I think I’ve cracked happiness. Well, I mean, I’ve not cracked it in a recipe type way because then I’d be either constantly elated or very rich (or both), but I think I’m a bit closer to understanding one of the basic principles. I think I finally understand where I’ve been going wrong.
When you try to be happy, you stop being happy. I’m not saying that you should give in and be miserable and moody all the time because that doesn’t work either. But if we force happiness – for example, by repeating something that’s made us phenomenally happy before, or by spending lots of money on something – then it’s probably not going to happen. The best, happiest times of my life have been completely unplanned.
Unsurprisingly, and very boring-ly indeed, like everything to do with my life, the eating disorder comes into it. Your eating disorder is very clear on how you can make yourself happy – it wants you to be thin. The thinner you are, the happier you will be, it whispers. The more control you have over your life, the easier it will be to make yourself truly happy.
Obviously, this isn’t right. In fact, it’s not only ‘not right’, it’s more completely, utterly and absolutely 100% wrong: thin doesn’t equal happy. If anything, it equals bloody miserable, grumpy, snappy and cold. Thin equals loneliness and confusion and, eventually, complete inability to retain friendships and live a meaningful life. Thin equals only wanting – or believing that you can get – attention for being thin, or ill. Thin equals a complete drain on everything and everyone.
Equally, however, where control doesn’t create happiness, neither does neglect. If you don’t get up, get dressed and eat your breakfast, happiness ain’t going to come looking for you. If you’re refusing to engage with life, it won’t provide you with the best days. If you’re going to waste it, it’s not going to tempt you back.
So how can you make yourself happy?
The answer is that you can’t. What you can do, however, is create an environment in which happy is welcome. I know, and am ashamed to admit, that when I was ill, I wanted people to struggle and hurt and feel sorry because that’s how I was feeling inside (and, for this, I can only ever say that I am unreservedly sorry). I wasn’t ever going to feel happy because I was too angry to leave any space for happiness. What is perhaps most sad is that I always believed that happiness was just out of touching distance; just a kilogram away.
In fact, happiness comes in moments. Remember your favourite ever holiday? It probably wasn’t brilliant from beginning to end if you’re honest enough to admit it; there were probably parts that were a little bit rubbish or just a bit boring. But the ones you remember are those golden moments where you felt lucky to be in the spot you were in, with the people you were with. The times when everything seemed perfect, if only for a split second.
Happiness was when I was walking past the garden (my pride and joy) as I was leaving work tonight and knowing that I could choose the music I listened to in the car on the way home and that there were going to be people at home who love me and cups of tea. I’m not the luckiest person in the world: I don’t believe I’ve got a job that’s better than anyone else’s and the garden is just a garden, but I felt completely contented for a second or two, and that made the day completely worth it.
Happiness can be an audiobook, or being with people who make you laugh, or getting into a bed with fresh sheets.
And the way to create happiness? Make a life that has time and space for these moments. Don’t go looking for it. Don’t be taken in by the illusion that it’s a destination, or an amount of money, or a weight, size, shape or diet (and, if you are struggling with food or weight in an eating disordered type way, don’t develop the belief that happiness is at the end of weight-gain.) Remember that everyone has days that are good and days that are bad. Nobody lives a life of wall-to-wall sunshine.
Believe that you deserve it, and create a life where it is welcome, and happiness will come.
Maybe it’s not that I’ve found out how to be happy, more that I’ve stopped trying to force it. Maybe it’s that I can understand what happiness feels like now, because my brain has got space to let it in.
Above all, believe that you deserve happiness.
Because you do.