I have been trying to write this post for a few days now, and it keeps feeling a bit trite, as though in talking about happiness I am playing down the seriousness of mental health issues that so many people face. However, having heard that yet another friend is suffering with depression, I am determined to get this out there.
For far too long it has been taboo to talk about depression, anxiety, and so on. Stress has become a synonym for “far too busy being important” in too many people’s parlance, when actually stress need not have anything to do with work. Depression is an awful, dark place that I wouldn’t wish on anyone; along with anxiety it isn’t something the sufferer can “snap out of”, and yet all too often I hear people are advised that by acquaintances, even friends.
Personally I have always considered myself a happy person. I am very lucky in this regard. But I have had several periods of low mood, and more recently of intangible stress – it manifested itself as broken sleep, constant worry, disinterest in things that usually cheer me, getting slower and slower in my training, no energy, and many other things. I say intangible because it wasn’t associated directly to my job, my home life, money, whatever; but it caused me to worry irrationally about all those things.
OK, this is all a bit bleak, you’re meant to be talking about happiness, Emily!!
Knowing that my default setting is happy, I now make a conscious effort to notice things that make me smile, that lift my mood, that make me feel better. Today, for example, it’s the colour of the autumn leaves and it’s the toasted teacakes we had for breakfast (haven’t had any in years, desperately NEEDED them today!).
This ties in with the idea of mindfulness, being present, living in the moment. All these things help us to find the simple happiness in life, as they take us away from the stresses and worries that otherwise can engulf us.
Often people suffering with low mood, and worse, are told (helpfully!) that exercise will help. While this is undoubtedly true – exercising releases endorphins which lift mood – telling someone who is depressed that getting out there and running will magically make them feel better is like telling someone who is overweight that if they “just lose some weight” they’ll get healthier. We all know these things in our conscious mind, but illness or our subconscious can be so much stronger than just knowing the facts.
So, how do we find happiness? In doing little things: small bits of movement, small acts of kindness, small changes of food to be healthier; and building up to doing these things more. I’m not suggesting I have a cure for depression, but I do believe everyone can find a moment or two of happiness in their day.
In all my work with my clients I try to keep clear in my mind the trilogy of kindness, happiness and playfulness. When we speak on Skype, we look at how adding exercise will make someone happier, how it can become an act of self-kindness, and how being playful can fulfil that. If that sounds like your sort of way to get more active, do have a look at my Jumpstart plans. There is no taboo around mental health with me.