I haven’t been well lately, and that’s why the blog hasn’t been forthcoming. It’s harder to write about happiness when you are not happy! And it is amazing how unhappy being ill makes you feel. It’s just a headcold, but it has been going on for so long that it is affecting the way I feel about myself.
Interesting, isn’t it? I feel ill and unable to concentrate, and I start thinking about how I am unable to do things, and I feel worse about myself, and I start feeling worse for real, and I go and sit in front of the TV and watch Buffy instead of writing a blog or any other of the worthwhile things I could be doing. It’s all connected – my thoughts, feelings, actions, and physical wellbeing and situation all affect each other.
This is a basic tenet of Cognitive Behavioural Coaching. If I can change one of these things then all the others will be affected, hopefully for the better. If I can get up out of my armchair and turn Buffy off and go for a walk I will feel better about myself, and when I get back I can do something more constructive. If I’m doing something constructive with my time I feel better about myself, or at least a bit less useless than I did before. If I feel a bit more useful then I will be a bit more useful, which will make me do more useful things, and I’ll feel better and better. Try it, it really works.
Your feelings influence your thinking, and what you are thinking influences your feelings. If you keep telling yourself how useless you are you will feel bad and you will be useless. So take the cold-and-flu tablets and do something when you feel ill, especially if the illness is going on for a long time. That’s what I’m doing!
A discussion about happiness, wellbeing, mental health, or whatever you want to call it, must soon get around to values. What are your values? What is most important to you? What can you not do without in your relationships, your job, your social activities? What values do you want your kids to have? Your husband or wife? Your friends?
Any search on the internet on values will come up with a list of values to choose from. The list itself doesn’t really matter, what matters is whether you can find 3 or 4 or 5 values that mean something to you. Here is a list taken from Grant and Greene’s (2001) Coach yourself: make real changes in your life:
Beauty & aesthetics
Being with others
Change and variation
Control over time
Fun and enjoyment
Freedom to choose
Interaction with public
Power and authority
Pick five, and then consider each one separately. How are these values displayed in your life right now? In your work? In your home life? In your hobbies or other activities? With your family?
Think, too, about where these values came from. From your upbringing? Were they important to your parents as well? Or are they the opposite of what your parents valued? Do they fall into line with the culture at work? Do you work there because you agree with the values there, or did you have to bend your values to fit in there? Perhaps the values you are living by came from somewhere else? Which values would you prefer to live by?
Perhaps, too, the values you’ve chosen are your own, and yet you find that they are getting lost in everyday life. There isn’t the time, or the money, to help others, or to be as creative as you would like. Or perhaps you have all the power and money that you could want or expect, and it still isn’t enough…
Questions like these can start you on the road to being happier than you are now.
I’ve been reading Stephanie Dowrick’s Creative Journal Writing (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2007) and it has reminded me how liberating and fulfilling writing a journal can be. Writing a blog is like writing a journal in that you write whatever is on your mind, and yet it is different because you are always conscious that someone may read your blog (hopefully) and so you are keeping your audience in mind, whereas with a journal it is for you and you alone. It doesn’t have to make sense to someone else, it can be defamatory or dishonest or whatever you like – it is just for you.
Writing a journal can clarify problems in your own mind, or take you to a level of creativity you didn’t know you were capable of. I’ve written a journal on and off since I was a teenager, and mostly it was of the problem-clarifying kind. Getting it down on paper means you have to think clearly and boil all those circular worries down into sentences. It gets it outside of yourself and enables you to look at it more objectively, with less emotion that can stop you seeing it properly. It can also give you ideas for solutions that don’t come when the problem is just going around and around in your head.
I haven’t written one for a few years now, and then I heard Stephanie on the radio the other night talking about journals and her new book and I was inspired to start again. I love to write – no-one who doesn’t would voluntarily start a blog – and the idea that I could introduce more creativity into my writing and my life was instantly appealing.
Just the thought of going out and buying a journal to write in, with nice paper and a proper cover, and deciding which pen, or colour, to use, was immensely satisfying, and actually going out and buying one was even more so. I’ve written in it twice so far, and I’m thinking that there is so much more I can do. I bought a sketchbook type so the pages are thick enough that I can write on both sides of the page without interference from the other side, which always bothers my about normal notebooks; and not having lines on the page means I can draw or write diagonally or in circles if I want to.
Stephanie’s book gives examples and exercises for unleashing the creativity we all have in there somewhere, and I’m looking forward to getting in there and trying them out.
Can writing a journal make me happy? I think so! I’ll let you know how I go.