Spiritual Practice of You – Cultivating Happiness

Spiritual Practice of You – Cultivating Happiness January 1, 2024
my coworker’s boy Chris. As a three year old, they are generally just bundles of energy and enthusiasm. We can learn a lot from three year olds.


New Year, New You! Well, not really. As a Therapist and a Personal Trainer, I love and hate this time of the year.  

A lot of motivational people will talk up happiness as if it were an end goal to a fulfilling life. While I cannot disagree, I cannot completely agree either. Not to discount happiness, but happiness is a fleeting emotion that if one chases it all their life, they truly miss out on life in the moment.  Happiness is something you need to create, cultivate and nurture throughout your lifespan. One cannot hold on to one moment of happiness and expect it to last forever. It must arise and then move to the place of memory so to be a waypoint when things go south.

I have been spending the last few weeks researching content for an upcoming spring class on Philosophy that I am teaching at Community College. This weekend, I was working with the philosophy of Stoicism and Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. In book 4, Aurelius offers that “a person’s most important refuge is within the self. According to Marcus, if you choose not to be harmed by something that happens to you, you won’t be harmed by it, because the mind can’t be hurt by anything outside of it. In life, there’s no such thing as “fortunate” or “unfortunate”—it’s all in how people interpret what happens to them” (Patterson-White, 2020).  


Happiness is all about how people interpret what happens to them. Interpretation is the problem here. As a therapist, I deal exclusively in the world of people’s interpretations. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, we call them thinking errors. These thinking errors are known as black and white thinking; mind reading; crystal ball gazing; overgeneralizing; disqualifying the positive; emotional reasoning; labeling; should statements; catastrophizing; mental filtering and personalizing. See https://therapy-central.com/2021/05/09/thinking-errors-cbt-and-manage-them/ 

In the mid 70’s, there was show entitled “The Bob Newhart Show”. In this show, there was a famous scene where Newhart as a psychologist is sitting with a patient who is describing her negative thinking and asking what to do about it. Famously and for comedic relief, he tells the woman to “stop it” several times to point of making her cry. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGYJmgsBF4E  

While this is all dramatics, it does hold some weight from a Stoic perspective. For the Stoics, some found holding onto emotions to be useless. I find a more refined way of thinking about this comes from Buddhism where we are told that we suffer because we cling.  

Someday is not a day of the week, do it

If you want to be happy then, stop being miserable. Okay, maybe not so easy, especially if life has thrown you some curveballs or you are dealing with some sort of family, cultural, generational or life trauma that makes things a bit impossible. I see it every day. But it is pretty much this. Change your mindset. Change your thinking. A supervisor once told me that the difference between a rut and grave is the depth. If you are on the struggle bus right now and are unhappy about your life, what are you digging? 

There is some neuroscience behind the positive that comes from doing things that you do not want to do. Don’t want to go to therapy to get unstuck? Do it anyway. Don’t want to hire a coach or personal trainer to get your physical health on track? Do it anyway. Don’t want to hire a nutritionist to get your diet on point? Do it anyway.  

Here is the science, from Touroutoglou, A., Andreano, J., Dickerson, B. C., & Barrett, L. F. (2020) 

Tenacity is a powerful predictor of health and achievement and research on its neural basis could offer greater understanding of the qualities that promote exceptional achievement. The preceding evidence suggests a central role for the aMCC in subserving tenacity. 

In this compelling article from the National Library of Medicine, the authors suggest that the anterior mid cingulate cortex (aMCC) is a structure in the brain that is strengthened when one engages in hard things and does not want to, say going to the gym at 0500. The good news is that if you are on the struggle bus and you feel you cannot get off because of the bad things that have happened to you, you can actually train your resiliency, your tenacity to be stronger and manage future challenges. For me as a therapist, this is objective, science-based evidence of what I observe daily and weekly and monthly when someone sticks with therapy for a year or longer.  

The Spiritual Practice of You

The spiritual practice of you is about thinking about you more. It is putting yourself on a spiritual plane and seeing yourself as the child of God that you are blessed to be. God created you in love, out of love and for love. You owe it to yourself to embody this love and take concrete steps to creating change that brings long lasting happiness.  

Putting you first in a non-narcissistic way, by facing your demons opens the door for seeing obstacles as places to grow.  






Patterson-White, S. (2020, November 13). Meditations Plot Summary. LitCharts. Retrieved December 30, 2023, from https://www.litcharts.com/lit/meditations/summary 

Touroutoglou, A., Andreano, J., Dickerson, B. C., & Barrett, L. F. (2020). The tenacious brain: How the anterior mid-cingulate contributes to achieving goals. Cortex; a journal devoted to the study of the nervous system and behavior123, 12–29. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2019.09.011 


Browse Our Archives