(A lot of this post sounds quite presumptuous. To be clear, I’m not trying to claim that I know you or your struggles – but, from a personal perspective, these ideas work for me and in sharing them and my own thoughts, I hope I might make someone out there feel a little better, too, if your little gymnasts are pulling a number on you. You’ll see what I mean by that in a sec.)
Christmas is such a lovely time of year for so many reasons, but the run-up also happens to be quite difficult for me in terms of anxiety. Perhaps it’s the number of fake Santas walking around, who I suspect are all involved in a plastic-beards-and-lying-to-children-themed Christmas cult (an unsettling thought), but it’s more likely due to the fact that Novembers are routinely quite awful (cursed, even).
During this residual period post-November but pre-Christmas I end up doing the same mental gymnastics to escape my internal nasty voices (who I suppose are all athletes themselves, as they live in a mental gym) – vaulting over poles to escape voices that tell me I’m not doing enough, backflipping away from thoughts that berate me for not achieving enough, doing the splits to avoid hearing the yells that I’m not kind enough… and so on, so forth. I then get mad at myself that I can’t just be happy and get along with my fellow gymnasts, when logically I have few reasons to complain (and I’m so good at sports, now, and they should be impressed with me).
But this isn’t a blog post about my cruel internal athletes. This is actually a blog post about some recently discovered theories and tonics to shut them the hell up. And they’re a lot healthier than what I used to do at this time of year, which was make scalding hot chocolate with marshmallows, inhaling the fumes deeply until my brain was coated in a thin layer of sugar (often while making a low, glottal sound that sounded like I was summoning the Devil himself). Now, I don’t have to rely on this one way of feeling better that flirts dangerously with obtaining mind-diabetes (mindabetes). I have a couple of ways, built on realisations freshly brought to me in 2016, and more recently clarified by Jenny Lawson’s wonderful book, Furiously Happy.
I’m just going to jump headfirst into the primary realisation, which is as follows:
1. Just like there isn’t a fixed prescription for curing depression, there isn’t a fixed prescription for achieving happiness.
Though I’m sure much of the advertising world would love you to think that way. How else would they convince us that we need to buy thimble-sized bottles of perfume for three grand?
I know this sounds obvious, but for me, actually realising this was revelatory. So much of what I worry about it brought further down by worrying that I’ll never stop worrying about it. But there are no fixed prescriptions in life. Not even giving yourself mindabetes every Christmas. There’s no fixed route for any of our pursuits to happiness, and that’s fucking liberating. Just like using the word ‘fucking’ in an article you’re about to throw out into the internet, like the potty-mouthed maverick you are.
I am guilty of – along with millions of other people – trying to pigeonhole myself into wrongfully prescribed routes to happiness, finding it too difficult to figure out what I personally need to be happy. You end up aligning your dreams to other people’s dreams in a bid to recognise your own dreams, only succeeding in feeling confused and like you’re failing, somehow, when you can’t achieve them or, worse still, you do achieve them, but you don’t feel better like you thought you would. Then you turn your focus to something else. And then your mental gymnasts swing back in full force on a hellish trapeze from nowhere to berate you about why you could possibly still be struggling when you’re youngish and healthyish and your only setback seems to be yourself. Then, you begin the destructive cycle of finding things to blame, and people to compare yourself to, spiralling downwards until you’ve planted yourself in a complete funk.
You look at adventurous Nancy with the surreally voluptuous body posting about jetting off to the Himalayas to ‘find herself’ on Facebook, and want to throw your monitor against the wall and howl because you suddenly need to do that too, because your bliss is waiting in the Himalayas and Nancy is going to get there first and take it and it will be years before you ever get there. On top of this, you cannot fathom conjuring up the effort to do the washing up, let alone plan a trip to the Himalayas. Or stomach the idea of climbing it. Climbing the stairs is taxing enough, sometimes.
But it’s all okay.
2. ‘Learn that it’s okay to prefer your personal idea of heaven’.
As in, prefer your personal idea of heaven to what other people tell you to dream or do. Your personal heaven is made up of things that make you tick, discovered by you, lived by you, and loved by you – not prescribed by anyone else. That’s a Jenny Lawson theory. I love that. Personal ideas of heaven are rather shat upon in this day and age, as we’re thrown down pre-charted routes to happiness that often point to visiting the Himalayas, becoming a size six or finding ‘the one’. Figuring out your personal idea of heaven can only be beneficial; not only for figuring out what your bigger dreams are and understanding your own ‘bigger picture’ in tandem with that, but also for feeling better and quelling anxieties in the day-to-day. AKA., during a post-November and pre-Christmas mental shitdip when you (by which I mean, me) are at your worst, and day-to-day pleasantries and comforts are very much required.
