Life is a constant stream of new challenges and pitfalls. Around every corner, something pops up to snag us and pull us down, just as other things come into view that lead to greater clarity and joy in life. A book I've been reading recently ("In This Very Life", Sayadaw U Pandita), reminds us to 're-apply helpful conditions from the past', a practice which I have found very rewarding.
The key is simply to notice what sorts of events in your life lead to a state of flow. If you're not paying attention, the up and down swings may seem arbitrary or completely random, but if you look a little closer, it's pretty easy to see that's not the case. Sure, life will throw us a curve ball, but there are certain conditions that help tow the bottom line. These are probably different for everyone, but what follows are some of mine.
Keeping Things Neat
I work from home. That means that if I want to, I can really live in a giant, nasty mess, and the worst that might happen is my girlfriend might nag me from time to time. But when my place is clean, I work better. What's more, the act of cleaning and keeping things tidy feels refreshing in and of itself. It's hard to remember this when I'm stressed, or miserable, or bored, but in the end, less clutter in my room means less clutter in my mind.
I'm generally happier when I'm getting stuff done. I'm lucky enough to say that pretty much all of the projects I work on, even my commercial work, is stuff that I value and want to see move forward. It's easy to flow when I'm working on something I'm passionate about. Day to day, the hardest thing for me is getting started, and the second hardest thing is to avoid getting distracted. Lately, I've been using the Pomodoro method, which has been working quite well when I use it, and in the past, I've used minimal ZTD and enjoyed it. The particular system doesn't matter so much as it does to have one and actually use it. Without that, I'm way too busy watching slap chop.
Keeping my Mind Sharp and my Heart Open
Though it's usually the first good habit that I break whenever I start feeling at ends with life, there are few things that come close to the transformative power that insight meditation has on my life. As it turns out, more and more geeks are getting into this stuff, so just like when people ask me how to install Ruby on OS X, I can tell you to go over to HiveLogic to get the lowdown on Mindfulness practice.
Lots of people value this sort of meditation as a form of effective mind hacking, and it's great for that. However, as a practicing Buddhist, I look at it as a vehicle to give me greater insights into deeper spiritual questions. What I do know is that when I pay attention to my actions, I'm more aware of the impact they have on others, and that in turn, changes the way that I look at things as well as the way I live my life.
I am happier when my stress doesn't pour out on other people in arguments, when I am not quick to judge or condemn, and when the spirit of generosity comes from within rather than via some ulterior motive. Mindfulness meditation, along with some studying of contemporary and classic Buddhist texts, helps me do those things.
Taking Care of my Body
Staying clean. Eating well. Getting up and moving about. Paying attention to posture. Not sleeping too much or too little. Taking breaks from work to make sure I'm well hydrated, and that I'm stretching whatever limbs have been falling asleep while I type. All these things sound simple, and are simple, but are easy to forget if your mind is elsewhere. I find if I listen to the physical signals my body sends me, and heed its advice, I'm rarely regretful.
I guess that pretty much sums it up. Just a few reminders to myself, and a call to anyone who might come across this to sit down for a few minutes and think about the things that improve their conditions in life. You can't control what happens day to day, but you can set the stage, and that is deeply tied to what will ultimately play out.