Tag Archives: End Stigma

Happiness

Happiness – Why this should not be our wellbeing goal

I realise and acknowledge that this headline may not grab you as something your want to read.  I would like to assure you from the outset that I am not against happiness or spreading joy. Happiness is great, I love being happy.  Ive also had long periods of time when I wasn’t.  

The reason I feel compelled to write about this is that its very easy to get caught up in the drive of positivity online thats working furiously to counteract the equally negative world.  The problem with both of these stances is that they stand at the extremes of the spectrum as polar opposites and life just isn’t like that.  Ask any acupuncturist.  Life needs Yin and Yang!  

In my working and personal lives I have encountered unhappiness that is driven by unavoidable circumstances.  Tragedy, mental illness, relationships, all examples of the obstacles life throws at us often without warning. Sometimes its all we can do to survive (see my post on thrive v survive). 

This blog is not intended to trash happiness but to raise our awareness of how it fits into our emotional health.  I believe this awareness can help us to achieve a better sense of wellbeing.

Happiness isn’t always a selfless and wholesome thing that makes the world a better place

Happiness means different things to different people.  A wellbeing professional will understand the wholesome messages they are trying to portray but in the modern world, driven by consumerism happiness as is frequently wrapped up with the acquisition of goods. 

There are other extremes too. For example, some people feel happiness when they are driving a vehicle at break neck speeds or from stealing other peoples possessions.

These are not really measures of happiness but examples of quick highs or easy fixes.  They are of short duration and need constantly replacing.  They demonstrate that happiness in itself is not an exclusively virtuous or wholesome pathway.  It is by no means an absolute right to feel happy if there is a cost to others.

Spreading happiness won’t help everyone to feel better

Its nice to read positive stories to motivate us to fill our lives with joy.  All over the world, thousands of people will feel the benefit and I’m not knocking this.

We should be aware though that there is another side.  For some people, happiness is simply not within their grasp.  Problems like repression, life events and mental illness can be absolute barriers to happiness. The problem with flooding their world with happiness is that it simply reinforces their unhappiness. We see this particularly at Christmas time, when our community feels an overwhelming pressure to feel joyful. Its well documented that those suffering from depression, loneliness or isolation will feel the effects particularly at this time of year.

Happiness is not a permanent state of mind

Happiness is one of many emotions human beings feel and express.  Because its the one that makes us feel good its natural to think that we should aim to feel like that all the time.  There are reasons this is flawed.

Firstly, its probably unachievable.  If someone is unhappy, no amount of tom foolery or coercion is going to make them happy.  Telling someone to be happy is far more likely to make them feel miserable.

Secondly, its not appropriate.  The human mind is adapted to feel and express several different emotions in response to the situations we find ourselves in. For example, we feel fear when faced with danger. This is entirely appropriate and triggers a hormonal response in our bodies that alters how we function in preparation for responding to the threat. The natural expression of a broad range of emotions is normal, healthy and part of living a well balanced life. It becomes a problem when these emotions cant be switched off or become overly expressed. Happiness is no different. It would be highly inappropriate to feel happy when faced with a dangerous situation or grief.

This all sounds a bit pedantic.  Aren’t you just playing with words?

Maybe but life is littered with arguments about words and language.  Humans are evolving intellectually very quickly and our language has developed enormously in recent years. The addition of new words into our vocabulary and the change in culture have affected how we interpret language. We have a duty to take care over the choice of words we use and at very least to discuss and rationalise how we interpret themes. This isn’t judging something as right or wrong, simply opening the opportunity to broaden our discussions and consider different perspectives. 

How else do we measure wellbeing if not through happiness

Lets be clear, I’m not saying we shouldn’t be happy or to spread positive news.  What I am saying is we should be respectful of the complexity of human emotion.  Not everyone strives to be or can be happy and we shouldn’t take it personally when people dont feel like smiling or joining in the fun.

People should express all emotions freely and appropriately without fear of judgement or ridicule and perhaps a more achievable goal for wellbeing is to embrace this. 

