Saturday, September 5, 2009
Keeping the blues away at 5 cents per day!
I am, at least 90 percent of my waking hours, living in a state of happiness. This has been a long fought achievement and one I TREASURE. It doesn't mean I never get irritated or bored, but I see so many others my age, especially women, with anxiety, depression, and a general feeling of malaise and realize I'm blessed.
Let's set aside deep depression for now. I went through what is called "pre-partum" depression when pregnant with my first son and was in a dark place mentally that I'd never been. I was constantly sad and my poor husband was frantic, begging me to "think happy thoughts" to which I would respond, "There are no happy thoughts." This despite a healthy pregnancy, wonderful family, good financial situation, and lots of friends.
My doctor told me it was linked to the hormones raging in my body and would likely go away at the end of the first trimester. It did disappear almost to the date, and I would never want to revisit that. My heart goes out to people who have to fight through that on a daily basis. Medical depression is probably far beyond the think happy thoughts stage and so I will set that one aside.
But for others, why are so many 40 year old women not as vibrantly happy as they could be? And how could we all be happier?
Here's my tale, told in the hopes it can help others find their own solutions. Going back to my college days, I remember driving home for breaks in my Dodge Charger. I would be in a state of bliss headed out of the Iowa countryside to home for maybe an hour. The next hour might be one full of sad thoughts about things concerning me - my parents' marriage, my mom's health, lack of a boyfriend...;-)
The final hour might be happy or sad or anxious. In other words, I let my floating, chaotic thoughts drift to whatever they chose. And often the brain seems to enjoy circling around and around to bad things, problems or concerns. I guess it figures it earns its keep that way, as a sort of "problem solver". But have you ever noticed that it often just circles and circles and circles that same old stuff - rehashing a conversation that ticked you off or revisiting some upcoming anxiety. It seems to like to churn more than to come to a quiet resolution.
This idea of quieting the brain or controlling my own thoughts was first introduced to me on a trip to Maine that summer with my mom, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She herself is a worrier and you put two worriers on a plane with lot of time to worry and you can just watch the stress levels rise. I read a book during that trip called "Love is Letting Go of Fear" by Gerald G. Jampolsky. It was my first "self-help" book and a real eye-opener.
I was amazed as I read. I'd never really thought about the fact that my thoughts were something I could and should take charge of. And that thoughts weren't necessarily "reality" they were just that - thoughts. I could CHOOSE to "think happy thoughts" and when distressing thoughts barged in uninvited, I could assess them for anything worthwhile they had to contribute, then politely usher them back out the door when they had overstayed their welcome.
I found more and more that by not "stewing" in any thought that didn't bring me happiness, I was in fact more happy. You really can choose what you think about and as some old adage says, "Your life is really just your thoughts."
To help with this, I have little positive messages around. Let's say I'm headed to get a glass of iced tea and feeling annoyed at the neighbor's dog barking. On the door of the fridge I see a little postcard I got from my aunt Elaine that reads, "Hold an image of the life you want, and that image will become fact." This is just a little note to my brain to "redirect".
The book The Secret talks a lot about how people spend the majority of their time thinking about what they don't want rather than what they do and in doing so, tend to draw that to them. Whether this is on a metaphysical level or simply you're in the mindset of annoyances so now you notice not only the dog barking but the fact that your other neighbor hasn't mowed his grass in two weeks and a third is now parking her parents' huge RV right next to your house....and you mind spins on about how annoying people can be and wouldn't it be nice to go to some isolated island....etc. This is not a good trip;-).
During the day, if I'm working in the kitchen I have five cassette players playing subconscious tapes with positive messages about happiness, success, creativity and such. I got a partial set at a thrift store for $1.00 and ended up ordering the complete set off Amazon later for about $10 with shipping. I'd become intrigued with the idea of sending the subconscious more positive messages as I'd read so much of advertising deals with subconscious messages that aren't always positive. I figured it was like giving my brain vitamins and indeed in the five months or so I've played them, I've felt even more energetic and positive than usual. This may be some sort of placebo effect, or it may be the tapes working (many professional athletes work heavily in the area of the subconscious), either way it's been a success.
And if you think the subconscious tapes idea sounds a bit....odd, you're not alone. My husband asked if I really wanted to post that and my dear friend Emelia, herself a doctor who occasionally deals with some pretty far out patients told me if I next start consulting crystals, this may strain our 20 year friendship a bit....;-) But hey, if it works, it works.
And finally, I've become a big believer in the importance of setting goals. So many people don't set goals because they feel they'll be bummed if they don't reach them. But if you aren't moving toward something, you're just drifting around hoping to somehow be happy - and what are the odds there? And rather than thinking if I don't make my goals, I'll be disappointed, look at how much closer you are to achieving some goal each week, month or year than you would be if you hadn't started down a path at all. And isn't much of the joy in life feeling you're accomplishing something, moving closer to something, i.e. the path itself probably offers more hours of joy than the final accomplishment and how cool is that?
The cost of this year's "happiness agenda" is pretty cheap. I got a poster board and cut out pictures of my own goals (something I've done for years with good success), I bought about four books, used of course, to keep me thinking about life, I got the two sets of cassettes, and one new refrigerator magnet. This represents about a $17 investment for the year - or five cents per day.
So if you find yourself humming as you go about the day with a sort of half-smile, keep it up. And if your thoughts take a turn for the gloomy side, just "redirect". Best wishes!
P.S. I had a "blue" day a few weeks ago and it sparked the idea for this post. I then added my final strategy, thinking of ten things I am grateful for each night before I go to bed to focus on what is good, and those blues passed pretty quickly. Today is a sunny Saturday, my oldest son and Greg went with great glee to an Iowa Hawkeye football game, my youngest is with Grandma and Grandpa, I have an entire day to garden and the shrubs and trees are half off at Home Depot - indeed, Life is Good!!