3. Happiness is closer than you think.
I wholeheartedly believe that. Sometimes, it’s the only thing that keeps me going when I feel at my worst – happiness can drop on you at the flick of a switch. I’m going to bring up Furiously Happy again as that’s this article’s raison d’etre and Jenny puts it into words better than I can:
This is a horribly blurry shot, for which I am sorry. I’m also not sure if you’re allowed to take photos of book pages and put them in your own articles so I would like to emphasise here that I have made it clear that I DID NOT WRITE THIS. I wish I did because it encapsulates so much of what I think perfectly, but I didn’t. Jenny Lawson did. Just to be clear.
4. Banana Popsicles dipped in Malibu rum.
I’m not entirely sure what banana Popsicles dipped in Malibu rum would taste like, but I love the theory behind it – that if banana Popsicles dipped in Malibu rum is all you want, then banana Popsicles dipped in Malibu rum is what you should pursue, and BPDIMR is a perfectly fine route to happiness for you.
The good things in life can be as simple as banana Popsicles dipped in Malibu rum, if you’re Jenny Lawson. Because happiness has simple routes, often found in smaller pleasures that are cast to the wayside while we fret over intimidating dreams, ideas and expectations. Smaller pleasures, for me, are a soothing balm and comfortable rock (a rare compliment, as rocks are not commonly comfortable). They also comprise many elements of my personal heaven – grounding me and helping me appreciate my life, which, in turn, summons a contentment that blitzes through my anxious voices.
5. Happiness is here and now.
It’s not some future state achieved by jumping through a number of hoops. It’s not a finite source that you must reserve for when you’re achieving your biggest dreams. Happiness surrounds you in all the elements of your personal heaven, helping you ignore the athletes in your (sugared) brain that stick their tongues out at you and paint placards that say ‘U R DUMB’. The more I understand this, the more I see it.
(Would just like to reinforce that this new appreciation of small things by no means means I’m shafting my big dreams [a poem, or a rap? You decide]. They certainly have their place, too – I still want to do big things like see Canada and publish a novel and pick up a really weird skill that people will pop in the middle of my crazy grandma tag when I’m older – examples including “crazy Bane cosplayer grandma”, “crazy ziplining grandma” or “crazy Mongolian throat singing grandma.” [I’ve embedded a link to Mongolian throat singing in that last one because if you haven’t seen it before, you really should. Those Mongolians are damn talented.] But I’m not expecting any of these big dreams to make me happy or push me into some sort of anxiousless, purified state – and in the everyday, happiness often takes a smaller, less throat singing-related form.)
Here are some of the things that make me happy in the day-to-day:
- The train ticket collector on Northern Rail who always smiles at me and is pretty much the only person I can stomach on the commute, when I am far and away at my most antisocial
- A really nicely done coffee by a barista who actually cares, even when it’s obscenely early and even the birds should still be asleep
- Getting a hearfelt ‘I love you and you are awesome’ themed message from a friend out of the blue
- Not being late for stuff
- Perfectly boiled corn on the cob
- The orange glow from my lamp
- The smell of incense
- When my hair goes slightly wavy of ITS OWN ACCORD
- The texture of velvet and blankets with excess floof
- My dog’s stupid lovely face
- My dad’s sage, logically-charged wisdom
- My mum’s sage, emotionally-charged wisdom
- Being told that something I’ve written is really good (that’s not a hint, but if you want to leave a comment after I publish this and tell me you love this post, then I can’t stop you)
- Old couples laughing
- Book smell
- Aretha Franklin’s cover of ‘Joy To The World’ which I listen to on 100% while fistbumping and crying
- The film version of ‘Little Women’ that doesn’t have Winona Ryder in it
- Watching Winona Ryder in other films
- Louis Theroux documentaries
- Remembering to buy lightbulbs
- Feeling like my teeth are super clean
- Tiny hats for babies’ heads
- This pack of dog stickers I found the other day:
Those are some damn happy dogs.
Thank you Jenny Lawson.