Finding Happiness

My three keys to happiness are:

1. Take responsibility for your life
2. Give to others
3. Keep pushing yourself

Coming back from mental illness is hard work. My depression by itself was bad enough, but not being able to enjoy life as much because of my anxiety only made it worst. It also affected my family and friends, making me feel even more guilty. Finding happiness from ‘that’ place is certainly daunting, but it can also be very rewarding, and is certainly doable by taking small steps daily.

In this article I’d like to share some of the strategies that I’ve used over the years.

Depressed and happy?
Can you even be happy when you’re depressed you may wonder?

The answer is yes. A friend of mine explained it best when he used the “storm on a lake” metaphor. At the surface level things can be quite rough with big swells, but the deeper you go in the lake the calmer it gets, and this is where inner peace can exist.

Depression is like that, one day you wake up feeling okay, and then the next you’re feeling deeply unhappy (my mood varies because I have bipolar). Now this may sound weird, but even when it’s not going so well, there is still a part of me that knows that eventually things will get better again. I often find peace in that.

Types of happiness
There are two types of happiness. There is the short lived happiness (e.g. eating an ice cream), and there is the lasting happiness (e.g. achieving a life goal).

The short lived type of happiness can be a lot of fun, but it generally doesn’t last very long, so this article focuses primarily on the lasting type of happiness.

1. Take responsibility for your life

Youโ€™re the only one who can create joy and fulfillment in your life. No one else can do it for you.

It’s like someday you wake up on this beautiful ship, but you find that no one is steering it. You’re slowly drifting along with the current, and there’s rough weather ahead. You now have a choice. You can either take command of the ship, and sail it in the direction of your choice. Or you choose not to choose, and the ship might perish in the storm, or end up stuck somewhere dodgy. No outcome is guaranteed but by taking control of your ship at least you tried. When you take command of your ship, and you succeed, you will be filled with a sense of pride and fulfillment, and you will grow as a person as a result.

“The best captains aren’t formed on calm waters”

Now that you’ve survived the storm, you might want to set sail for other destinations such as that really cool tropical island you’ve been hearing so much about.

Blaming others or circumstances is the opposite of taking responsibility. It’s like saying “It wasn’t me, it was xxx’s fault”, or “It’s my parents’ fault I’m this way”, or “You always make me angry”. In this state of mind things will always happen to you.

I think most people blame others or circumstances to some degree, but it’s good to come to a decision at some point in your life where you take responsibility no matter what situation you’re in, or what people have done to you in the past.

I remember the moments in my life where I decided to be a captain of my ship again (and again). It’s from those decisions and experiences that I realized that my mental illness is my problem, and that it’s my responsibility to make something of it, and turn it into something good. And it was always at those moments I felt best, and came out stronger.

It doesnโ€™t matter where you are with your life. Just set a course, and sail away. You can always adjust your course later if needed.

Be a captain!

Yarr ๐Ÿ™‚

Turn your garbage into something good
The most wonderful moments in my life are those where I was able to turn my “garbage” into something good. Yes, I have mental illness, but thanks to my perseverance in trying to improve my health, I now have valuable advise, and inspiration I can give people via this website. I also get really interesting feedback and valuable insights in return, so it’s win-win.

I’ve chosen to see my mental illness as a blessing in disguise, and given a choice between mental illness and a normal life, I’d think that I would probably still choose the mental illness path. There is just so much to learn when dealing with a mental illness, so many growth opportunities. Also, some of the kindest people I’ve met are people with a mental illness, and they have inspired me a lot. Generally speaking the most interesting and inspiring people I’ve met, had all found a way to turn their garbage into something good.

“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards”
– Soren Kierkegaard

Some people say that everybody has some sort of life plan from before they were born. I don’t know if this is true, but it’s interesting nonetheless. What if your mental illness is actually a custom made challenge to help you grow (a bit like spiritual weight training). For me personally, my garbage turned out to be a vehicle that made me stronger, more aware of what I could do for others, and ultimately more alive.

