Should we always strive to be happy?

A note on International Happiness Day (today, March 20th).

Sometimes we don’t feel happy. Sometimes we feel something else - uninspired, tired, exhausted, disconnected, ungrounded, distracted. In fact, I admittedly have felt all of these things today, ironically on International Day of Happiness.

It feels uncomfortable. It makes my head feel full with a kind of overwhelming nothingness. I haven't felt light and joyful and smiley. I haven't been Mr Happy (or rather, Miss Happy).

The thing about happiness is that it's always available, always on the menu, but sometimes you have to dig a little deeper to find it. Sometimes you have to dig really, really deep. There are some days where on an emotional or mental level, other feelings seem to take over. It's easy to focus on feeling crap, and make that the story of your day, and even more easy to get in that feeling for a while.

I think it's okay to experience feelings other than happiness. In fact, I think it's quite healthy. If we were all happy all of the time, we wouldn't recognise what's bad for us. We probably also wouldn't recognise what's good for us either.

Where it becomes problematic is when when we get stuck in that place. If we get stuck in a rut or stuck in a feeling of depression or sadness or guilt or shame or fear, that's when an off-day becomes an off-week, which can too easily become an off-month and then just a lifestyle. When it becomes a lifestyle, it can often be confused with just "how it is" and can be really difficult to identify that actually, you don't feel normal, because this is your new normal. Cue unwelcome mental health issues knocking on the door of your mind and soul. And with it, a whole load more of guilt/shame/fear/insert-your-self-destructive-emotion-here.

I've spoken about my experience of depression before, and thankfully, many others are also talking about their experiences with mental health issues. More than 25% of us will experience mental illness to a life-changing degree at some point in our lives. It sucks. Understatement. But it's nothing to be ashamed of and, even better, it's more than possible to overcome. If you're in that place at the moment, I've listed some helpful resources at the end of this blog post for you to check out. 

Ideally, we want to avoid falling in the trap in the first place. Although easier said than done, much easier in fact, there is so much power in simply being conscious of how you're feeling on a day to day basis. It's a really good habit to get into. Acknowledging that you feel anxious or angry or uninspired means that you can do something about it. You can start to find ways to get out of it so you don't linger there for too long.

Happiness is incredibly subjective and each person on this planet has a totally different experience of it. Although it is generally understood as a feeling of contentment and peace, the way this is brought about is so vastly unique to each of us. It can often feel like there’s a lot of pressure to feel happy. Happiness is seen as the ultimate “goal". A "one day I will be..." wish. This pressure (societal pressure, peer pressure, 'everyone on Instagram seems happy' pressure) can all contribute to overwhelming un-happiness. If you don't feel too good that day, and everyone else does (or looks like they do on social media), it's so easy to feel like you're not good enough because you don't. 

I don't think we should always strive to be happy in every moment of every day. Feel the other stuff too. Acknowledge it, sit with it, identify its cause (if it has one, if it doesn't then that's okay too). Then, once you've acquired a valuable piece of information (there's a lesson in every emotion), try your best to let it go. If you're struggling to do this, reach out to someone. Don't take the weight of it on your own shoulders. A problem shared is a problem halved.

How to get out of a rut (some simple ways that I find work for me):
  • Write it down. In a journal, a diary, a blog post, a text to your mum, a quick note on a scrap piece of paper, an app on your phone. Whatever works best for you.
  • Talk about it. Just saying the words "I'm feeling a bit rubbish today" gets those words out of your head. Even talking out loud to yourself may help.
  • Write a gratitude list - I can never recommend this enough. Doing it before before you go to sleep is particularly powerful - the perfect way to acknowledge all the good things (even if they're tiny things like fixing a lightswitch or watching your favourite film)
  • Get some fresh air. I did this today - I told my boss I was lacking creativity and feeling lathargic, and he suggested I go for a drive. I'm so incredibly grateful that he's understanding in this way, and immediately left the office and drove to the beach. Even just sitting there for ten minutes with the fresh (albeit cold) sea air entering my lungs cleared the cobwebs and totally refreshed me. On my drive back to the office, I started thinking about writing this blog post - that's how quickly some headspace gave me room for some creativity and inspiration again.
  • Do something, anything, that you know always makes you happy. Maybe that's having a long bath or going for a walk or giving your dog a cuddle. Maybe it's spending time with family or going to the gym or watching a comedy show. Yoga. Dancing to your favourite album. Eating chocolate cake. Go with what you know works. 
  • Do something to make someone else happy. Acts of kindness are great because they can make someone else happy (amazing) and you also get the wonderful feeling that you've made someone happy which makes you happy too (double amazing). What goes around comes around. Share the love.

If you want to find out more about International Happiness Day and the work that Action for Happiness do, check out their websites. 

Book recommendations:

Other useful resources/recommendations: