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Simplify Your Life With a Happiness Trigger

I can’t do this. I’m gonna fail. What was I thinking?

I was in the middle of a silent retreat at a Zen Buddhist temple, and I was doing my best impression of a pretzel.

My legs were twisted underneath me in an impossible position, and I was supposed to be imagining myself as an immoveable mountain.

But I couldn’t.

As much as I tried to find my inner Buddha and “bliss out” with the other 20 people in the room, I was struggling to relax. My left foot was asleep, every part of me itched, and although my eyes were closed, I was sure the head monk was silently judging me.

We’d been meditating for nearly 90 minutes, and I was about to snap.

Who am I fooling? I thought. I’m not cut out for this. I’m not meant to find peace. I can’t center myself. I can’t quiet my mind.

I was going to quit…again. I would get up, stumble out of the room on my tingling foot, find my confiscated shoes and cell phone, and high-tail it back to the world of processed snack foods and reality TV.

But then I heard a sound that changed everything.

One of the temple windows was cracked open slightly, and I could hear birds chirping outside. Little baby birds cooing sweetly…cheep cheep cheep!

Right then I knew I was going to be OK. I straightened my back and focused on slowing my breathing. I relaxed into a renewed strength that was growing in my chest.

I wasn’t aware of time passing, and I was surprised when the chimes rang indicating that the meditation was over. I had been sitting still for more than 3 hours.

And I owed it all to my little birdie friends. Or more precisely, my happiness trigger.

What’s a Happiness Trigger?

In the world of self-empowerment and self-development, there’s this idea that we’re supposed to be happy all the time. Heck, I even promote this way of thinking.

It’s all about seeing the glass half full, putting on your rose-colored glasses, and using the law of attraction to bring more happiness to you.

Honestly, focusing on happiness all the time kind of sucks.

It makes you feel crappy if you ever happen to have a bad day (and we all do). It makes you feel ashamed to cry, even if you really need it.

I bet you’re a lot like me, and you have so many other things going on in your life that the thought of keeping happiness front and center in your mind all day long sounds exhausting.

Well, there’s no need to be a constant Pollyanna. Instead, find a happiness trigger to remind you to focus on happiness and gratitude.

A happiness trigger is something that may not be around you all the time—like your laptop—but you’re exposed to it on a somewhat regular basis.

And when you see, hear, smell, or experience your happiness trigger, it instantly reminds you that everything’s OK. That you’re loved. That you’re strong. That the world is a happy place.

You can go about your normal day and only need to concentrate on your happiness for a minute or two when you experience your trigger.

Birds are my happiness trigger (or spirit guides depending on how woo-woo you want to get). I’ve conditioned myself to feel at ease and happy whenever I see a bird or hear tweeting.

Now that I’ve chosen a happiness trigger, birds seem to appear to me just when I need them…like when I’m about to go nutso on a spiritual retreat.

Find Your Happiness Trigger

When choosing your happiness trigger, try to find something that already makes you happy. Maybe a certain song on the radio, or a specific color, or the smell of your favorite flowers.

As tempting as it might be to choose something like your dog or your kids, resist the urge to make a very common person or thing your trigger. The idea is that you don’t want to be in a constant panic about focusing on happiness.

Find something less common so it will have more meaning when it appears to you.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • An animal
  • A specific color
  • A favorite song
  • An unusual food
  • A not-so-common word or phrase
  • A lucky number

I like to think that the universe knew I needed some reassurance when I was meditating, and that’s why the birds took that opportunity to start chirping. I couldn’t see them, but I knew they were there to help me.

So go easy on yourself this week. Choose a happiness trigger, and then forget about it.

It’ll be back right when you need it.

How do you remind yourself to focus on happiness?

In the comments below, share your favorite happiness trigger.

5 Comments

  1. Molly on November 6, 2013 at 3:24 am

    I use this technique a lot and it definitely works! I love the story of how you found your trigger, too. Amazing that you were meditating for that long!



  2. Summer on November 5, 2013 at 7:30 am

    What a great idea! I also love seeing and hearing birds and find them to be very calming.

    My happiness trigger is turtles. When I was a kid, my grandfather often pulled over while driving to move turtles out of harm’s way. Whenever I see a turtle, I feel a sense of calm and peace, and like my grandfather is letting me know that everything is going to be all right.



    • Sage Grayson on November 5, 2013 at 8:53 am

      That’s a wonderful happiness trigger, Summer. And how nice that turtles remind you of your grandfather too.



  3. Sarah @ Long Island Nerd on November 4, 2013 at 6:49 pm

    This is a really great post Sage and definitely well timed for me to be reading it. I’ve been in desperate need of a happiness trigger recently. Been feeling pretty crappy moodwise lately and there have been a lot more bad days than good days. The trigger would be a perfect way to welcome some happiness and warmth into my soul. I think I’m going to let the trigger find me this week and I’ll be a little more mindful to pick up on something that makes me smile and feel happy.



    • Sage Grayson on November 5, 2013 at 8:54 am

      Good thinking, Sarah. I’m interested to see what happiness trigger presents itself to you. Be on the lookout for simple things that make you happy. 🙂