Keep looking for ways to turn your mental illness into something positive, as that’s where real fulfillment comes from. What is this obstacle here to teach me? What can I learn from this person? How can I have more fun with what I’m doing?

Working around mental illness
I’ve learned to prepare for the dark days when I’m feeling okay. I’ve Installed certain coping mechanisms over the years for example. I can now tell when things start to tilt towards the dark side (tired, moody, etc) so I slow down, and start looking after myself a bit more (early nights, reduce my workload).

When I slow down what I do, I lose a lot of time which can be rather frustrating to say the least. I used to have this feeling of “needing to catching up” which then wore me out even faster. So now, I just try and take care of myself first, and everything else is a bonus. I scrapped a lot of projects, but in the end it didn’t really matter anyway. In fact it taught me more about setting meaningful goals. It also made me feel less stressful, because I didn’t feel I had so much to do all the time. Go figure. ๐Ÿ˜‰

It definitely pays to take a step back every now and then, and find new ways to manage and improve your mental illness. Otherwise every day becomes groundhog day (up, work, sleep, repeat).

2. Give to others

“You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”
– Kahlil Gibran

When I was in hospital I blown away by how kind the other people with a mental illness were. Some of them had been there before, no job, no friends, and often with nothing in their pockets. But they were always there for each other. For example, once my medication started to kick in, I started realizing what was happening to me, and felt not as euphoric about it anymore. People there actually noticed the change, so some just gave me a smile, a nod, and in one case a hug and something from the $2 shop. I noticed that they were all looking after each other in this way, even the ones I wasn’t expecting that from. Giving to others is based on love and compassion, and they sure had a lot of that. They are also the primary reason for me wanting to do something back.

“When you carry out acts of kindness you get a wonderful feeling inside. It is as though something inside your body responds and says, “Yes this is how I ought to feel”.”
– Rabbi Harold Kushner

I still don’t fully understand why the above quote is true, but I do know that my life improved dramatically when I started thinking of others. Giving to others truly is very fulfilling. For example, by sharing my experiences/results with others on this website, I get a lot of extra joy and fulfillment in return. I feel I’m finally having a positive effect on “the world” rather than just taking from it.

Giving to others fits well within the universal Golden Rule concept which can be found in most religions, and philosophies. It is defined as: “Right to just treatment, and a responsibility to ensure justice for others”. The best known example of the Golden Rule is perhaps “Love thy neighbor as thyself”, which also implies you need to sort yourself out first before you can help others (like trying to rescue someone from drowning, without being able to swim).

Why give it all? I mean you could of course not give, but for some reason this doesn’t seem to work to well. It’s like the happiness inside of us fades (or becomes ‘stale’), and people start feeling down and feel “something” is missing again. A mid-life crisis is a great example of that. I really experienced a big improvement in my life when I started to focus more outward. Maybe in some way happiness needs to flow (both giving and receiving) or simply be shared with others. Endless joy and fulfillment, through endless sharing. Like how the joy is magnified when you have some great news, and you immediately want to tell everyone.

Giving to others works best when it’s unconditional, and when it’s out of your comfort zone (so not just writing a cheque, and “that’s it” kind of thing). So give it some thought, pick something you really care about, and make a real difference in someone’s life.

Doing something for someone else, is also a good motivator, because you now have a responsibility. Doing this website for example, also means I have to walk the talk. This is good because it keeps me honest. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Strive to make “giving” part of your every day life.

Changing the world
Can one person change the world?

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead

The butterfly effect theory states that if a butterfly flaps its wings on one side of the world, the vortices can (theoretically speaking) create a tornado on the other side of the world. So your actions can literally shake the world. History is full of people who have done just that.

So can one person change the world? Hell yeah! ๐Ÿ™‚

Think big, start small
No point trying to change mankind on the first day – start small instead.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Sponsor a child, or buy someone an Oxfam gift
  • Write a letter to some organization you care about (feedback, suggestions, a “thank you”, etc)
  • Encourage people to start worthwhile goals (and help them persevere)
  • Volunteer for something you care about
  • Help others less fortunate than you

There are people out there that really need your help, so don’t let them down.
(Helping others is actually quite addictive, so be warned)

Mark Grantham
Mark has cerebral palsy, and is currently sponsoring five World Vision children by selling chocolate bars on the street.

