Harriet is going to her happy place.
In real life, Harriet is walking a tightrope. She’s training to become a brain surgeon. The job is stressful – any imperfect decisions are high-consequence – and exhausting. On top of professional stress, Harriet’s personal life is lonely. Her fiancé recently broke things off, and she hasn’t told anyone yet, leaving her increasingly isolated from her friends.
Harriet thinks things might turn around this week. It’s her annual trip to Maine, a constant since college, with her best friends. Harriet’s only effective coping skill is listening to guided meditations on her phone. When the app tells her to picture her happy place, friends at a house in Maine is what she sees. The visualization is effective in calming her, which makes Harriet hopeful that the real thing will be even better.
Like Harriet, you may benefit from meditation focused on your happy place. Let me teach you how.
First, you must identify your happy place before starting meditation. It should be somewhere where you feel calm, serene, loved, and content. A beautiful scene could help, but it is not necessary. Some people would describe their happy place as lying on a beach with friends; others would say it is solo skydiving the moment before the parachute is deployed. Pick something that works for you, and don’t worry about how others perceive it.
Once you’ve selected your happy place, take 4-5 deep breaths (slowly in through your nose, fill your stomach up with air, slowly out through your mouth) to separate yourself from any immediate stress.
Then, visualize your happy space in as much detail as possible. Try to experience it through all five senses. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you taste? What do you feel? Also, who (if anyone) is there with you? And what are you doing? The more real the scene feels, the more effectively it calms you.
If you struggle to maintain focus and your thoughts drift back to stressors, that’s completely fine. Just notice that your thoughts have strayed and non-judgmentally return to the happy place visualization. You may have to do this a few times.
Try to build up your stamina– at first, meditate for a minute or two each day and over time work up to 10 minutes focused simply on your happy place. To deepen the experience, try adding more detail (remembered or imagined).
Harriet deserves a therapy gold star (which I wish were a real thing…). She repeatedly uses this skill throughout the book. And, until Harriet’s happy place temporarily becomes her most-stressful-place-on-earth, the happy place meditations help relieve immediate stress.