Working towards “happiness” is fundamentally flawed as a life goal.  I advocate a values based approach, working to the best of our ability to do what we feel is right and aligns with the person we truly want to be. This would include self compassion and compassion for others.  If we follow this path, happiness may reward us along the way but we will achieve an overall sense of contentment and personal wellbeing.  In my opinion this is a more wholesome, achievable and sustainable goal.

I’m sure people will disagree with me. This is what makes us develop as human beings and I welcome the variety of opinion that supports or contradicts my own. That is after all what keeps the conversation going and the human mind developing. I hope you have enjoyed reading this and if so, or if not, please comment.

Mental Health – Adapting to the Environment

Many people who are aware of their Mental Health will notice that certain environmental changes can trigger their symptoms.

I recently attended a fascinating presentation on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a keen interest of mine.  Some of the discussion was interesting because it highlighted how different attitudes towards mental and physical health.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

For those not in the know, SAD is an illness where mental health plummets at a particular point in the year, usually as the days become shorter.  I have written a more detailed piece on the condition which you can read by clicking here.

The event was presented by one of the worlds leading authorities on the subject but became a well managed exchange of experience and views.  One of the attendee’s was interested in the potential of building light therapy into existing light sources.  Light therapy currently requires a sufferer to sit in front of a light for up to 30 minutes.

To be clear, I think this is a great idea.  Anything that can help alleviate suffering without ingesting chemicals can only be a good thing.  What concerned me was some of the rationale that was offered for “needing” this type of product.  “People don’t have 30 minutes to sit in front of a light in the morning”.

Different attitudes

What immediately struck me from this statement is the disparity with which mental health is held next to physical health.  Lets be clear, SAD is not a choice, its a serious debilitating mental illness.  Mental illness is a serious medical complaint.  In certain demographic groups, the mortality from mental illness exceeds that of any other illness.  If we had a physical illness that necessitated 30 minutes of physical therapy a day, we would move heaven and earth to make sure that person received it.  Would we see dialysis or chemotherapy as a choice?  Of course not, nor should we.  So why when the problem is a mental health one do we suddenly feel that we just “don’t have time” for a 30 minute treatment?

This sense that we “don’t have time” is right at the centre of why so many of us struggle with our mental health.  We just don’t take time to care for ourselves.

Sunlight

Adapting to the Environment

I also think we should consider why we flood our world with artificial light as soon as it gets dark.  I believe that in many cases (not all) SAD is not a problem with lack of light but a problem with trying to continue life at the same frantic pace all year round.  Our bodies tell us to slow down but we don’t adapt.

In some species, the behaviours of taking on more fuel (carbohydrate craving is an early symptom of SAD) and resting is part of their seasonal rhythm.  In humans however, our bodies start to change and our instinct is to resist and fight.  We follow the same routines year round to maintain the same levels of productivity.

In an ideal world I would see people following a more seasonal approach to life.  I am however a realist and I know that the western world is going to be a long time bending to this ideal.  If however we continue to invent new ways of ignoring our bodies and circumnavigating basic needs, the mental health crisis thats slowly gripping society can only deepen.

Im glad to say that the majority of attendees at the event agreed. We should be finding ways to secure 30 minutes of our day to attend to our mental health, not more ways of disregarding it.

Where to find help

If you are suffering from mental health problems be assured, you are not alone. There is non judgmental help when you feel able to reach out for it.

To find out more about challenging the stigma of mental illness take a look at Talking FreELY or get in touch with me.

Logo for Talking FreEly, Mental Health Organisation

If you are suffering from mental health problems, be assured, you are not alone. There is non judgmental help when you feel able to reach out for it.

If you are in crisis please consider the following advice from MIND

  • Go to any Accident & Emergency (A&E) department.
  • Call 999 and ask for an ambulance to take you to A&E.
  • Ask someone else to call 999 for you or take you to A&E.

If you need urgent support but don’t want to go to A&E, you could:

  • call Samaritans on freephone 116 123 – they’re always open and are there to listen
  • Call NHS Direct on 111.