“Itโ€™s my calling to help others less fortunate than myself”
– Mark Grantham

Note how he says “less fortunate than myself”. That’s a pretty powerful statement.

One of Mark’s mottos is “If I can do it, so can you”.

3. Keep pushing yourself

“A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for”
– Willian Shedd

By continually challenging yourself and overcoming new obstacles, you will find new forms of happiness that were previously not available. This process of finding new happiness is very rewarding to say the least.

A great example (for me), is my Outward Bound course. I knew I needed to do this course to overcome some of my anxiety, and become stronger inside. But on the other end I knew it would mean getting way out of my comfort zone, so that kept me back a bit. In a strong moment however I booked the course, and completed it not too long ago. It still feels great, and I’m so glad I did it. So the point is, don’t walk away from your fear, and do these things anyway. In fact, I learned on the course that when you feel that “stretch” in your stomach, it means there’s an opportunity to grow just around the corner. Failing or succeeding ultimately doesn’t matter, the important things is that you try, and you do your personal best. Don’t sell yourself short.

“There is more in you than you think”
– Pintar

I’ve found that new skills/strengths (from overcoming new challenges) can also be transferred to other areas. For example, once I knew that I was capable of more than I thought, I was able to transfer that attitude towards other areas of my life as well. I now try and do my absolute best for as long as I can, and if I fail I try again. “Keep trying” being the keywords here. As a result of this approach my anxiety has decimated, and is far more manageable.

Push yourself in all areas of your life, and try and hold on just a little bit longer every time you do so.

Never stop learning
“Every now and then a man’s mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions”
– Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

We are happiest when we discover new things about ourselves, and reality itself. So keep reading, exploring, and talking to others (unique insights).

I’m just absolutely amazed at how much there is to learn in this universe. It keeps everything fresh, and exciting.

Never give up
Just before I discovered it was possible to improve my health with diet, I was feeling pretty low. I started to feel that it would never get better, and that it would stay like that for the rest of my life.

When you give up it feels like something inside of you dies, and once in the ‘hole’ it takes considerable time and energy to climb back out of it. The ‘hole’ is not a happy place, so for people with a mental illness, dealing with disappointment and failure quickly, is a vital survival skill. Finding a strong reason to live will pull you out of the hole faster.

Fortunately for me, my wife found a nutritionist, and together they gave me new hope for improving my health by focusing on my diet. Soon after that I started following a holistic approach to my mental illness, which is basically designed to attack mental illness on all fronts.

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop”
– Confucius

Christopher Reeve
My favorite example of how resilient the human spirit is, is from Christopher Reeve (who played Superman in several movies). He was paralyzed from the neck down because of a horse riding accident, and he would have to be kept alive by machines for the rest of his life.

He considered suicide once the severity of the accident became clear, but after discussing it with his wife he decided not too. In the end he lobbied for people with spinal cord injuries, and raised money for stem cell research.

I still remember the amazing standing ovation he got when he made his first public speech since the accident.

For me he truly embodies what it means to be a hero. He never gave up, took full responsibility for his life, no matter what form or shape it came in, and inspired millions to do the same.

“I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”
– Christopher Reeve


Combining the three keys
In most cases we do quite well with maybe one or two keys, but maybe not so well on the others. Aligning the keys can have a very powerful effect. For example, I want to understand and overcome my mental illness, share my results with others, and push myself to find new solutions. I’m definitely enjoying the giving to others part.

That’s where you can find your happiness sweet spot as well. A place where your skills, passion, and “giving to others” meet.

The strategies in this article have helped me a lot over the years. They work provided you act on them. Don’t take my word for it though – try them out for yourself.

Don’t wait for things to happen, instead go out ‘there’, and kick some ass.

And then who knows what will be on tomorrow’s horizon.

Yarr! ๐Ÿ™‚