Happiness is hard!

Happiness is hard
Pondering happiness

I haven’t written a blog for a very long time, in fact I think my last blog was in 2017! I decided to give it a rest for a while as I never wanted to force my writing. Instead I wanted to write when I felt inspired or I had something to share.

This morning as I was walking, I felt inspired to write and share this with you. 

Happiness is dam hard. There I said it! 

Many people might look at me and follow me on social media thinking I have happiness in the bag. This is far from the truth. The reality of happiness is that it’s fleeting; one moment you could be experiencing positive emotions and the next moment you could be experiencing negative ones. There is no rhyme or reason to this, it is just how our brains are wired. 

This morning I woke up and I wasn’t inspired to even get out of bed. For me this is unusual. I am a morning person and every day begins with some form of exercise. As soon as I swing my legs over the side of the bed, I put my exercise gear on and off I go. Sunday, Tue, Wed and Fri are strength workouts in my lounge room and Sat, Mon and Wed are the days I go out walking. Let me preface this by saying that I never feel like exercising. Exercise is bloody hard work and it requires a huge amount of physical and mental energy (for me). BUT I am disciplined and I have a well ingrained neural pathway in my brain that propels me out of bed in the morning.

This morning however, the emotional part of my brain was overriding that well worn neural pathway. I woke up feeling grumpy. I had had a big week at work, with an even bigger one looming. I had also expended a huge amount of energy on a family gathering the day before that hadn’t lived up to my expectations and I was just plain tired.

When I am tired I focus on the negative

I laid in bed thinking about all of the things I disliked about myself, all the things I disliked doing and all the things I disliked about my life. I scolded myself for putting on ‘Covid Kilos’ as I laid my hands on my stomach squeezing the jubbly bits until I had rolls of fat sitting in my hands. “Look at just how fat you are Claire Massingham”, I said to myself. “You completed that 8 week challenge just before lock down and lost 5 kilos and now you have put it all back on. How stupid could you be! Now you have to start all over again. You had better get your butt out of bed and exercise this morning!” But that self-talk just made me feel even grumpier and less inspired to get up. So I rolled over, shut my eyes tightly and said “no I’m not going to play today.” I then started to think about how much I hated exercise. I tried to imagine myself in the lounge room working out and feeling good but that didn’t work. I wallowed even more in my dislike for exercise and told myself that it hadn’t made any difference to keeping the kilos off, so why bother. I kept spiralling down this negative pathway dredging up all kinds of things from how old I looked growing out my grey hair to how much I detested the sun damage on my face. Oh yes I had a pity party field day. This negative self-talk went on for another 15 minutes as I wrestled back and forth with the emotional and rational part of my brain.

Just as I thought the emotional side was going to win, that well-worn neural pathway suddenly kicked in. I swung my legs over the side of the bed, put on my exercise gear and I walked outside just as the sun was coming up.

One foot in front of the other is all I had to do

As I did this, each step became just that bit easier and each thought became just a bit more positive. As I neared the top of the hill I looked up and saw these beautiful clouds and I stopped and stared and then I took a photo. The photo was to remind me that these little micro moments of pleasure are crucial to my wellbeing.

Happiness clouds
Pause, take a breath and look up

As I continued on my walk, I noticed the smell of fresh wood chips as I passed a garden and I took note of how much I liked that smell. I then came across a sea of these gorgeous orange flowers. I marvelled at how they caught my attention and lifted my mood. By the time I got to the Powerhouse Museum I felt inspired enough to do four rounds of push ups, lunges and tricep dips, before I turned around and walked home. And as I walked home I reflected on my mood and marvelled at how quickly this walk had changed my perspective.

Orange happiness
A sea of orange happiness

It wasn’t lost on me how hard it is to be happy and how easy it is to be unhappy. I am one of the lucky people in this COVID-19 crisis. I still have a well-paid job to go to, I get to work from home, I have a lovely home, I live in the most amazing suburb close to the river and cafes, my family is safe and well and all of my physical needs are met. Yet, I still woke up feeling grumpy and unhappy. 

Happiness is hard and even though everyone’s personal situation is different, there is one common thread we all share. We all want to be happy. It is human nature to seek pleasurable feelings.

My message to you today is a realistic one

Happiness is always going to be hard. It is not something that is ready made, you have to take action (the Dalai Lama said that). Some days happiness is going to be harder than others and some days it may seem downright impossible to achieve. But please don’t ever give up. Instead focus on those micro moments of happiness that pop up during the day. They may be so subtle that they don’t even register in your mind, but believe me they all contribute to your wellbeing. Every time you experience a positive emotion, no matter how insignificant it may seem, your brain is releasing hormones into your blood stream. These hormones are Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin and Endorphin. The more you activate these hormones, the more you increase your sense of wellbeing and the better you will feel. Micro moments of peace, joy, awe, engagement, interest, kindness, love and hope are all deposits into your happiness account. No matter how grumpy and uninspired you feel, try to search for those little moments of positivity in your day. It’s these moments that can lift your mood and brighten your day. You may not soar to great heights of happiness but you will definitely feel better and surely that’s a good thing, isn’t it!

Feel better and colour the world with happiness – Claire

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