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Doing things differently can unlock happiness

Published: 
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS

In this life, happiness is not a given but it is an idea so well propagated that everyone I know is either holding out for or working towards that fountain of never-ending joy. People are as busy trying to define happiness as they are trying to find it, also.

“Happiness is that feeling that comes over you when you know life is good and you can’t help but smile. It’s the opposite of sadness. Happiness is a sense of well-being, joy, or contentment. When people are successful, or safe, or lucky, they feel happiness,” says vocabulary.com

Joy is considered a different concept altogether. People are joyful for varied reasons in a lifetime. There is joy at every accomplishment in education, the joy of falling in love, the joy at graduation, the birth of a child, getting a new car or a bigger house. But happiness is a little more elusive than this short-lived delight.

I had much time to contemplate on this in the past two weeks of feeling low-spirited and lethargic.

I’ve come to accept, with less guilt now, that tiredness is a major trigger for the undoing of my wellbeing. And so, at the end of an eight-month period in which the non-profit CreateBetterMinds was established and the real work begun, I flatlined. Kaput. Zilch. Nada. You could get very little from me for about two weeks.

Of course this was deepened by the fact that once again, the thieves in my community of Edward Trace, Moruga—a village where I am related to 95 per cent of the residents—decided that I had too much and not considering that I work extremely hard, with no idea how much it takes to work most days, the criminals broke into my home.

Despite all of that, I have been actively pursuing my peace of mind. I have come to realise from the moment my home became everybody’s “shoplifting” centre that people’s thievery is not about my shortcomings. It is their failing and I live in a community of broken stories from which I have been absent working on my mission of building capacity for mental health in T&T and the region.

So once again I ended up in what I have long considered my “zones of nothingness.”

It’s tough to be happy there. It’s a barren, joyless chasm of despair but in the midst of it I am determined more now to find ways to consider my happiness. But, am I happy? What’s the empirical evidence?

“Happiness scores go up when people break habits and behave differently,” says Ben C Fletcher in Psychology Today. “Happiness is the consequence of what we do and how we behave. So when a person who is unhappy shifts their focus and does something different they help themselves to become happier.”

So I found my depressed self reaching out to more people in the last week than I have in the last month. In the midst of my despair, I reached out to someone more despairing than I was; in the midst of grudging taking my medication I took opportunity to emphasise to a few people on different occasions, while peer counselling, how important it is to follow the entire care regime including taking meds.

I realised giving and caring are zones where I touch happy. And so, as Fletcher writes, “Happiness is the consequence of what we do and how we behave,” after satisfying my desire to remain isolated I took my own advice and shifted focus. I engaged my son in a walk on the Queen’s Park Savannah. It was so exhilarating being with a fresh, bright, young mind.

Fletcher believes that when “a person who is unhappy shifts their focus and does something different they help themselves to become happier.” I considered that depression and unhappiness are totally different things but I also deliberated on the fact that they both have elements of sadness and despair and I determined to change what I do.

I recalled something I read in Time Magazine’s 2017 special edition on Can money buy happiness? The lesson is: “Doing things can bring us more joy than having things. Our preoccupation with stuff obscures an important truth: the things that don’t last create the most lasting happiness. (time.com/4856954/can-money-buy-you-happiness/)

The lesson is, in the midst of the struggle, “trying to think yourself happier is difficult; happiness comes when you change what you do.”

• Caroline C Ravello is a strategic communications and media professional and a public health practitioner. She holds an MA with Merit in Mass Communications (University of Leicesster) and is a Master of Public Health With Distinction (The UWI).

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