As someone who has battled depression for most of my life and an eating disorder for most of my adult life, I’m well versed in holding onto emotions, experiences, stories and perspectives that cost me my happiness.
Since beginning my journey towards a happier life and becoming the kind of mental health role model for my children that I need to be, I’ve noticed a pattern, an underlying theme, in the unhappy times.
In those times, I’m almost always holding onto thought process, memories, viewpoints or behaviours that keep me stuck and block the door to my happiness.
I now recognise that the most damaging prison is in our mind, and the key is in our pocket.Edith Eğer, Auschwitz Surviver
What are we holding on to?
Although there is no single answer to this question, the pattern I notice in the things many of us hold onto is that they fit under one of two headings:
- Happiness requires a trouble free life
- Money, power and/or status bring happiness – because they help us remove most of life’s troubles.
The current pandemic has been a great teacher in showing us that neither of these things is true and we’re better off letting go of both.
Since life is full of obstacles – and the obstacles often provide the stage for our most valuable and important lessons – the notion of a trouble-free life (and the belief that money can buy such a life) causes 3 problems:
- It places happiness somewhere in the future – making it difficult to experience.
- It takes our attention off now. Since now is the only moment in which our choices and behaviour make any contribution to happiness, thinking this way often causes us to ‘miss our shot’.
- It causes us to prioritise things we’ll later come to realise are not the things we truly value – so we later come to regret our choices.
On top of that, we have no control over the obstacles we’ll encounter so our happiness can be easily eroded by a sense of powerlessness when bad things happen.
The Illusion of Control
You’re also more likely to experience happiness when you’re able to let go of the illusion that you’re in control of your life.
There is only one thing we have control of in our lives: Our choices.
Unhappiness doesn’t actually stem from our lack of control. It stems from our expectation that we should be in control.
Learning to accept life as it is and letting go of the expectation of control is a vital ingredient for happiness.
Habits for letting go
- Meditation – This is one of the best habits I have. Even though I’ve been meditating for years and still suck at it, the daily practice of calming my thoughts has been life changing. Our thoughts are what cause us to hold on to unhelpful beliefs, stories about the past and fears about the future. Learning to calm our thoughts is therefore one of the most powerful ways to create space in our minds – and once there is space, it’s easier to let go of things.
- Bring your attention to the present moment – this is the habit I first talked about on Day 2 as it helps to “Turn down the Shark Music”. Many of our shark music thoughts come from the faulty beliefs, stories and expectations – about what it means to be happy, whether or not we’re good enough and whether or not we’re on the right track etc.
- Ask yourself: “What is this experience doing for me?” This question is rooted in the belief that all of our experiences (even the difficult ones – especially the difficult ones) offer us opportunities to learn, grow and shape how we see ourselves. When facing particularly challenging situations, it can help to figure out how the experience provides these opportunities for you. Most of us can see these things in hindsight but we’re happier going though the experiences if we can learn to see the opportunities in the midst of the challenges themselves.
- Become conscious of the expectations that drive your thoughts, beliefs and experiences.
Comments and Questions
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The content shared here is based on my experience. I am not a therapist. If you’re experiencing emotions you’re struggling to manage on your own, please seek the help of a qualified professional to guide you accordingly.
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