The human race has developed an innate ability to over think everything, an ability that is slowly but surely leading us towards a nationwide stress epidemic.
We stress out after a tough day at the office, and then we read an article about how we should be happier and stress out because of that. We eat carbohydrates but end up feeling bad for indulging in a food group that has been mistakenly brandished as unhealthy. We try to relax and find that we can’t stop thinking about what made us feel stressed in the first place. We opt for a glass of wine and then, to top it all off, we stress over the fact that it’s apparently terribly unhealthy to be this stressed.
That’s an awful lot of stresses.
Without realising it, we have developed a mindset whereby happiness is associated with an end goal of perfection; perfect health, a perfect work life and a perfect social life all merge into an unachievable vision that every one of us are regrettably aiming for and that, you guessed it, makes us devastatingly stressed.
You can’t force yourself to be happy, but you can practice mindfulness and exercise your ability to make the most of the present.
We’ve come up with a metaphor that makes this a whole lot easier to understand.
The metaphorical ascent to happiness
Imagine you decide that the key to your own personal happiness is to walk up a mountain. You’ve been feeling a little bit down recently and you’ve read that exercise and fresh air are guaranteed to make you feel happier.
At the bottom of the climb you establish how happy you’re feeling. It’s not good, but that’s okay because this climb is going to make you feel (excuse the pun) on top of the world.
About half way up you stop to check in on your mood and ask yourself, ‘how happy am I feeling?’ The answer remains exactly the same as it did at the bottom of the mountain; not very happy.
Just before you reach the top of the mountain a sense of panic sets in. You can’t help but think, ‘I should be very happy by now. Why am I not getting happier?’
By the time you summit you’ve obsessed so much about being happy, that you’re actually less happy than you were at the bottom.
Whilst obsessing, you’ve failed to take in the beautiful scenery that was the reason you started climbing in the first place.
The conclusion? There was no point climbing the mountain, you’re quest for happiness has been obliterated and it’s back to square one.
If you’d begun your journey with no agenda, with no expectations and stopped to admire the view rather than to analyze your state of mind, the likelihood is you’d be feeling an awful lot happier.
How does this all help me?
This is where mindfulness comes in. It’s not about feeling happier, it’s not even about mountains. It’s about making the most of the present, appreciating the little moments that are so easy to overlook, and taking the time to think about nothing.
Participating at parkrun is the perfect way to engage in mindfulness. Engage with your breathing, make the most of spending time with friends or family and immerse yourself in the outdoors!
For more on mindfulness, see our recent interview with psychologist Dr Meg Arroll on ‘Happiness and the human mind’.
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