Friday 30 May 2014

Filling the glass

I saw Shawn Achor (amazeballs psychologist with loads of cool stuff to say about happiness) in a chat thing with Oprah Winfrey the other day. She was asking him about optimism/pessimism, glass half full or half empty stuff, and he said why does it matter either way as long as you can fill it back up again?

I love that. That really is the whole point isn't it...getting back up and at 'em and finding ways to fill the glass back up again.

So I was thinking about what helps me fill my glass back up when it's running on low and it struck me that sometimes happiness is actually quite counter intuitive.

No, I'll rephrase that.  To people who are naturally fit, healthy and happy it's all very obvious stuff.  To somebody not quite so naturally that way disposed, sometimes what you THOUGHT makes you happy, turns out to be the stuff chipping a little hole in that glass letting all the good stuff leak out.

For example, I'm pretty sure I used to think that literally filling my glass, many times. Many, many times, made me happy.  Clearly it actually made me throw up and embarrass myself in all manner of ways instead. Don't get me wrong, I'm not/never have been an alcoholic, just a teenager / London media type / human,and I still do love a drink (or several).  On occasion. As part of the occasion...not as the actual be all and end all of the occasion.  Now it comes as a side dish served alongside my happiness rather than being the starter, main course and dessert.

Which brings me to another thing.  Yep, you guessed it.  Food.  Now I know there has always been a mahoosive link in my brain between food and happiness.  Not necessarily a bad thing, we are programmed to think like that about food to a certain extent. But me, and actually most of my family, have been guilty of taking that to the limits on far too many an occasion.  Again, food becomes the occasion as opposed to something you eat and enjoy as part of that occasion.  Food becomes an excuse for an occasion, a manner of celebrating...or commiserating, or eeking out a good day.  So many occasions in my family have a particular food linked to them. Party tea. Popcorn. Peanuts. Custard and Cream. Fish and Chips. Take aways. Family Roasts. I could go on.
it's in the jeans
And then there's spending money on nice stuff...surely that's got to make you happy?  Well, depends. On how much stuff. How much money. Any why you're doing it.  A new pair of skinny jeans to show off all the hard work at the gym (ahem, that might have just happened)...ok, yep, that's part of a happiness boost from achievement.  But piles and piles of unnecessary crap that you can't afford and that's now clogging up the house (erm, ok so guilty as charged with that one too), that's just trying to buy happiness lacking elsewhere....I know that because that's what I did.

Consumption in general doesn't really seem to do it.  It engineers a fake sort of high for a split moment, but leaves a big stinking hole of regret or something lurking behind it.

So what does work then?  I had a look at my 'Happier' app to see what most of the happy moments I'd shared were linked to.  

Guess what?  Not a single one of them was about buying stuff. Or eating lard.  Champagne was mentioned in celebration of a new job.  Food was mentioned a lot, but in terms of healthy happy nice natural soul boosting stuff...not self loathing cheese topped lardacious stuff.  Slight aside, my mum and brother refer to the food I eat now as 'gravel'.  They mean stuff like quinoa and bulgar wheat and an unexpected added benefit of eating healthier gravel, means my brother doesn't even bother looking in my fridge to see what he can nibble on when he comes round. ha!

Anyway, I also spotted lots and lots of mentions of nature, being outside.  That didn't surprise me, I've always been an outside freak.  A gravel eating, outside freak, that's me.  Spending time with friends and family, also up there.  Doing well at work/school (same thing these days) defo keeping that glass full too.

But interestingly, the thing that got the most mentions was not eating and drinking, wasn't having fun, wasn't chilling out or holidays.  It was going to the gym.

So back to the counter intuitive.  Going to the gym is basically sweaty pain.  Yet it's my number one happiness inducer.  In a nutshell, where all the other old days stuff makes me feel a bit depressed and like somebody I don't want to be, going to the gym makes me feel like me.  Like the me I really am, like the me I want to be.  And that makes me happy.  I stick my earplugs in, turn the music up and off I go.  It's physical, it's energetic, there's an element of 'flow', there's achievement, goals and learning new stuff.  It's perfect.  Sweaty, painful and calloused finger inducing, but perfect.

None of this should really surprise me. In fact it doesn't.  Because I knew all of this already from all the reading and whatnot I do about positive psychology.  But knowing something and experiencing it are two very different things.  Reading somebody else's account of happiness  and taking the time to work out your own, again, are two different things.

So now you know mine, but yours might be here's a challenge. Stop reading this, shut down the computer and go out and do something that makes you happy.  Start noticing what makes you happy, and do more of it.  Test out a few theories, challenge yourself, try something you always told yourself you hated (ask anybody, I "am not an exercise person", only turns out I am)...what are you missing out on that you actually love but just don't know it yet?

Next time you notice your glass is dangerously near to half empty, don't dwell on it. Instead ask yourself, how can I fill it back up again? Then go do it.

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