Are you unhappy?” A friend asked. I’d been unwell over summer with a nasty bout of Covid-19 that was still lingering several weeks on. My natural bounce, and rhythm for life, fallen by the wayside.
I’m self-employed and things had been a little quieter with work than I wanted, leaving my mood and finances at a low point. I’d been in solitary confinement for almost two weeks, unless you count the cat who has limited conversational skills, other than to request additional snacks and continual fussing. I was bored of my own company which I usually quite enjoy, and I’d watched Netflix dry.
“No” I replied, I wasn’t unhappy, I was more frustrated at being held hostage by the lurgy, that had nibbled its way into other areas of my life. Work, socialising, exercising all taking a back seat while I wallowed in germs and slept my days away.
But if I was being completely honest with my friend and myself, I would have admitted that I wasn’t entirely happy before Covid came skulking along.
And that got me thinking, if I hadn’t been happy and yet I wasn’t unhappy …
What was I? Was I sad, miserable, despondent, fed-up?
Nope, I decided, I wasn’t any of the above. I was in a rut. Y’know, different day, same old thing. No light, shade, or contrast to separate one day from the next. I was bored. You’ve heard the expression, ‘lost the will to live’ well somewhere along the way I’d lost my ‘Thrill to live’.
So, what was I going to do about it? I had a few options, the first one being to fester, and do nothing, just continue the monotony. I could do something drastic, like sign up for a 10K run or abseil down the local town hall for fun …hmm. None of my bright ideas appealed. Instead, I chose to think about what made me happy. I got a pen and a piece of paper and did an exercise I often work through with clients.
I drew a line down the middle of the paper, making two columns headed, Happy and Unhappy. In the first one, I wrote down all the things and emotions I related to my personal happiness, not the things social media or society says should make me happy. My happiness is found spending time with loved ones, eating nice meals, being creative, working with interesting people, going for a nice walk, feeling more energetic, enthusiastic, and cheerful.
On the “Unhappy” side I wrote sleeping late, going to bed late, tiredness, lethargy, zero exercise, antisocial, poor diet, tearful, despondent, moody.
Then I made my Emotional Scale rating from 1-10. It included the things that contributed to my mood levels. 1= devastation, sadness, grief. 10 = over the moon, joyful, elated.
I worked through each number and assigned feelings, words, and phrases to each number. Some numbers were a mixture of the sides, because emotions aren’t black and white there’s grey areas too.
My happy place is somewhere around a 7- I’m generally optimistic, cheerful and nothing much phases me. I eat a reasonable diet, I communicate openly etc. But I can tell my mood is slipping towards a 4 or below if my diet is poor, I’m not returning phone calls, I’m avoiding social interactions, I don’t want to speak to people, and the house could benefit from a good clean. I have to say this rarely happens, but it has, because I’m human and a dip in mental health is normal. Going up or down a number is fine, but the trick is knowing how and when to bring myself back to my comfort zone of a 7. To do that I gradually reintroduce the things that I know make me feel happier, eating a better diet, taking exercise, arranging to spend time with loved ones, having precious me time.
I was explaining this exercise to a client, and they wanted to know why I wasn’t aiming to live life at a 10. “It would be too hard” I said. Living life as though every day was my 21st birthday would be challenging and unnatural just as it would be emotionally draining to live life at a 1.
And so, the next time someone asks me if I’m happy, I’ll say yes thanks, I’m a perfect 7.
Here’s a few happiness facts
- Happiness is a choice.
- Being happy reduces the stress hormone cortisol.
- Eating chocolate encourages the brain into releasing endorphins, chemicals that make us feel happy.
- Being happy reduces anxiety and happier people sleep better.
Sudden, erratic and extreme changes in mood, behaviour and outlook that happen frequently, can be a sign that your mental health is being compromised. And advice from a medical professional, is recommended.
If you would like to get your emotional scale on a more even keel and regain control of your thoughts, feelings and actions, then sign visit shannonhumphrey.gumroad.com/l/Scale where you can explore the exercise, I did for yourself. There’s a short video and a downloadable PDF. Use the code SLL at the checkout for 100% discount.
Shannon Humphrey is a Youth and Adult First Aid for Mental Health Instructor and lives locally.
Whilst you’re here, can we ask a favour?
South Leeds Life is published by a not-for-profit social enterprise. We keep our costs as low as possible but we’ve been hit by increases in the print costs for our monthly newspaper – up 50% so far this year.
Could you help support local community news by making a one off donation, or even better taking out a supporters subscription?
Donate here, or sign up for a subscription at bit.ly/SLLsubscribe