As a psychotherapist I should have my shit together, right? Er, being human means I fall into the same traps, experience the same insecurities and make the same bad choices as everyone else.
However, my profession means I am reflective about my choices. Understanding what triggers my happiness is a lifelong endeavour.
Recently watching Irvine Welsh’s cult classic Trainspotting I was stirred by the merits of conventional living versus a drug-induced stupor. Neither felt overly appealing. We can be quick to hide behind a substance, a relationship, a job, basically any excuse not to take responsibility for our own happiness. I wonder what life have you chosen? Is it one that makes you energized? Inspired? Fulfilled? Or jealous? Resentful? Lacklustre?
Most daily conversations begin with, “how are you?”, “fine and you?”, “Yeah, I’m fine too”. We both labour a smile knowing it’s code for frazzled, incapacitated, neurotic and eagerly awaiting Friday to catch our breath… Only for the pressure cooker to start whistling again by Monday lunchtime. I often think to myself, I am not built for this life. Like Chilean wine 24/7 busy does not suit me! Give me a beachside shack selling pineapples and I would be elected!!!
“I’ve consciously uncoupled from Facebook – that was the most toxic of all my fucked up relationships. Facebook gave me nothing except the early stages of arthritis in my thumb.”
I get stung by a sense of inadequacy that I can’t remember to pay that bill, put on a matching outfit (matching underwear is truly a step beyond me), buy milk, book that table, call the electrical company, get through my to-do list at work, do a 2.5 hour commute, have a sex drive, the capacity to hear (and care about) my partner’s day, make meals, respond to texts, emails, snapchats and to be honest I haven’t even entertained Instagram because I’m at social media saturation point! All this on 7 hours of interrupted sleep. To add to my sense of shame I don’t even have kids. What fucking chance do I have then? Shoot me now! I look at the perfectly preened girls on the tube alongside my dishevelled ass and think what frickin’ time do you get up, and in heels wtf?
So why do we do it to ourselves?
Does happiness package itself in a promotion; bigger house, a new outfit, selfie likes, a fancy car or holiday? Or are these stocking fillers that detract us from the real present… THE PRESENT. We’ve bought into the dream that a big beautiful house in the suburbs brings happiness – eh no it’s brought me a longer commute to work and more hours of housework. But it’s an investment. Oh, can’t wait till I’m retired at 70 to reap the rewards, provided I’m still alive.
What Einstein wannabe decided to accumulate possessions and money were the central tenets to happiness.
The Dalai Lama comments in his poem, The Paradox of Life:
“We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values.
We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.
We have learnt how to make a living, but not a life.
We have added years to life, but not life to years.”
But what’s the alternative, how do we learn to live? Downsizing? Part-time work? Self-employment? Recycling everything? Buying second hand? Trading skills? Or find that beach-side shack with a plentiful pineapple tree? There has to be a more intelligent way of living. I’ve read about the zero waste family or another who earns $26,000 per year growing all their own food on a minuscule plot of land, proof there is an alternative path.
The unknown path is often a step too far for many of us. Uncertainty creates anxiety and nobody enjoys anxiety. Sticking to habit breeds safety. But it also breeds boredom. We’ve programmed ourselves to function and forget we can reprogram ourselves.
Neuroscience is now showing we can change the wiring of our brains (neuroplasticity) and this affects our ability to learn, our response to stress, balances our mood and shapes the thoughts and behaviours that dictate our direction in life. This does take time and effort i.e. more work. Hooray! Like a new job we need to bring awareness to what we do, make a commitment to learning, and be open to making mistakes. The reward comes at the end of the week, only this time in the shape of our fulfilment, the actual currency of the living.
I’ve started to make some changes, paltry for some, but as significant to me as an infant realising how to take its first breath. Any change is a sign of growth. I’ve consciously uncoupled from Facebook – that was the most toxic of all my fucked up relationships. Facebook gave me nothing except the early stages of arthritis in my thumb. I’ve changed my morning routine. Less Metro More Mindfulness. More walking and less slumping in front of the TV. Get inspired by paying attention to what’s around you.
Before you protest, “I don’t have any spare time”, take a look this week at the time you waste scrolling, staring, bitching and moaning. It’s not about carving out more time. Make your time work for you. Not when you retire. Not tomorrow or when the kids grow up… Now.
If you’ve read this far maybe you can go one step further. Choose one thing you are going to do differently this week that is more in keeping with the life you desire. See if doing it makes you feel a smidge more alive and creates more energy to use elsewhere.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao Tzu
Be brave and take that first step!
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