Happiness doesn’t always come easily to me. In fact it never has.
I grew up in serious circumstances… I no longer repeat the stories of my childhood, but just to say, it had me in a fairly constant state of fight or flight. I think these days they would call it chronic low level anxiety. Almost always on edge, always worried, and always ‘on the lookout for danger’.
This kind of physiological response over time became a long term habit, and manifested in a series of not great behaviours. It was hard for me to laugh, to relax, to connect with people, to make and keep friends (REALLY appreciating those friends who stuck with me throughout, despite said behaviours) and left me taking life VERY seriously.
I remember years ago my cousin almost shouting at me ‘LIFE IS MEANT TO BE FUN!’… I can’t remember the exact situation, It was probably a moment where I was ruining the mood by taking everything too seriously. I probably didn’t take her outburst well at the time either… But in all the years of advice, and self help and counselling I have done… it is THE wisest and truest statement anyone has ever uttered (shouted) in my direction. I wasn’t ready to hear it then… But it is becoming my underlying mantra now.
Life IS meant to be fun!
And whatever fun looks like to you, is OK.
Old habits die hard for me though, and I still have to work at it. And some days take more work than others.
One of the happiest periods that I can remember is the time I was writing Everyday Happy. Despite the fact that life was hard, and we were in the midst of helping our anxious son overcome and recover from anxiety, I felt intrinsically, deeply happy.
Looking back on that time I have distilled some of the reasons for that.
- I had a deeply personal purpose. Writing a book to help people recover from anxiety and avoid (or at least shorten) the difficulties we had, definitely gave me a profound sense of purpose. I had something to get up for each day, and a bigger picture goal to work towards. I was more driven than ever before, because I personally knew people that it had the potential to help, and I knew it could help many more.
- ALL my input was about happiness! In researching the topic of happiness for mental health, every single day I was reading, watching or listening to information on different ways to improve happiness. I was bathing in it! And I could feel the difference.
- I was doing the work, and it was working. As a family we were practicing the things I was learning. My son’s anxiety was improving, he was on a pathway back to himself, and a normal life, and by default, we were all experiencing improved mental wellbeing.
It is a really interesting time to look back on, and I can sincerely appreciate it for shaping my life into something I didn’t expect.
In the immediate period after publishing the book, things changed.
I went from having purpose, to none (that I could think of) in the click of a button.
I went from ALL my input being about happiness, to the stark reality that I had no idea about what to do next.
AND I stopped doing the work.
I felt a weird self imposed pressure to be happy ALL THE TIME, and felt guilty that I didn’t. Here I was, the author of a happiness journal, and I was feeling depressed, anxious and a little bit lost. Far from the happy face I was trying to present.
Sometimes I felt like a fraud… My WHOLE business is about happiness, and I don’t feel happy all the time!? What?
But I’m learning to not beat myself up over it so much.
Happiness doesn’t come easy to me.
I have to do the work.
So, What is the work?
When I refer to ‘the work’ I mean all the things that we do ON PURPOSE to feel better. To feel happy. Or at least feel a bit less shit.
It will be different for everyone.
For me it’s an inspiring, uplifting or funny film. Hanging out with my family. It’s a walk by the river, stopping to take photographs. It’s flowers, other people’s dogs and my cat. It’s a really nice coffee in a cosy cafe. A good book and cat videos on Youtube. It is MUSIC. Charity shop shopping. And more recently, meditation. I’m also toying with swimming outdoors in cold water. It is taking notice of my input (all the things I read, watch and listen to, and all the conversations I have) and steering them as best as I can towards happiness.
It is turning off social media. (And sometimes being on it.)
There is inner work too.
Making a decision to be happy. Noticing when I’m not feeling good, and taking the necessary steps back towards feeling good. Being aware of my focus, and taking a moment to get my general focus back in a positive direction.. Directing my thoughts that way. And not getting upset with myself if any of this is ‘Not Perfect’
Appreciating my life, now.
Dreaming of a fun future, and remembering the good bits about my past..
And NOT taking ANY of it too seriously.
And what work can you do?
Well, that’s really up to you.
A good place to start is in the decision to feel good, and in realising that you are allowed to be happy, you are allowed to do things with the sole purpose of being happy, and your ‘happy work’ is unique to you.
Then point yourself in that general direction.
Gratitude, appreciation and kindness are all incredibly powerful ways to move towards happiness.
So is laughter, exercise, writing a journal and making things with your hands.
And of course ANYTHING ELSE you like doing…
The combination of things to try is as varied as the number of people on earth.
There is not a single system, no ‘right way for everyone’… just a bunch of stuff to try, and see if you feel better.
What is your Happy Work?
Does happiness come easily to you?