The Secret To Finding Happiness
How to lift the dark cloud of depression
Recently, there’s a theme popping up from all the people I’m interacting with. Feeling stuck. Restless. A frustrated feeling of not being content with what you have, somehow yearning for something you don’t know. A seemingly simple wish just to be happy.
Being happy. Sounds easy. Yet, the hardest thing ever.
This post takes an alternative and somewhat unconventional look at how to find the light at the end of the tunnel.
Is this it?
I once had a clinically depressed friend. Like in seriously depressed. He had been diagnosed with all the different categories of depression that you could possibly have. He was on anti-depressants and had weekly appointments at the psychiatrists and psychologists and other specialists to help him get through each day.
Before I met him, I didn’t really know anything about depression. I knew it existed, but I didn’t know what it is.
He taught me a lot about depression on a practical level. At first, the feeling of being ashamed to admit his ‘disease’ to the world. Later, the ticket to treat people badly. Finally, the source of his happiness. The journey, however, a hard one. One that only the person suffering from it can walk.
While he was fighting his childhood demons, one evening, shortly after I broke up with my boyfriend, he told me he thinks I’m depressed and referred me to his psychologist.
I didn’t think I was depressed. I was just sad. A bit lost maybe. And with a lot of hurt. But not depressed. I just woke up one morning lying next to my boyfriend in my beautiful home and on my way to a cool job earning a decent salary doing pretty much what I want while thinking “Is this it?”
Is this what happiness looks like? Is this the happiest I’ll get?
I didn’t think I was unhappy, I just wasn’t happy. From the outside, it should have been enough — according to society that is - but it wasn’t enough for me. I wanted more. So I broke up with my boyfriend, quit my job and gave away all my earthly possessions and went on my version of Eat, Pray, Love. Searching for more. Searching for happiness.
The journey was a long and hard one, much harder than I thought it would be, but I did find happiness, and this is what I’ve learned:
1. You don’t know what you don’t know.
I didn’t know I was unhappy. Even though I was diagnosed officially as not depressed and totally sane by the country’s best psychologist, I realised that if I’m totally honest with myself, I’ve been depressed since I was a child. It’s just that in those days depression wasn’t a thing yet and we didn’t have the internet to google it.
You don’t know what you don’t know.
Knowing what I know now though, it’s easy to find what you’re looking for when you know what to look for. It’s the hardest thing ever to search for what you don’t know you’re looking for. It requires a vulnerability, an openness, questioning the status quo continuously.
Just because society tells us that the car, the job, the partner, the thing will make you happy, doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because your parents told you that what you have is enough and you should be grateful for it, because that’s the way it is, doesn’t mean it’s good enough for you. And that’s ok.
Just because society has conditioned us to believe that suppressing our emotions and desires are virtuous, doesn’t mean it is.
2. You don’t need a reason to validate how you feel.
There is nothing wrong with you when you’re unhappy. In actual fact, when you start feeling depressed it’s a sign that something is going right. It means you’re human. Sentient. Feeling. Alive.
The only difference between a robot and a human being is the ability to feel and express emotions.
Most people don’t want to admit they’re unhappy simply because from the outside, it doesn’t look as if they have reason to be unhappy. They are scared to look ungrateful. Selfish. Entitled. They’re scared of being judged ‘bad’.
There are so many people with so little. There are people starving of hunger in Africa, there is poverty in the slums of India, there is people being killed in wars. Who are you to be unhappy with your fancy car, beautiful home and ‘prize’ partner?
So what if I told you you weren’t meant to be happy all the time? What if you could give yourself permission to feel bad?
Just like you wouldn’t know the joy of watching a beautiful sunrise without the dark preceding it, just so you wouldn’t know true happiness without the absence of it first.
So go ahead. Give yourself permission to feel bad.
3. Happiness is a feeling. Not a thing.
Society tells us that if only you get the bigger house, the more important job, the nicer car, you’ll be happy. But here’s the thing. No stuff in the world is going to make you happy. It’s an inside job. It’s a feeling.
Having had a lot of money and having had no money at all, I can attest to the fact that money doesn’t buy happiness. In actual fact, it has nothing to do with happiness. It doesn’t make you happy and it doesn’t make you unhappy either. So the good news is that you don’t have to give it all away as I did. It’s not about that at all.
Rather, it’s the things you didn’t have that is making you unhappy. It’s having your feelings invalidated. It’s being told to just get over it because it’s not such a big deal, when it is for you. It’s being told you’re exaggerating when they have no clue of the true magnitude of the situation, just because they only see the tip of the iceberg, unaware of what’s going on beneath the surface. It’s not having had a parent hold you when you were sad or lonely. It’s not having someone to talk to, to go to. It’s having been rejected or excluded when you were miserable, only receiving love when you’re happy. Conditionally being loved.
When you realise that it’s the feeling you want, not the thing, you can skip the promotion, the big car or the fancy holidays and go straight towards the feeling. You can feel free running next to the ocean as much as you would driving a brand new sports car. You can feel powerful pressing the button to make the traffic light go red for the cars, making all the cars stop so you can cross the road, as you would being CEO of a company. You can feel appreciated by helping someone needy, just as you would being the brains behind a big project.
So if stuff doesn’t make you happy? What does?
4. Stop managing your anger.
The harder you try to manage your emotions, the louder it is going to scream. The worst thing you can do to an emotion is suppress (or depress) it.
Stop looking for ways to manage your anger and other bad feeling emotions and start finding ways to more functionally express it.
The nature of a lion is to hunt. The nature of a tree is to grow. The nature of energy is to move. The nature of emotion is to feel.
E-motion-s. Energy in motion.
When you try to manage your emotions, that’s when things start to go bad. Rather than trying to stop yourself from feeling bad, find a way to express it without impacting the people around you. Go for a run. Or kick-boxing. Or make something. Or write it down.
Journalling is probably the best tool to express emotions and understanding why you’re feeling the way you do. The process of writing is healing in itself. It validates the things going on in your mind and heart. And once a feeling is validated and accepted, it’s no longer necessary and can move on. This is the process of finding happiness.
5. Make friends with your unhappiness.
Most people view unhappiness as an unwelcome guest. They don’t realise that the only difference between unhappiness and happiness is the wrapping hiding the gift inside.
To find the gift of happiness, you need to first remove the wrapping of unhappiness.
It means you have to sit with it for a while. Get to know it as you would a friend.
Treat your unhappiness as you would a small child afraid of the monsters in the dark. Hold it’s hand, switch on the light and show them the proof that what they thought was a monster was just a shadow cast by their favorite toy.
The same is true for the shadows within your soul. It hides the treasures that brings you your greatest joy. When you are willing to sit with the unhappiness and befriend it, it disappears naturally.
So next time you’re unhappy, refrain from distracting yourself or ignoring it, rather go towards it like a friend. Be curious. Be kind. Get to know it. Where is the feeling in your body? What is it trying to tell you? What does it need from you?
Just sit with it. Hold your own hand while you’re feeling the pain.
Remember. The light at the end of the tunnel might be you.
Want to read more on emotional intelligence? Read my post called Emotional Intelligence 101 — a dummies guide to emotional intelligence.