“When something goes wrong in your life…yell “plot twist” and turn the page.”
A few weeks ago I was invited to a panel discussion on happiness for international happiness day. It was hosted by the wonderful Canvas Café in Shoreditch. If you haven’t yet been, be sure to visit!
Before the discussion, we were asked to think about what happiness means to us, so we could feed this back to the audience at the opening of the event. I initially felt that answering this question was going to be quite difficult and awkward. However, when I sat myself down to think about it, I found the question itself was quite powerful.
Somehow, I had never before asked myself what happiness means to me. I knew what I didn’t like, and I knew very well what made me unhappy. But up until this point, I had never thought to stop and take note of what my happiness is.
Turned out, my difficulty wasn’t finding something to say, but more choosing what not to include from an ever growing list.
For instance, it’s hard to compare the happiness that I get from laughing with my mates, to the feeling I get from falling in love, and I wouldn’t want to live without either. So, in the end, I opted for something that made for good conversation and debate.
HAPPY DAY @ CANVAS CAFE
The audience were really engaged and asked some incredibly thought provoking questions. However, nearing the end of the debate, a lady in the front row asked a question that resonated with me, and led to me to write this very blog.
She asked “Does the panel think that living in the UK with our dreary weather makes us unhappier than our friends around the world?” You could see this was a question that everyone had once pondered, as the audience were nodding away on their seats in agreement.
Because of an experience I had gone through only months previous, I elected to answer this question. But I am no expert in this subject, I am just someone who has struggled with depression and happens to live in the UK. Although, it would seem that even all the research into this topic has found variable and sometimes conflicting results. So it would seem nobody really knows?
But, what I wanted to discuss was not the science of how weather impacts our mood, but more about how we can change our emotional attachment to it.
I used the example of snow days. This is weather that many of us have actually willed down from the heavens, and on occasion, even gone out and purchased equipment specially made to enjoy it with. Yet the skies are grey, air is cold, and the sun is nowhere to be seen. Sound familiar?
It seems to me that one of the reasons weather may affect our mood like it does, is not because of the weather itself, but because of how we’ve learnt to view it. So, if we start changing our view of the weather, we may find our mood changes too?
This very concept is what we call reframing, a technique for altering negative or self-defeating thought patterns by deliberately replacing them with positive, constructive self-talk. A method more comonly used by athletes.
As I alluded to earlier, I had opted to answer this question about weather and mood because I had already experimented with the idea myself a few months back.
I was walking home from a friend’s house one evening, and when glancing up to the sky, I saw those oppressive grey rain clouds rolling in. So, I did what a lot of us do in that situation, I started praying the rain would hold off until I was safely sheltered indoors . For once, it seemed my prayers were answered, and only moments after stepping through my front door, the rain began to fall from the heavens.
But once I was inside, I started thinking about what I had learnt about reframing, and how that could be used with my attachment to what we call bad weather. I decided I wanted to challenge my feelings; I no longer wanted the weather to dictate my mood. So, I quickly changed into my shorts and t-shirt and went outside with one goal, to enjoy being in the rain.
It was such a mindful activity and I genuinely felt REALLY happy when wading through puddles, wiping water from my eyes and feeling the sensation of damp clothes that were now sticking to my skin. Unfortunately, my fun was sharply halted when the rain suddenly stopped! What?! For the first time in my entire life I was genuinely disappointed the rain clouds had dried up.
However, I had achieved something, I had challenged my attachment towards the weather; I had reframed my negative view. Which again got me thinking, I started to question how many different areas you could use the reframing technique on.
Imagine if that dreaded Monday back at work was really just a chance to miss your loved one. And maybe, a broken heart could be an opportunity to find something stronger and more loving.
I don’t necessarily believe this approach is going to fix all of life’s problems, I know from experience that a broken heart isn’t easily repaired. But instead, I think this approach offers us a light at the end of the tunnel, a tunnel that we must travel through as part of life’s journey.
No I am not saying that we should all run outside and jump in puddles every time the heavens open up. But we can experiment with how we face the challenges that life throws at us…maybe, when we feel stuck, we could try playing in the rain.