Most of you who know me well, will be aware that I am a big fan of rituals or habits to support my physical and mental health. I know that for me to feel happy, I must try to spend some time every day on meditation, journaling, exercise, mental stimulus and self-care activities.
I have always been a creature of habit, and having a structure feels very comfortable to me, like a warm, secure hug. As I have got older, I find that I am building more habits and not less, perhaps because that sense of routine means that I must rely less on my shady memory to get things done.
Equally, maintaining that routine means that there is always some sense of accomplishment in the day, even if little else goes to plan. Providing I have achieved my daily habits, which can take anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours depending on my motivation, then my day has been a success and I am happy.
Ill health brings with it a lot of uncertainty and very often a loss of control, which is very unsettling to most people’s psyche. When facing such situations, I find it doubly important to hang onto whatever parts of my daily routine I can. In doing so, I feel like the parts of my life which I can’t so easily influence, matter less, and my happiness is not based on a particular outcome.
I can think back to my last surgery and two month hospital stay a few years ago, and realise that one of the big keys to me riding out that difficult time was the fact that I quickly built myself new habits which I could maintain, even though I was in a far from normal situation.
I still got up at the same time every day – 6:30am, just in time for my first antibiotic infusion of the day, journaled, ate my breakfast, showered, took a walk, did some studying, had lunch, walked, time for visitors, wrote my book, dinner, walk, gratitude journal, meditate, bed at 10pm.
To some of you this may well look like an overly regimented life, but I firmly believe that having that structure allowed me to navigate through the parts of my day which I couldn’t control, such as doctors’ visits, tests and procedures, setbacks and challenges.
Being stuck in hospital inevitably gives you a lot of time for thinking and self-reflection, and early on, knowing what was ahead, I made the determination that I would not waste a moment of the opportunity. Very few people would choose to be stuck in hospital for months, but rather than dwelling on all the negatives of my situation, I decided to see what good things could come out of it.
Probably once each week as part of my morning or evening journaling process, I made a list of ten things to be happy about. Often it came down to a mix of small and big gratitude’s, from the fact that I was still alive, to my favourite rice-pudding desert on a Friday evening……looking back I notice that food doesn’t seem to feature as much in my lists as it does these days, perhaps a reflection of the dubious hospital cuisine!
One week I even made a list of the 10 happy things that being in hospital meant I didn’t have to do, namely cook, clean, pay bills, go to work, do the washing up, drive, be sociable, get dressed properly, shop or make my bed. Having already spent time doing all 10 of those today, I can only reminisce on how simple my life was.
I still regularly write my ‘happiness list’ and it was a task I shared in my private Facebook group a few weeks ago. It felt like a privilege to read other peoples lists and seeing what was important to them in their lives, from the huge to the mundane. I have copied the list which I shared below, which is an unusually macro look at all that is good in my life right now. I invite you to spend some time over the next few days writing your own list and reflecting on what those things mean to you.
10 things to be happy about
- My business. It may technically have failed late last year when I closed my studio, but over the years it brought me into contact with so many bloomin amazing people who have helped me to hone my craft and feel truly fulfilled. In its place, I now have the opportunity to develop this UpbeatWarrior community, so one would not have happened without the other.
- My Mum, who loves me unconditionally and gives me an incredible amount of support – emotional, financial, physical etc. My body. Even though it has let me down in the past and likely will again, I am constantly rebuilding that trust and feel grateful for what it can still do.
- My little blue and white cottage in the Cornish countryside. Yes, its tiny, untidy, has a wonky roof, plenty of character (read – strange features) and no parking…but it’s a place that I love to call my home.
- My friends, many of whom make me look relatively normal considering the adventures they get up to. I feel incredibly lucky that they challenge me, support me, are honest with me and somehow put up with me, and I do my upmost to do the same for them in return. I am still convinced that I receive more than I give so consider myself the overall beneficiary.
- My upbringing. Aside from health issues, I had a wonderful and unfettered childhood. I was loved, encouraged, supported, nurtured and allowed to thrive. That grounding has been the basis for everything I have achieved since.
- My car. I am not so much into material things, but my car is my freedom. It gives me the convenience of being able to travel when I want, to wherever I want, however I want. I am accepting that at some point the sight in my remaining eye will fail and I will be forced to relinquish my licence, but in the meantime, I am making the most of the heated seats, leather interior, all round cameras, collision avoidance, panoramic roof, built-in navigation and park assist. Yeh, just occasionally I can be shallow too!
- My ability to bounce back from difficult situations, which is due to combination of things – extreme self-awareness, a deep sense of gratitude, my ability to adapt and overcome, unending positivity (the alternative doesn’t make sense to me), massive support from others, and my acknowledgement that everything and yet nothing is in my control.
- Living in this technological age. I know that I rail against its dominance in our lives occasionally, but that doesn’t mean I am not grateful for the world it has opened up for me. Worldwide connections, incredible learning opportunities, 24-hour communication, massive convenience, and access to people, places and opportunities which would not have been possible just 25 years ago.
- Still being alive! I not so jokingly say that I must have unfinished business to complete in this life. The grim reaper has come for me several times, yet I feel certain that this is not yet my time. There is so much more I want to do, be and see, and I am making the most of everything whilst I can.
- It is human nature to focus on what is not going right in our lives, when in fact there is generally a whole load which is. It is unsurprising to me that if we are always dwelling on the negatives, it becomes harder to see the good all around us and therefore feel happy.
Happiness is a choice
When life throws us challenges, it can be hard to maintain that optimism. My daily habits build a strong foundation on which I can depend. For me, a life without habits is built on quicksand, and liable to topple at any moment, jeopardising our happiness and security until we can rebuild.
I choose to be happy and to put habits and routines in place which support me in that mission. It doesn’t mean that bad things won’t happen, that I will never experience negative emotions or that I am wearing ‘rose-tinted spectacles’. Instead, my default mode is always to find the good in every situation, no matter how deeply I have to look!