What is happiness really? I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently as I get used to living a lifestyle that was never part of my plan.
A year ago, I made the decision to stop travelling and settle down for a bit in order to focus on recovering from depression. I had to put my business aside and return to work because the pressure of running a small business also triggered my depression.
This wasn’t really the life I was working towards. I always wanted to be location independent, earn my own money and live life on my own terms. If anything, I saw the life that I am living now as misery-inducing.
But it turns out to be quite the opposite. My new settled status has given me the time I need to work on my mental health and learn to appreciate life for what it is in the moment, as opposed to constantly wishing for the life I am striving towards. Dare I say it? I think I might be happy.
That’s not to say that I never want to return to the nomadic, location-independent lifestyle and that’s also not to say that I see myself in full time employment indefinitely. I absolutely do not. But for now, this life has given me something that I never thought I would have. Contentment.
That aside, I do still have the occasional wobble. A couple of nights ago I made the grave mistake of scrolling through my Facebook profile right back through to when I first went travelling in 2015. I scrolled through smiling photos of me exploring Thailand and road tripping through New Zealand.
I am more than aware of the power of social media in enabling people to portray a perfect image of their life to the outside World. And I know how dangerous it is for my mental health to start comparing myself and my life to those people. But I never for one moment thought that I’d be doing it to myself. Comparing myself now to myself then. But that’s exactly what I did on this particular evening. I looked at those photos and found my current lifestyle lacking in comparison.
The funny thing is, I lived through those moments. I know they were not all that they seem. Those photos don’t show the crippling loneliness that I was feeling, the panic attacks and the fast approaching depression that was settling over me like a heavy fog. Talking this through with my therapist, she suggested that my mental response to that lifestyle perhaps shows that it didn’t really make me happy after all. A simple observation, but a powerful one.
In her book Happy, Fearne Cotton says:
Growing up, I chased excitement and adventure and pushed everything else aside. I had little respect or regard for rest or peace so stomped through situations with clompy shoes and my eyes closed. I would work until I lost sight of that fact that I had chosen to do so and would complain that I was too tired or overworked
That sentence really resonates with me. Up until about two years ago, my entire life was all about chasing those incredible highs. Life was a rollercoaster. I stayed out too late, drank too much, travelled constantly, and barely slept. At times it was amazing. But it was always followed by a big crash. And those crashes continued to get worse until the giant collision that occurred in my brain in late 2016 / early 2017.
I have now learned to slow down. I can still sometimes go to those extremes but only temporarily. As I sit here writing this, in my lovely little office looking out at a gorgeous sunny day, I am reminded of just how nice it feels to simply be calm.
When I started reading Happy two years ago, it was the first real insight that I had into depression. The first glimmer of understanding about what was going on inside my head. In her book, Fearne suggests writing down some of the little things that bring joy into your life so that you start to feel grateful for the simple things. Today I dug out that list from two years ago to remind me of those things. So here I am sharing it with you now (with a few little updates as to what makes me happy now). Try it for yourself!
Some of the little things that give me happiness…
- The smell of a new book
- Hugging my boyfriend when I get home from work
- A good cup of tea
- Exploring a new place
- The first sip of a really good glass of red wine
- Writing a blog post in my sunny little office
- Seeing my gorgeous niece, Isabelle
- A really great meal
- Those first few sunny spring days
- Watching Mamma Mia
- Lemon curd
- Having a picnic somewhere with a great view
- Cuddling a cute dog
- A strong morning coffee
- Chocolate (preferably galaxy but any will do)
- Planning a trip somewhere exciting
- Taking photos
- Ice cold gin and tonic
- Getting into a freshly made bed
- Listening to rain outside
- The birds that sing outside my bedroom window every morning
- Road trips
- Sunset over the sea
- Being by the sea in general
- A really deep Thai massage
- Watching Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown
- A new cookbook
- The smell of freshly cut grass in spring