If you choose to get swept along with ‘Blue Monday’ theory today - the pseudoscience designed to persuade you that unhappiness is inevitable - you may as well go back to bed now, only making the effort to click online for the purchase that will surely fix you.
The Blue Monday myth was originally used as a marketing ploy by a travel company and the equation used to reach the conclusion that we will all feel the same way on the same date (hmmm) has since been widely discredited, including by the person who cobbled it together, however this hasn’t stopped companies continuing to use the phrase in their January sales this year. A quick ‘Blue Monday Sale’ online search shows us tantalising pictures of unblemished beaches and clear blue skies contrasting with the glum fog out of our own windows, suggesting happiness is elsewhere - but within your budget.
Chasing happiness is an almost guaranteed route to misery. But we can replace ‘chase’ with ‘choose’. Yes, happiness IS a choice. No, we can’t be happy all of the time but a new year is as good a reason as any to start to apply a healthier perspective, address any bad habits and make better decisions that can increase your happiness. Exactly what you choose to do is personal to you. Some people choose to take part in projects such as ‘Dry January’ - abstaining from alcohol for the month; and R.E.D January (Run Every Day) reaping the undoubted physical, mental and social benefits.
Longer-term goals for happier lives (rather than just months) can be sustained by changing thinking patterns. This requires effort and takes practice, particularly if you are changing the pattern of a lifetime. Ever moved house and gone to switch the light on where it would have been in your old house? It can take months before you stop doing it. That’s because your brain has wired a pathway from a repeated pattern of behaviour and it takes repetition of a new pattern of behaviour to create a new pathway. Yes I did just explain neuroscience with a light switch analogy, and no I haven’t done a Tedtalk yet.
Surely there’s nothing wrong with a good moan? Absolutely, off-loading can make you feel better, but getting stuck in a cycle of moaning without taking action can decrease resilience and lead to feelings of helplessness. For a couple of years I had moaned to my then partner at how rubbish my local medical practice was. The GPs working there rarely instilled any confidence in me about their knowledge, or indeed their ability to even listen. Each time I would come home and moan and she would urge me to change to the practice to where she was registered, only a short walk in the other direction from our home. And each time I said ‘Yes I will, I will’, and never did.
This year I finally took her advice. Last week I had my first appointment which I am mortified to tell you I missed. Yes, I was that person. My pathetic (but genuine) excuse is that I put a reminder with an alert in my phone diary, but set it for two hours AFTER the appointment time. I was blissfully unaware of my epic admin fail until I received a phone call from the doctor asking if I was OK. No I am not making this up – the doctor rang me. That short conversation, embarrassing though it was, validated my decision – with bells on! When you find yourself complaining about something consider whether you can change or influence that situation. If you can, then take action. If you can’t, FLIP your focus on to the things you can influence. This is SO good for your own sense of wellbeing, because you progress and gain feelings of satisfaction, rather than that frustrating sense of feeling stuck and helpless.
When experiencing a period of anxiety and depression a couple of years ago I confided in my Mum on Skype (she lives in Australia, although she claims to like me). She listened, and she sympathised, and then she said: ‘Well, what are you going to do about it?’ Her bluntness startled me and if I’m honest at the time I felt a little wounded and only just stopped myself from retorting: ‘What are YOU going to do about it?’ But her words stayed with me after we hung up, and I realised I had a choice. I took action and sought advice from a trained mental health practitioner which led me on a journey that I (and my loved ones) have most definitely benefitted from long-term.
Yes even Laughologists are not immune to mental health challenges, or experiencing grief. Since my relationship ended recently there have of course been lots of low moments and plenty of tears, but my sense of humour and that of those around me has been an absolute tonic. The picture shown was taken with me in the room not knowing my friends were holding those signs behind me! It is from a calendar a dear friend made for me with each month showing a fun picture of friends or family – some of which can definitely not be put on the internet.
Laughter and humour are proven to interrupt our cognitive flow and allow us to gain a healthier perspective in challenging times. Who knows what 2018 has in store for us all? There may well be some ‘Blue’ days - some circumstances are simply out of our control, and some of them are within it. What are you going to do about it?
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