herald

Thursday 23 October 2014

How can you find happiness?

HOW happy are you today? Maybe you got out of the wrong side of the bed, skipped breakfast because you were late and arrived to work hungry to a pile of difficult tasks. All this may have put you out and made you feel frustrated and unhappy.

On the other hand, maybe they didn't affect your mood at all, and you spent the day smiling at everyone.

Defining happiness is tricky. It can mean different things to different people. Some people can seem to have a talent for it. Two people can be in the same job, in a steady relationship, have the same level of income, and yet be wildly different in level of happiness.

Happiness is more than the absence of anxiety and depression; it is a positive, forward-looking and contented way of being. People say that happiness is a journey and not a destination, but happiness can be achieved by everyone on a day-to-day basis.

None of us is immune to negative emotions. We are emotional beings, not logical ones. All of us go through periods of depression, anger, jealousy, anxiety and unhappiness.



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All these negative emotions are a signal that something is wrong with the emotional path in our lives. However, it is how we deal with these negative feelings that counts.

Do we learn from them, gain an understanding about what is at the bottom of them, and make the necessary changes in our lives? Or do we simply give in to them and let them run their course, hoping they won't come back again?

If we are unhappy, there are a number of ways of tackling it. My own tried and tested favourite is the feel, think and act method. We feel the upsetting emotion, we think through why it is upsetting us, and then we act to get rid of the underlying cause. Self-understanding is an essential step towards ridding yourself of unhappiness, but the cure lies in the acting against it.

Other ways to keep unhappiness at bay is to get used to sharing our stresses and our worries with someone -- a friend, family member or indeed a therapist, and to gear up and get exercising.

Robust exercise twice or three times a week helps to get the endorphins going and banish stress. Some people engage in a deep relaxation technique, such as mindfulness, meditation, or yoga or tai chi. Different people have different ways of coping.

Working on our happiness levels also requires us to work on our self-esteem. Difficult as it is to believe, even those who seem to have it all can have low self-esteem, as shown recently by Bruce Springsteen's admission of long periods of depression.

If we like ourselves, then happiness is almost guaranteed. To reach this state of contentment, we first need to truly understand who we are as individuals.

If there is a close connection between the person we wish to be and who we actually are, then our self-esteem is enhanced and we become happy. If there is a mismatch between who we want to be and who we are, then our self-esteem takes a nose-dive and happiness eludes us.

What works for one person won't work for another. However, if unhappiness, anxiety or depression doesn't go away, and it begins to interfere with our daily lives or even makes us feel hopeless, then we may need to get help from a medical professional.

We all have the capacity for happiness, because we all have the capacity for change. There is no one journey to happiness. It is a personal journey and we all have to plot it individually. It is, however, important to take help along the way, from friends, family, professionals -- whatever works for you!

Dr Conor Farren is a consultant psychiatrist and a clinical senior lecturer at Trinity College. He is the author of The U-Turn: A Guide to Happiness, published by Orpen Press, €16.99

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