Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.
I woke up last night brimming with ideas. I actually think the ideas woke me from my sleep. There are articles I want to write, a book that I want to finish, a course begging to be developed. I’ve learned first hand that if I don’t jot the ideas down when they come to me I’ll loose them. They get lost in the mist landscape of ideas that float threw my head. So at three o’clock in the morning I was up taking notes. And when I got all those pesky ideas down and finally went back to sleep I was woken by a nightmare. Unfortunately for me when I woke it was broad daylight and try as I might, I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I rolled out of bed exhausted and struggled to pull myself together. All in all I slept about four hours.
When I don’t sleep I’m slow and lethargic on a good day and moody, sad and weepy on a bad one. Today the lack of sleep followed by the nightmare left me feeling gloomy and blue. I knew that my lack of sleep was what was causing mischief with my emotions. Dr. Lawrence J. Epstein, Program Director, Sleep Medicine Fellowship Program at Brigham & Women’s Hospital says, “Studies have shown that even partial sleep deprivation has a significant effect on mood” and there I was a muddled mess to prove it. I was down, but not defeated.
1. Listen to my feelings.
2. Do something that makes me happy every day
3. And look for reasons to be happy.
A year ago I wondered if my ‘golden rules’ would last. Now, my personal anecdotal experience proves that my processes is solid. Not only do I have experience to support them, but I understand the research that explains how my psychology and physiology work in response to them too. With practice my approach to the rules have become more detailed. Even when I’m totally unmotivated, beyond identifying my feeling, I have a system that can be modified to fit most any circumstances that I find myself. What does that mean? It means I have a list of tried and tested things to do that I know will make me feel better. I follow them mindlessly. Thanks to my list I don’t have to look to willpower to push me.
Feeling rather useless and drab, I was happy to find how truly useful my rules were and pleased to have them at my disposal. I was also happy to know that researchers at the University of Michigan observed that certain low moods are associated with certain situations and may be useful in helping us endure those situations. In light of what the study says, I translate my being tired and moody to mean my body works to insure that I get enough sleep. No harm. No fowl. Everything is in fact working as it should.
Yet and still when I have the blues, regardless of the cause, looking for reason to be happy can be particularly challenging. So when I need to change my mood, I rely on the big three tools in my toolkit to support my process: distraction, movement and engagement. They sound super simplistic, but they work. Distraction means think about something other than what’s bothering you. The goal here is to relax. Too much focused effort blocks your creativity. Movement means move. Going for a walking, dancing and jumping up and down work. But washing the dishes, walking the dog or even vacuuming the house are equally effective. The goal is to get the happy hormones—endorphins, dopamine and serotonin—moving in your body. They naturally make you feel better. And finally engagement, which mean get out and mingle with friends. This could be just another kind of distraction, but the goal here to engage with people who are interesting, motivated and inspiring because you develop the habits of those around you. If you want to be happy you need to be around happy people, so choose wisely. I like that my options are so simple that they can be integrated into the things that I have to do anyway.
With all that in mind, my solution began with a jog. I’m training to run a 1/2 marathon, so that was and obvious choice. A run not only distracts me with new scenery, but moving ignites those happiness hormones. After the run, I wasn’t jumping for joy, but I had turned the boat around and was heading in the right direction. Then to add engagement to the mix, I went to the weekly meet up with my writer’s group. As I walked into the café where my writer’s group meets, although tired, I immediately felt better being with them. It’s hard to brood when you are surrounded by people who are motivated, interested and enthusiastically talking about new projects. The change in focus made all the difference. Having a bad moment? Think about something else, do something and have a chat with up with an uplifting friend. That’s it. So simple. So effective.
Shaking the blues was what I was trying to do and that mission was accomplished. But after I had done all that did I feel 100%? No, I was still tired. But being tired is easy to fix. I took a nap. When I woke, I felt so much better. I’m just glad that
1) I knew what was going on,
2) I knew how to respond and
3) I didn’t compound the problem by displacing my emotions.
I appreciate my little process. I appreciate my friends. I appreciate Sébastien for going with the flow. It has taken practice to get to this point, but my life is better for the little bit of attention I’ve paid to myself. Now thanks to my inner critic, who has quite that job and accepted the position of my inner detective, and who roots out what bothers me, I feel relieved and supported regardless of what others are doing because I know what going on with me. As it turns out it was me who I needed to save me. And like singer-songwriter and composer Duncan Sheik I’ll go as far as to say I recognize that sadness and darkness can be very beautiful and healing.
Esther Hicks, American inspirational speaker and author, often says “you don’t know what you do like if you don’t know what you don’t like.” I have a continually growing appreciation for the contrast between what I do like and I don’t, in all of it forms, even in moodiness. I wouldn’t appreciate my process if it were only a theory that I never personally tested let alone used. In the gap between the happiness that I do want and the sadness that emerges from time to time, lies my process. Happiness is a continuum. Life is a process. Knowing that, even when things aren’t going as I would like, I go with the flow. I’m even expectant, asking what am I about to learn, what’s going to be revealed because of this thing that I don’t like and how is it are going to get me that much closer to what I do want? I don’t by any means like being sad, but I recognize that my emotions, even sadness gives me clues, as to what’s going on with me. There aren’t good emotions or bad emotions there is only evidence.