I remember the gutting sadness that followed my sophomore year of college. After pinning all of my hopes and dreams onto a boy (typical) just to become a one-note human, it all fell away. To cope, I drank too much and stayed in bed when I wasn’t out swinging from a chandelier.
I was emotionally crippled, inactive and stuck in a self-destructive loop. I went from religiously sweating to barely setting foot outside my apartment – from using that time at the gym to regulate my stress and to understand what I was feeling to being emotionally unchecked.
That time in my life a decade ago is a far cry from my life today. These days, I wake up grateful to feel, grateful to be able to cope without numbing myself and grateful to be happy when my alarm goes off. I sweat to remind myself how much I can take and of a time when I felt like I was so weak I couldn’t even get up.
Something happened between that low and my gradual ascent to feeling like myself again. Someone saw a photo of me having fun on Facebook and commented, “That’s the Jeana that I miss.”
I’m normally the person who says, “Screw how the world sees you.” But realizing that it wasn’t just my best friend and me living with this shook me. It was clear that I was a shell of myself to anyone who knew me, even casually.
Depression is different for everyone. I never told anyone I was depressed, although I’m sure people knew. And I never asked for help, but I should have. If you’re feeling extremely sad, alone and like you’re not yourself, ask for help, see a therapist, call a friend. Do not go through it alone.
I went through it alone. If you subscribe to our emails, this morning, you read about how I’m working on asking for help …
This is the point of the story at which I say that I decided to be happy again – to go through the same motions as when I was happy until I felt it again. Without realizing it, I created what would be my first mantra: “Happiness in and anxiety out.” I forced myself up out of bed, up out of the depths of my own emotions and up the stairclimber’s steps and I repeated that phrase in my head as I breathed in and out. Over time and with a lot of self care, I felt happy again.
From that low to today, I’ve been obsessed with the science of feeling content and with my own happiness. That sounds ridiculous and self-absorbed to say aloud, “I’m obsessed with my own happiness,” but we get just one life and why wouldn’t we be obsessed with living a happy one?
I shape my days around three pillars of happiness that I’ve found to help me create a joyful life.
Feel strong every day.
We’ve all heard about endorphins and their impact on your post workout glow. Fitness is incredibly important for your happiness. But in my life, I find great joy from overcoming obstacles. There is something magical about picking up something heavier than you have before, running farther that you thought you could or from saying “Oh yeah? Watch me.” when someone tells you that you can’t do something.
Do something every day that makes you feel strong – whatever that means to you.
Feel connected every day.
According to a variety of studies on happiness like the World Happiness Report, “which ranks 156 countries by their happiness levels,” social support is a key indicator of whether you’ll feel satisfied overall with your life.
But a relationship – like happiness itself – takes work whether you’re connecting for business or for your personal life. Make time to have a conversation that goes beyond this:
“How are you?”
“Good, how are you?”
Feel smart every day.
According to a study by Ricardo Sabates at the University of Cambridge, lifelong learning is tied to happiness. “There is robust evidence that adult learning leads to increases in self-esteem and self-efficacy. Adult learning has its most positive impacts on self-esteem and self-efficacy when the learning provided meets the needs of the learner and when the learner is at a stage in their life when they are ready and receptive to benefit from it.”
When you’re learning because you choose to, it makes you feel capable. Listen to a podcast, read a book or spend 30 minutes a day building knowledge in something you’d like to be your area of expertise.
Ready for just a little bit more happiness? Build these pillars into your days this week and keep track of how you feel.