Written by Marisa Hamamoto

March 20 is the United Nations International Day of Happiness. Like the UN, Proof Positive recognizes happiness as a universal right. Whoever you are in the autism community, whether you are autistic or not, and whether you are an educator, parent, caregiver, service provider, advocate, or something else, you deserve happiness.   

What kind of “happy” are you? Research shows there are 10 positive emotions to describe happiness: pride, gratitude, joy, love, amusement, inspiration, awe, interest, serenity, and hope.  We will experience these positive emotions at different times and occasions.

In the autism community, there tends to be a large emphasis on education and employment.  But what about happiness? What about wellbeing?

There are life events that happen that bring us happiness: a newborn, a surprise gift, a promotion, a date, etc. But these events are initiated from external factors.  

Many people may not be aware that cultivating happiness and well-being is actually a skill. We don’t need to wait for events to happen that make us happy. We can initiate activities that bring happiness and consistently incorporate them into our lives. 

So what brings you happiness?

Here are four activities that bring me happiness that I consciously incorporate into my life:

  1. Roller Skating

What kind of happy: gratitude, joy, and sometimes awe

I started roller skating one year into the Covid-19 pandemic out of a mental health crisis. The social isolation from the pandemic and the uncertainty of my business, combined with social justice uprisings in the Asian American community, all weighed down on me. I had to find something to take my mind off everything. By chance, I came across roller skating. Roller skating was scary at first, but interestingly, the act of finding balance on wheels turned into a practice of movement meditation and, eventually, a soothing sensory experience. I joined a local artistic roller skating club along the way, and skating is now part of my morning exercise and mindfulness routine. 

Ask yourself: What activities bring you joy? So much joy that time passes quickly. 

  1. Tango Dancing

What kind of happy: gratitude, love, inspiration, pride

It’s been about one year since I immersed myself into the tango community through formal instruction and social dancing. I started tango a few months after being diagnosed with autism at 40 in 2022. The diagnosis brought clarity to some of the challenges I had experienced my whole life, including social anxiety. Pre-autism diagnosis, I had tried tango dancing, but I didn’t quite understand tango culture, where leaders (traditionally men) asked followers (traditionally women) to dance through a subtle eye gaze. This mysterious practice (and not catching the social cues) triggered my social anxiety. Through the diagnosis, I was able to acknowledge that I was not broken, and this time I chose to lean into my social anxiety and not run away from tango. I’m glad I stuck to it because tango feels like home now. Dancing in a closed embrace to tango music, which vibrates passion and love for life, has been a beautiful sensory experience that also brings calm to my nervous system. I’ve made new friends in the tango community not just locally but also along my travels as well.  

Ask yourself: What’s one activity you’ve wanted to try but have been scared to do? Fear is sometimes a compass of where you need to grow. Sometimes happiness is found when we take a leap of faith and embark on something new. 

  1. A good cup of coffee

What kind of happy: joy, inspiration

I average one cup of coffee per day, 4-5 days per week. I love the smell of coffee and its consistency. A couple of mornings per week, when I know I need to get a lot of writing done, I go to a local coffee shop that is spacious and quiet. Something about this ritual inspires my creativity and keeps me focused. Perhaps you have a go-to drink or food that gives you joy too. 

Ask yourself: What’s one little thing that brings you happiness? What’s a food or drink that makes you feel good?

  1. Giving back and serving

What kind of happy: inspiration, hope

Whether it’s through my work at Infinite Flow, a dance company that advocates for disability inclusion, creating disability inclusion and autism awareness content on social media, or other activities that involve serving, making a difference brings happiness to me. Giving back and serving doesn’t have to be something big. Just offering a little support to one person can make someone’s day, and can make yours too.  

Ask yourself: What’s one way you can give back? What’s one thing you can teach others?

Happy International Day of Happiness! Unapologetically prioritize happiness today and every day. 

Need more inspiration? Want to be part of an awesome community promoting wellbeing and happiness in the autism community? Join the Autism Wellbeing Alliance!

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