling these emotions altogether, you’ll most likely experience more anxiety, overwhelm, and frustration.
A more balanced approach would involve creating space to feel your emotions without acting out or allowing them to take on a life of their own. One of the ways you can do this is by cultivating mental and emotional flexibility. This means that you experience the full range of your emotions without getting stuck in any mental or emotional state.
Mental and emotional flexibility will put you in the way of happiness.
Flexibility empowers you to move through your mental and emotional landscape without getting fixated or stuck. This flexibility is one of the most accurate measures of resilience and mental health.
One easy way to conceptualize this is to think of it as being similar to the root system of a healthy tree. The roots of a healthy tree run vertically and horizontally into the ground to provide stability, but the branches are flexible and move with the wind. This enables the tree to stay rooted in the face of harsh weather, but it's also flexible enough to sway with the wind so it doesn’t break in half during a storm. Let this image guide you in your approach to weathering the changing landscape of your thoughts and emotional responses to life.
Below, you'll find a list of daily practices to help you cultivate mental and emotional flexibility. Over time, these practices will support your ability to generate a sense of internal balance and groundedness so you can witness your thoughts and emotions without getting stuck or overtaken by them.
How to Cultivate Mental Flexibility
Read: Reading allows you to feed your brain with new information which can interrupt an unhelpful thought spiral and expand your perspective on life. Reading can also sharpen your mental acuity and increase your access to the calm and rational part of your mind.
Meditation and mindfulness: Meditate for at least 15 minutes every day. This will help to quiet your mind and increase your theta brain waves, which allow you to feel more relaxed and peaceful. Meditating will increase your emotional intelligence, your intuition, and resilience in the face of challenges. Meditation and other mindfulness practices will also empower you to gain command over your thoughts so they have less of a hold over you. Even if you don’t feel calm or peaceful during meditation, the results will accumulate over time and you’ll reap the fruits of your efforts afterward.
Journaling: A daily writing practice will help you to empty your mind of uncensored thoughts and feelings. Always end with a gratitude list so you are finishing on a positive note and orienting around a generative and resourceful perspective on your life.
Diverse social engagements: Avoid isolation and try to spend time with different types of people. Diversity and variety in your interactions and surroundings will allow you to experience yourself and different dimensions of your personality in new ways.
Deep breathing: Practice deep, slow breathing into your diaphragm for 5 minutes every day. This will enable you to move through various mental and emotional states while remaining grounded. Breathing will also prevent you from getting rigid or stuck in your head because it brings your awareness into the body. This process regulates your nervous system which takes you out of fight/flight/freeze mode.
Yoga and exercise: Physical activity can help you to release stress and process pent-up emotions so you can think more clearly. Physical strength and flexibility can also enhance your mental flexibility and dexterity.
Engage in this practice of positive self-talk to improve your mental and emotional flexibility:
"I feel this way right now and it’s okay to have these emotions/feelings/thoughts, even though they are uncomfortable and painful. I won’t feel this way forever. My thoughts seem real right now, even though they might not be objectively true. I feel this way right now and eventually, these feelings/emotions/thoughts will pass."