Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Pursuit of Happiness

This is something quite close to my heart, as life is too short to be unhappy.  I have a few friends who are quite depressed at the moment, and some others who become sadder and feel the urge to hibernate as the season changes and the days grow shorter.
Depression is a deep and difficult subject. Whatever the cause, it doesn't respond to the advice to 'pull yourself together', often given by those who probably don't have a clue. I realised yesterday, with a little help from my friends, that there are some things I have been doing and which, over the years, have helped me mellow considerably, remain optimistic and become happier.  So, while I finish my breakfast and before I scrub my hands and start dealing with metres of fine silk, I thought I would share.

It was Friday 13th yesterday, and although I'm not superstitious, I should have known better than to think things would go to plan.  I dashed out in the afternoon to go to the bank, but the journey took longer than anticipated because of lots of traffic, all sensibly taking the rainy, greasy roads at a reasonably slow pace.  Having arrived in town, I found the bank's doors locked - they now close an hour earlier than they used to. Then I remembered I was going to do the recycling while I was out, but forgot to put the box in the car.  A 22 mile round trip for nothing, I whined later on Facebook. A friend responded 'But you're still smiling. I like that about you.' Actually, I was, because it seemed like I was the butt of some celestial joke, probably designed to teach me not to get distracted, thinking about the moth caterpillars which were stripping another friend's weeping cherry tree when I should have been getting my own butt in gear. Spooky how he knew I was smiling, but his simple statement made me all feel all warm inside. Actually, I still feel all warm inside from it.

So here's the first couple of things:
  • Smile.  Grit your teeth if you have to, but find something to smile about.  Smile at yourself in the mirror.  You smile at friends, don't you?  Surely you must be your own friend? And ...
  • Say something nice to someone (or yourself) to give them a reason to smile.
Another friend posted: If you keep your food in a refrigerator, your clothes in a closet, have a bed to sleep in and a roof over your head, you are richer than 75% of the world's population'. Whether this is true or not, it's about counting your blessings and feeling gratitude, which itself is about focusing on positives and not taking things for granted.  I used to find this difficult when I was feeling depressed, until I started to tell myself things could be worse, I could be living in a war zone (or substitute your worst nightmare). So:
  • Be grateful, for anything or anyone at all.
And lastly for today:
  • Be kind to yourself and give yourself something to look forward to and feel excited about.
This is particularly important if you feel stuck in a rut and/or swamped with things you have to do.  It could be anything, however small.  As an exercise, make a quick list of several things which you like, just the first things which come into your head. It doesn't need to be a long list. They could be the simplest things, and it may only be things which you feel like at the moment - next week's list could be different. (But if you are struggling to find more than one or two things, please, go to see your GP as soon as you can about your depression.  Seriously.)  Not things you would like in an ideal world (like winning several million on the lottery).  These need to be SMART - specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.  What does that mean?  Well, take the first thing on my list below. Specific: not just toast, but hot, buttered, white toast. Measurable: how much toast?  Well, one or two rounds would do. Achievable: yes, I have the bread, butter and toaster. Realistic: I'm supposed to be watching my weight and I know wholemeal bread would be better for me, but a couple of rounds of white toast is not going to hurt much in the great scheme of things, so yes. Time-bound: in other words, when? Well, today, while the bread's still fresh, but not necessarily every day.

Here's my quick list:
  • Hot, buttered, white toast
  • A nice cup of tea
  • The smell of lavender
  • Fresh sheets
  • Cuddles with my cats
  • The warmth from a hot water bottle
  • Flowers
  • Butterflies and moths
The next thing is to do them.  In fact, not just do them, but really appreciate, enjoy and take pleasure in doing them, whether one at a time or several at the same time.  For example, I could snuggle with a hot water bottle into fresh sheets smelling of lavender with a nice cup of tea and some hot, buttered, white toast while cuddling my cats.  Or just have the toast, which in fact is what I did this morning for breakfast.  You could aim for one a day, or one a week. Let them inspire you to other things which you would enjoy. The bit about flowers and butterflies might seem non-specific, but I paused on my morning stagger around the barns to appreciate a few butterflies out on the buddleias in the morning sun. While I was thinking of my list, I had a flash of another friend's 'happy' list and I decided to use some ribbon (that I'd been wondering what best to do with) to make her favourite flower. I shall very much enjoy creating that and sending it to her as a surprise, which, I hope, will make her smile.

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