“Some days I am just so overwhelmed!”
“No matter what, I just can’t seem to prepare well enough”
“My head’s a mess”
“Am I good enough?”
“I don’t know where the time goes”
“I don’t know how to feel better”
… and sometimes, just a sad silence.
Yes, those statements were made by my son when he first joined college, two years ago. It was a sea change in his life, being literally transplanted from home to a new environment where he had to take care of himself, overnight. Don’t even ask how I felt at that time! I am not ashamed to admit that just looking around made me cry.
Naturally, I want to say the right things in response to those questions and instantly make this better.
When he was home and feeling upset about something, a hug would suffice—most of the time. But when long distance, it is heart-breaking. There’s the pressure of wanting to wave a magic wand and making it alright. Although, if I had a magic wand, would I not wave it and bring his college next door?
So, anyway, fantasies aside, I wracked my brain to come up with gems of wisdom. I believe happiness being a DIY project, and ultimately, only we can make ourselves feel better. When we feel bad, it is so easy to slip into that behavior pattern and make our lives miserable. We have to take action to change this. Why lead a muted life?
Change your thoughts, change your life!
One day, desperate to make my son feel better, I told him to try a little exercise that is in my feel-good arsenal. It is something my Mom taught me to do and I follow it sincerely. It works like a miracle for me, and there was no reason why it shouldn’t, for him, right?
I told him to do the following:
- List five events/experiences in his life that brought him immense happiness
- Write it down on a sheet of paper.
- Think about the reasons why he chose each event.
- Each time he felt upset over something, pull up the list and relive those experiences
I’d love to say it worked like a charm, only—it didn’t.
He did not make that list. It is tough to cajole a teenager to do things when his top of the mind worries are assignments, attending classes from 8 am to 6 pm, making friends, doing laundry, getting his room cleaned, and adjusting to the food, etc. etc. etc.
As he started settling down to his new life, of course his outlook changed and eventually I did get him to make that list.
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself” – George Bernard Shaw
Then, just a few months ago, I was delighted to read the excellent book: Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evan. One of the techniques in this book called “The Good Time journal” gave my happiness trick a catchy name: the AEIOU method. Also, I liked how the book describes my process in a structured manner and now, it works even better for me.
The AEIOU method
This is a great parenting tool as well as a personal development tool. Creating the life you love begins with understanding yourself by looking at how you are doing in various areas of your life—health, work, love, and play, taking care of your health, exercising and eating right and using good products as natural fur rugs. The Good Time Journal” aims at getting you to reflect on the following:
- what makes you happy
- what makes you feel energetic
- what brings you down
With this journal, you can filter out what’s working out in your life and then, use that information to make life better.
How to use this happiness trick to change your life
Think of the last time you felt ecstatic. Was it when you won an award? When you got that new job? Met your soulmate? Finished a marathon? Traveled to a wonderful place? Received a gift you coveted? Aced an exam? Achieved a milestone?
This memory is called a “peak experience”
Write down your peak experience on a sheet of paper.
Next, apply the AEIOU method. Ask yourself these questions and write own the answers.
A for Activity
What were you doing? Was it an unstructured/structured activity? What was your specific role? Were you a participant? Were you just an onlooker?
When my son was called on stage as one of the top three students in his school, to receive an award, it was an exhilarating moment for him, because only those in the top 1% of that particular qualifying exam were eligible for the award. As an onlooker, my heart burst with pride. So this would definitely be something he could put on his list. He also received a cheque for Rs.5000 as the prize, along with a plaque. Now, I’d put this on my own list not just because it was a wonderful experience for me as a parent, but also because it warmed my heart that he donated the money to our local welfare home.
Next . . .
E for environment
I think you’ll agree that our environment plays a huge role in our emotional state. Keeping the activity in mind, think about where you were when it happened and how it made you feel.
The prize ceremony was in a big auditorium, and happened on the school’s annual day, a big event. The audience had practically the whole school, and parents. There were high profile chief guests. The sense of being acknowledged in that ambiance was glorious, plus the sense of accomplishment from 12 years in that school. As a parent, I cannot even begin to describe my happiness—the 12 years flashed before my eyes, with snippets of memorable moments, a sense of wellbeing over a job well done.
See what I mean?
I for interactions
Based on the activity you have thought about, recall who or what you were interacting with at the time it happened. Was it novel? Informal, formal?
In our case, we were in a packed auditorium. My son was surrounded by the teachers and friends he had known for 12 years now, people who had encouraged and shaped him. Mingling with them after the event, talking to everyone, being congratulated, having his teachers recall the good stuff and the naughty stuff, all felt so wonderful. He enjoyed the company of these people and it felt joyous to be among them.
O for Objects
Think about what you used in your interactions. Were there devices? Objects? Tools? Which of these were instrumental in making you feel engaged in the activity?
This is unique to the activity you pick. In the example activity, it was having the digital camera ready to create memories. For Vidur, it was having his speech ready. Being well prepared for the event was energizing.
U for Users
Who was present during the activity? What was their role? What feelings did they trigger?
In my example, the very fact that the event was attended practically by the whole school and almost everyone’s parents was a joyous feeling. And of course, as his parents, we were there to share that great moment, making it so special. Close friends and family who couldn’t make it were standing by for photos to relive the experience with us. Some friends dropped by later at home to congratulate us.
What the AEIOU method does
While my example is a prize giving ceremony, and not the only one we experienced, applying the AEIOU method to it made us relive every moment of it in minute detail. Thinking about that event would automatically uplift our mood.
When you start practising this, you’ll gain insight into yourself.
The AEIOU method is not just to document moments that made you feel great. You’ll be able to pinpoint all those activities that do NOT make you feel good, and eliminate them. You’ll be able to focus on the things that add value in your life. At the end of the day, isn’t that what we want? To live an intentional and fulfilling life?
With the AEIOU method,
“It was a great meeting” becomes “my contribution to the meeting made me feel happy and increased my sense of purpose at work”
“I didn’t enjoy doing my taxes” becomes “I filed my taxes. It is tedious but it is essential I got it done before the due date. Good feeling”
Jot down how you feel as you do various things through your day. When you work out, when you deal with email, when you cook, and so on. Once a week, review what you’ve written down to see if there’s a pattern.
Maybe that work out makes you feel so good that you decide to do it five days a week instead of three.
Maybe you are far more cheerful when you carry a home-cooked lunch because you don’t have to stand in that queue during lunch hour.
Maybe you decided that you’ll no longer look at email as frequently as you did, or decided to categorize and prioritize it to manage your time and productivity better.
You’ll pick the things that are energy-sucks and the things that make you feel good. You’ll find ways to focus on the things that make you feel good. And reframe situations in a way that help you understand yourself better.
Because true happiness is in designing the life you want, the life that works for you and brings joy.
It only takes one person to change your life: YOU
Did you like this exercise?
Do you have a happiness trick?
Do share in the comments!
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