1) Notice the Good Things
Our brains are better- and some would say faster – at processing negative information than positive. This was very useful for keeping us alive in the past, when our lives were often under threat. But it’s not so useful today, when our minds are telling our brains that we are worthless idiots. Our brains tend to believe it.
A good way to combat this is to make an effort to notice the positives in each day. Our brains can actually be rewired through repetition to look for those positives with less effort on our part – the term for this is neuroplasticity.
The simple daily exercise of writing down a few positive events – no matter how small – can make a huge difference.
Breathing is really easy, but it’s also really easy to forget how to do it properly.
A lot of us take short shallow breaths without realizing, or forget to use both our nose and mouth.
The key is to inhale slowly through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. It also helps to exhale for slightly longer. A good trick is to count to three as you inhale and five as you exhale.
Breathing properly is one of the best ways to calm yourself down. Try it for a minute next time you’re feeling anxious.
The best part is you can do this anywhere!
3) Know That It Won't Last Forever
I always found describing my depression really hard. When you say that you’re depressed, most people think it means that you just feel sad, and their instinct is to try to cheer you up. It’s hard to explain that you feel completely numb, or nothing at all, or like you want to curl up into a ball so tightly that you disappear forever. People who have never felt that way cannot relate.
Depression really does limit your ability to construct a future – and not just a future where you’re happy, but a future where you even get out of bed in the morning. When I am struggling to construct that future, looking to the past always helps me. I know I’ve felt that way before, and I know that I’ve come through it – it’s a fact. It doesn’t change the way I feel, but it does remind me that I won’t feel that way forever. Which is a really good thing to remember.
4) Know That It's OK to Feel Sad
We’ve somehow become attached to the belief that we should be happy, forever and ever, and that we’ve failed if we’re not. Which is crazy, if you actually think about it. I bought into that belief as much as anyone, and it made me instinctively try to limit any chance of sadness. I would avoid situations and relationships that I thought could end up making me sad. But limiting your sadness doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be happy. In fact, sadness often happens as a result of having once been happy. So by limiting your chances of sadness, you’re also limiting your chances of happiness.
It’s ok to feel happy, and it’s ok to feel sad. It’s perfectly natural. The same as it’s ok to feel angry, or grateful, or jealous, or proud, or… you get the idea. Happiness and sadness are both feelings – neither one is right, and neither one is wrong. The sooner you accept that you cannot protect yourself from sadness, the sooner you will stop protecting yourself from happiness.
5) Strengthen Your Curiosity
I could probably write a whole different book about getting back that sense of natural curiosity we had as children. It’s something that I always tried to retain, and it’s something that I always believed was important. I realized just how important it was when I got really sad. I started to lose my curiosity, bit by bit, and as a result I became less interested – first in things and then in life. Everything became desaturated and flat, and not in a cool Instagram filter kind of way.
Being more curious about the world instantly makes you more curious about life. The more questions you ask yourself, the more eager you become to discover the answers, and the more open you are to the world, the more you will make of it. Life is so much more enjoyable when you’re interested in living it, and the very first step is strengthening your curiosity.
6) Know What Makes You Happy
I always imagined that I’d be happier when… when I had a bit more money, when I lived in a different place, or when I landed a dream job. But whenever I arrive at one of those “whens” nothing really changes. I am still the same person, just in a different situation. It’s rare that external “whens” will ever make you happy. In the same way that “stuff” rarely makes you happy – not in any real or lasting sense anyway.
If I asked you to make a list of the things that you think might make you happy, and a list of things that actually make you happy, I think you’d find the second list would be full of things that are readily available now, not when.
7) Ask Yourself: Do You Have a Problem Right Now?
I found the above question in The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman, and I’ve started to ask myself this whenever I feel bad. I haven’t been able to answer “yes” once yet, despite asking myself this while I’ve been curled up on the floor crying my eyes out. I mean, being curled up on the floor crying my eyes out was kind of a problem – but there was no actual problem causing that, if you see what I mean?
Try asking yourself this question next time you’re feeling like everything is hopeless. Do you really have a problem right now? If the answer is no, you’re probably doing ok, so try to keep going. If the answer is yes, try to work out exactly what the problem is, and then think of ways you could solve it. It’s a very effective system.
8) Don't Compare Your Insides with Someone Else's Outsides
The internet is arguably humanity’s second greatest invention, after the cheeseburger. It has the potential to give you the answer to any question, connect you to any person, and make you laugh out loud (LOL!) in seconds. But it’s also made it so much easier to compare yourself with other people – other people who appear to be doing better than you. It’s important to remember that they are editing their lives for public consumption, just like you. Comparing the private realities of your life with the public highlights of everyone else’s life is a really bad idea. But I know how easy it can be to do that, and how hard it can be to stop.
That’s where being more intentional helped me again. I turned off all my social media notifications, I deleted my Facebook account. I’ve not regretted doing either of those things, but I’m not suggesting that you need to do something quite so drastic. The main change I made was quite a small one – I now only check social media when I want to, rather than when it beeps at me, or when I’m bored or procrastinating. It’s really hard to stop comparing yourself to other people, especially when everyone’s life is streaming right in front of your eyes. But choosing when you dip into that stream is a good start.
9) It's OK to Get Help
There are many organizations out there to help you when you’re feeling sad, anxious, or worse.
They vary from country to country, so I’ve made a list that I will try to keep updated at happylist.leecrutchley.com
If you need someone to talk to right now, you can chat with someone via IM at iamalive.org or you can email The Samaritans at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And here is a list of recommended reading that helped me:
- Naïve. Super. By Erlend Loe
- The Antidote By Oliver Burkeman
- Why Are You So Sad? By Jason Porter
- Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage. By Rob Delaney
- Mindfulness By Mark Williams and Danny Penman
- What’s Stopping You? By Robert Kelsey
- Sane New World by Ruby Wax
- It’s Kind of a Funny Story By Ned Vizzini
- Hyperbole and a Half By Allie Brosh
All excerpts from How to Be Happy (Or At Least Less Sad) by Lee Crutchley. © 2015 by Lee Crutchley. A Perigee Book, Penguin Group USA, Penguin Random House.