Happiness is not something I’ve always been close to. I’ve often portrayed a happy face when inside I’ve been grappling with stuff. And I know I’m not alone. Over the last two years I’ve struggled with unhappiness. After 40 years of seemingly being able to cope, I found myself popping anti-depressants, swigging back Urbanols (they are lovely by the way, ahem…), and drinking way too much wine than I probably should have. I lost my smile. Inside. People still saw confidence, when inside I cried. I can’t say for sure what brought on my darkness, but I can tell you how I got my soul to smile again. I thought I’d share my thoughts on finding some kind of happiness in a life that makes very little sense (to me, definitely, maybe it’s crystal clear for you). As I’ve spoken to friends about what my doctor called depression, I’ve realised that I’m one of many searching. Searching for that smile on our souls. Mine has started smiling again. So I write this to share with others, but mostly as a reminder of how I want to spend the next 40 years of my life.
1. Slow down
Turning 40 shook me a bit. I suppose I became more aware of my mortality and realised that time was feeling like it was going a lot faster than expected. It feels like I was 20 just the other day. Yet I look at the photographs and see a fresh-faced boy with so much hope and anticipation on fading paper. And I realise I’m not that guy anymore. So my response was to speed up. I felt desperate inside. I wanted to experience things, see the world, read every book in the library, be the pop star I dreamt I would be when I was 13, be the best at my job, make a mark, understand, dance, laugh, love, and get it right. Somehow. I need to make it happen faster. The last 40 years have flown by. I might not have 40, or even 20 left, if I do, I felt desperate to make them more than the last.
This made me unhappy. Somehow what I had experienced was immediately negated. The books I had read felt irrelevant. The times I did sing in front of a crowd (ha!) were forgotten, and the success I had achieved in my life and career especially seemed worthless. Wanting more meant I had only had less. There is nothing wrong with wanting to experience more, but my fear of not living a life that was full made my life feel empty. I slowly came to see: Getting older means realising how fast time is going. I also realised this means I need to slow down. Not speed up.
I’m trying to give myself the gift of slowing down. Savouring the moment and accepting that this is probably it. I probably won’t be a pop star (ha!), I may never write that book I promised I would, I may never see the places I’ve dreamt of seeing. And that’s okay. Because I’ll enjoy what I do get to see. I’ll enjoy the relationships I have, and not dream of better ones. I’ll enjoy the job I have, rather than forcing myself to think I should have more. I’ll enjoy the places I get to see and the people I see them with. And I’ll love where I am. Because it’s all I have. Dreams are good, but they can’t define where I should be. They should just be my guide. And this led me to number two
2. I am enough
I spend a lot of time comparing myself to other men, especially. I am aware of how much more masculine they seem, if they have bigger muscles than I do, more money, more. I compare myself to people on Facebook. I see them showing of the best of their lives, and often walk away feeling less than. I now force myself to say “I am enough”. There is power in words. I may not have big muscles, but I have a big heart. I may not have a lot of money, but I’m pretty darn well-off inside. I may not be the most masculine guy around, and that’s okay. I need to stop saying that others have more and I have less. We’re different. And that’s good. And that’s okay. And that’s enough. And this led me to number 3.
3. Embrace the differences you see in others
When I wasn’t comparing myself to others and feeling less than, I was judging their differences. Possibly as an attempt to hide my fear of being perceived as less than. I saw men less masculine than I was and scoffed at them (inside). I judged men more masculine than I was and called big muscled men ‘gorillas’ and other negative things. I saw people less successful in life than me and judged them, probably to remind myself that I was somehow better. Comparison created less than feelings, or desperate attempts to prove why I was more than. I now choose to see the differences in others with clarity. Without judgement. Without my low self-esteem tinted glasses. Because if I embrace the differences in other people I allow myself to be different. I don’t want my differences to others to be a bad thing. I can stop feeling bad about being different, by embracing that others are different to me. They have different values, different goals, different ways of showing their love, their anger or their pride. And that’s okay. If I want to be okay with me, I have to decide that others are okay too.
4. Find something that gives you hope
A few years ago I moved away from the Christian beliefs I held very dear as I grew up. I began to question the existence of God, the validity of the Bible and the need for other Christians to speak into my life. Where I am in that journey is another discussion. But in moving away from a belief in a higher power, I moved away from hope. You see, a belief in a deity allows us the possibility that there is more. That life is not just ours to control That our children are protected when we’re away from them. That we can be kept safe when we feel danger is imminent. That we can perhaps live beyond the life that we’re experiencing now. And when I lost my God, I lost that hope. And I felt sad.
What I realised is that you have to find something to hope in. Whether it’s the law of attraction, energy, the universe, God, or that you are enough, you have to start speaking hope into your life. I don’t want to dictate anyone’s value system, but I believe that we can find power in hope. It’s often what heals people from terminal diseases – the hope that we can be better. I can’t tell you where to find hope, but hoping in something more than just where we are provides a different outlook to where you are going.
5. Sometimes you just have to live ‘as if’
I recently described my life as if I was waiting in a train station. For many years I’ve been waiting for the train to arrive. At times it has arrived, but I’ve spent the first while trying to throw my baggage on the train rather than boarding it. I realised that I need to live as if I’m on the train. Sometimes the most powerful way to stop feeling sad is to live as if you’re happy. Sometimes you need to fill your life with good people even though you may not feel up to it. You need to live as if you can and want to. Because I know how isolation can make you sad, event though it makes you feel relieved momentarily. Sometimes you need to get to the gym and work out as if you’re fit and beautiful, because sometimes that’s the only way you’re going to get to the gym. (And we all know exercise makes you feel better.)
I’ve realised that happiness is something you choose. And I choose to be happy and live as if I am. And somehow it’s working. I do feel happier. I do feel better. Happiness is something you work for; being sad is sometimes easier to slip into.
So that’s what I’ve realised. Some of it at least. And I hope you’re managed to see some happiness in it too.
Over and out.