Chasing Happiness

Garden of the Mind

What is happiness?

According to Merriam-Webster, “…happiness is a state of well-being and contentment: joy.  It is a pleasurable or satisfying experience…”

I often feel that I lose my contentment with life when I purposefully search for the elusive feeling of “happiness.”  I guess you could also say that it makes me unhappy to try to be happy!

Sometimes finding happiness, or feeling content with life, seems as if it arrives as spring sometimes does.  One day I notice that the chill is gone from the air and new green and spring flowers are appearing.  New birds have appeared to migrate through our backyard…and even though it happens every year…it still is a bit of a surprise and it sneaks up on me at times.  When I am in a wintry place like depression or anxiety, I stumble upon happiness and contentment in a similar way to a change of season. One day, I wake up and my mood is slightly better and I feel more positive, calm, and grateful for what I have.

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Does this day come randomly or by chance? Sometimes it seems that way!  Just as a change of season from winter to spring brings a few days at a time of beautiful sunny warm weather in late winter/early spring and I think “Spring is here! Get the sandals out!” …only to wake up the next day to pull my sweatshirts and blankets out again.

Coming out from a depressive episode works in a similar way, for me.  I explained this to my psychiatrist and she helped me understand that this is normal and that it was a good sign even to have a mood swing type of day where it might be half “good” and half “bad.”  It means that the depression is lifting and eventually days will be mostly “good” again.

In the last two years, I have focused on self-care, goal setting, a little organization, consistent boundary-enforcement and positive coping strategies to help me improve my mood stability, relationships, and overall outlook on life.  Exciting stuff, right?!

I have spent many hours in therapy working through my “stuff” and it has been just that, work!  I have read self-help articles, worked on my communication style, and learned how to graciously say no to things that were not growing me or helping me live as my best self.  Who is she?  I am working daily to find her and figure that out.  Some days, the “work” on myself is just getting out of bed, eating regularly, and getting dressed.  Sometimes, that’s all I have in me to be my best self…and I’m learning that that is OK.  This in itself has been a hard lesson to learn since I have been prided myself on being an overachiever most of my life.  Fear of other people’s negative opinion of my productivity (or lack thereof) is something I’m dealing with currently.  Hello, my name is Heart Gardener, and I’m a recovering people-pleaser.

Have you every heard someone use the phrase “Happiness is a choice”?  I believe there’s even a book entitled this.  It makes me sigh deeply when I hear these types of phrases as I have struggled most of my life to be happy and content.  This particular phrase makes happiness sound easy! But as many of us know, finding lasting happiness is hard!

The chemicals in my brain and the negative behavioral patterns I developed as a child and young adult often have an effect on my ability to see the world with rose colored glasses. Instead, I am prone to catastrophizing, ruminating on the negative, generally keeping tension in my muscles, and not taking care of myself by not drinking enough water or exercising regularly.

I had someone tell me this week that their friend was depressed and his doctor prescribed him a daily walk.  Mmkay… That might work for many people.  In fact, that was what my first therapist advised me to do at 15 years old when I was first treated for depression and anxiety though talk therapy.  I replied to my friend with some information on my experience with depression: that ny the time I realize it has arrived, it is often difficult for me to leave my house or sometimes my recliner on “bad” days, so a walk per day isn’t an easy fix treatment for me during those times. 

As I have said before, when I’m that depressed, my first priority is to focus on self-care in order to make it through the day/week and eventually get out of the pit. Usually my most basic self-care routine involves making sure I shower daily and talk to at least one person other than my husband.  Sometimes that’s all I can handle for a day…and as I said… I’m learning that “whatever I do is enough.” Even as I type that I am allowing it to seep down deep to the roots of my heart’s garden. Whatever I do is enough.

Another technique when battling depression that I have used before, is writing a list of things, people, places, etc. for which I am grateful.  I list everything from a good cup of coffee to my supportive husband.  It helps me realize that today is not so bad.  That the depression is just making the garden of my mind have storm clouds overhead and storm clouds, just as seasons, do pass.  They might leave some debris in their path, but clean up and restoration is possible.

I hope the photos in this post bring you some joy whether you are experiencing mental health challenges or not.  I love spring and took these photos two years ago just walking around my neighborhood as I was exiting my typical seasonal winter depression.  I was so relieved to see that spring was returning that day.  Beautiful nature makes me happy.  The things that “spark joy” for us are everywhere and sometimes you just have to step outside your own thoughts or maybe your front door to experience it.

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