Eliminating anxiety, stress and depression is achievable, but that doesn’t automatically make us happy. And we’ll never achieve happiness if we don’t know what exactly we’re looking for or if we have an unrealistic idea of it. So, what does happiness really mean?
Happily ever after
The first thing to realise is that an empty stress bucket doesn’t mean that your life becomes all ‘rainbows and unicorns’ and you’re going to live happily ever after. Real life just doesn’t work that way.
And second, constantly chasing happiness creates even more stress and anxiety – it’s why we talk about a culture of ‘toxic positivity’: The pressure to have the perfect family, lifestyle, looks and bank balance.
Even worse, it creates an artificial sense of what happiness should be. And no one should dictate what your happiness looks like.
Think about it, we all know people who have all these things. They’ve ticked all the boxes for success. But does that make them happy? I know for sure that a few of them are extremely unhappy in their life.
What makes you happy?
During my therapy sessions, I use a ‘happiness scale’ but I am always very clear that I use the word ‘happiness’ very loosely. I DON’T mean that you are all smiles and oozing positivity. It’s about what happiness means to YOU.
So, here are a few examples of what my clients define as happiness. Could this help you redefine your idea of happiness as well?
1. Coping and managing
When your stress bucket is overflowing, it’s usually because there is a lot going on in your life right now. Combined with a build-up of what’s happened in the past, it’s a recipe for anxiety and/or depression.
The causes of your stress may be out of your control. It may also need the cooperation of others, which isn’t always guaranteed. A lot of people have huge challenges in their life but have a certain resilience to still be able to enjoy life and face their issues head-on.
Your happiness at this point will come from the fact that you know how to cope and manage during a stressful time, to be able to face the challenges that lie ahead of you. You need to be able to do this so that you can still enjoy other parts of your life, there should still be something that motivates and drives you forward.
So many people rail against things that are well out of their control. A constant state of denial can cause stress not only for you but those around you, too. All this does is create further anxiety and stress, it’s a vicious circle.
Emptying the stress bucket gives you the clarity you need to accept what is going on without creating further stress. You can then look at the issues before you more objectively and intelligently, even coming up with creative solutions that you hadn’t thought about before.
This would eventually be a much more productive way of attaining happiness, and far more sustainable too. It’s about being realistic about what happiness really means to you.
Happiness to you might mean being confident. Being sure of yourself and your abilities so that you can achieve whatever goals or targets you set for yourself.
Often you can see what you want to achieve but anxiety diminishes that confidence and the voice of doubt creeps in. That’s your primitive brain taking you into the fight/flight/freeze response.
It’s natural to feel slightly nervous and a bit anxious, but you can’t let a lack of confidence rule your life forever. Imagine having that little bit of confidence to be able to attain what it is you really want. That might be true happiness for you.
4. Feeling in control
An overflowing stress bucket will make you feel like you have lost control. It can be extremely frustrating and leading to overwhelm. It can be physically, as well as mentally, exhausting.
Your happiness at that point will come from a sense of feeling back in control again. Once you feel in control, your anxiety lowers and there is an almost palpable sense of relief.
However, going back to acceptance, you need to accept what you can control and let go of what you cannot – you’ll be surprised how much happier you feel when you truly understand this.
5. Being physically well
People who are in physical pain have a really clear answer to the question “What does happiness really mean to you?” They would do anything for that pain to stop.
When you feel ill, you cannot wait to feel better again so you can go back to enjoying life. It’s really important to do all you can to look after yourself physically. Ask for advice, seek professional help if you need to. If you need to take medication do so diligently.
Health is wealth and there is no other feeling that beats looking after yourself physically; your body feeling strong, all your senses functioning as they should.
Mental and physical wellbeing go hand in hand and one does not exist without the other. But, once again, take it in small steps to work on yourself, even making a start will help you to feel better.
So, what does happiness really mean to you?
They say money can’t buy happiness and it’s true. You need to really think about what would truly make you happy and what small steps you can do to begin the journey to achieve that.
What makes you happy might not be everyone’s idea of happiness but that doesn’t matter. Once you do what’s right for you all that other stuff won’t matter.