“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 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.
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.