Who says the best days of your life are over?
“Those were the best days of my life.”
Aside from being part of a popular Bryan Adams song, this is what I hear most of my friends say when asked to reminisce about their college days. Or about the time spent with an ex. Or maybe even for those two years they spent traveling the world.
A recent survey done by LinkedIn and Citi established that people across generations think their happiest days were in the recent past. This could be due to the fact that the present always seems to be full of struggles, but when you look a few years into the past, a combination of nostalgia and selective memory makes you believe that was the happiest phase of your life.
But are the best days of your life truly over?
Until a few months ago, I used to think they were. That my college days were made of a different kind of stardust, and no matter what I did or how hard I tried, nothing could bring back that happiness.
And then I did Gabrielle Bernstein’s 40-day self-reflection challenge which changed my mind. It’s aimed at rewiring your mindset so you can create miracles in your life. But for me, the challenge was all about recreating the magic of the best days of my life.
I devised a 3-step routine that helped me recreate that feeling of happiness and infuse it into the present. Yes, times are hard and every day brings new challenges. But with this routine in place, you can welcome the best days of your life back into your present.
Step One: Reflect
The first step involves some serious self-reflection. The goal here is to really look back at the happiest phase in your life and try to break it down to all the elements that contributed to your good mood.
If you have journals of those times, looking through them will be an amazing start. If you don’t, you can browse through old photographs and try to remember all the micro-habits you had during those times.
If you have neither, you can use your memories. Sit in silence for a few minutes ad reflect on the past. Here’s a 2-step self-reflection guide, modeled after guidelines set by Harvard Business Review and a report by the University of South California:
1. Ask questions that matter
Here are some examples of the questions I asked myself to dissect the happy past:
- How did an ideal day look like during the happiest phase of my life? How is it different from an average day now?
- What are my top ten happiest memories from that phase?
- What are some activities or incidents common to these happy times?
2. Schedule a time and start small
Once you’ve identified the important questions, the next step is to find some time when you’re alone, pick your preferred form of reflection, and answer these questions.
For many people, the preferred form of reflection is journaling. If that doesn’t sound like something you can do, you can talk to a friend or sit by yourself and think.
“The most useful reflection involves the conscious consideration and analysis of beliefs and actions for the purpose of learning. It gives the brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning. This meaning becomes learning, which can then inform future mindsets and actions.” — Jennifer Porter, Harvard Business Review
A perspective shift
If you’re wondering whether asking yourself a few questions and answering them is all it takes, here’s a perspective shift: you aren’t just answering questions, you’re breaking down the happiest phase of your life and identifying what is it that made you so happy.
When I did this exercise, I found that there were some things common to that time that are seriously lacking in my life right now, such as:
- Lots of walking, games, running, and other forms of physical activity.
- Spending very little time alone and always being surrounded by friends and people who care.
- Not staying in one place for longer than an hour (except at night) and getting lots of changes in the scenery during the day.
Step Two: Recreate
Yes, you won’t get the same friends, that same scenery, or the exact same ambiance that you had during those times. But when you break it down to the microelements, you can surely recreate the magic of that phase.
Recreating those micro-habits will be different for every person. But here are the things I did, which have also been proven by science to have an immense uplifting effect on your general mood throughout the day.
The trick is in being active
I realized I used to walk a lot and spend hours playing table tennis when I was in college. Now, I barely manage 8000 steps each day.
And so, I made it a point to include more physical activity in my life. I built myself a standing desk, did Yoga in the morning, HIIT in the evening, and went for a walk in the afternoons. It’s amazing how relaxed this daily dose of exercise made me feel.
Expanding your circle of support
I also texted and called my old friends frequently. Until a few weeks ago, I used to internalize all my problems, talking only to my closest friends. But now, as I reconnected with my college friends, I started talking about major problems and upcoming decisions of my life with them.
It felt a little odd at first, but having a larger support circle makes everything so much easier.
Switching up the scenes
Since most of us spend all day in our homes or offices and don’t get any change of scenery during the day, it can have a huge impact on our mental health. Researchers from New York University and the University of Miami found that having new, diverse experiences every day is linked to positive emotions and enhanced happiness.
“Something as simple as introducing variety in our daily routines may be enough to increase our sense of well-being. People feel happier when they have more variety in their daily routines — when they go to novel places and have a wider array of experiences,” — Catherine Hartley, Assistant professor of psychology and neural science at New York University.
I implemented this during the lockdown times by working in different corners of my house. When I felt annoyed, I took a small break and stared out the window. Then, I dragged my table to another area or took my laptop to work from my couch. This sounds simple, but the impact it had on my overall mood was huge.
Strep Three: Regularize
Once you’ve identified all the habits that colored your life during the happiest phase, it’s time to practice them so consistently, they become a part of your new routine.
As this report by Entrepreneur.com claims, it’s as simple as this: “You wake up one day, perform a specific action, and go about your business like normal. You wake up the next day, perform that action again, and go about your business like normal. After a few days of this, the action begins to stick.”
It might feel difficult to make time for all these activities every day. The hustle culture of today might have convinced you that the only way to be successful is to overwork. But such acts are the tiny investments you’re making for a better tomorrow. After all, if you don’t take care of yourself, who else will?
No matter how indulgent or fancy the term may sound, self-care is crucial for our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. You shouldn’t neglect self-care.” — Noma Nazish, Forbes
After applying this new framework, I’ve found my mood to be significantly better. I no longer get upset at small issues and find it a lot easier to fall asleep at night. The change was slow in coming — it still is happening in small strides — but with time, I could see the impact on my general mood.
You can’t expect overnight miracles, but you can expect more peace of mind and less frustration over daily tasks. With these exercises in mindfulness, you can recreate the magic of the happiest days of your life:
- Reflect on the past and try to understand the elements that contributed to your happiness.
- Recreate those emotions by treating yourself to similar experiences.
- Make these new routines a part of your life so you can accommodate self-care in your busy routine.
With this new mindset, you can conquer any dark phase. The best days of your life don’t have to be some mystical past you’ll ever get back.
You can choose to live the best days of your life starting today.
I create content in many different forms related to self-improvement, body positivity, and feminism on YouTube and Instagram. Join my email list to make sure you don’t miss out on anything new.