So mindfulness is really having a moment, huh? It’s a word that, for better or worse (probably worse), I sort of zone out. It’s not that I don’t think it’s a good idea, it just always seems to come from the lips of women who spend their time talking about “toxins” and making sweet potato brownies, which by the way, are a MASSIVE HEARTBREAKING LIE. Awesome if you’re into it, but I struggle to see it becoming a part of my world. It seems like it’d be a lot easier to be mindful strolling down a beach at sunrise, freshly picked coconut in hand than it is standing at your sink at 10pm, chiselling cereal off the bowl that you didn’t soak this morning and trying to summon the fortitude to wash your damn hair.
I don’t live an especially glamorous or zen life. But one thing that I do believe in in a big way is happiness.
Happiness is, at base, the thing we’re all striving for. It is the very definition of everyday magic. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, if you are bringing joy to yourself and others, you are succeeding (within reason guys, not condoning flagrant selfishness). One of the most important things I learned during my CBT was that happiness isn’t something that just happens. It’s something you choose. And sometimes, it’s really bloody hard to choose. I’m a pretty positive person overall but sweet jesus, I can sulk. Ask Niall. There’s something wonderfully maudlin about nursing a good grudge, even if it’s actually making you miserable. I’m not sure why this tendency is so strong because given the choice, who wouldn’t want to be happy over being miserable? I think it stems from that old chestnut where we’d all rather be right than happy. Everybody loves playing the martyr. But actually, the more I think about it, the more I feel like that’s a huge waste of time. The number of brilliant days I’ve wasted stroppily waiting for someone to recognise their perceived slight and apologise doesn’t even bear thinking about.
So whatever is to be done? Well, I’ve collected a bunch of principles that help me to live a happier life. I call them my helpful thoughts. Again, this is probably a throwback from my CBT, which focuses on getting rid of unhelpful thoughts and self talk. They’re basically affirmations for people who don’t do affirmations. And I promise, they’re just as relevant when your face is squashed against an oily rush hour bus window as they are on top of a mountain doing sun salutations. They’re specific enough to be helpful (to me anyway) but vague enough that they can be applied in a bunch of big and small ways to lots of different situations. I hope they help bring you some happiness.
“There’s no rush.”
Little meaning: I sometimes feel like I’m in a hurry to get everywhere, all the time. I walk at an uncomfortable pace, even if I don’t have anywhere to be, driven by the innate feeling that I should be really busy. Sometimes tiny, insignificant things can happen to slow me down and this has an actual physical impact on me. A webpage takes more than a second to load. Someone walks slowly in front of me when I can’t overtake them. My kettle takes too long to boil. My phone charger gets tangled around the leg of my bed. When stuff like this happens, I can feel myself getting physically angry. I get hot. My heart starts thumping. My skin itches. And for what? For the loss of a couple of seconds. When I feel like this, it’s easy to see that too much stress is probably gonna kill us all. Every so often, I force myself to slow down and take my time. Whether that means taking a deep breath as the woman in front takes forty years to get her suitcase off the tube, consciously walking slowly or taking an afternoon to make an apple pie.
Big meaning: I am a huge worrier. “What, you? Fiona, surely not!”, I hear you cry. Alas, it is true. I am constantly measuring myself up against every arbitrary standard I can find and finding myself wanting. 30 things to do before you’re 30? Oh god, only seven years until I haven’t done these and am a TOTAL FAILURE. That girl has a book deal, so why have I been stuck on 5000 words of my novel for about a million years? Maybe I should buy a house. Maybe I should become an investment banker. Maybe I should get a sensible haircut. Maybe I should have a five year plan. Goals are awesome, and seeking inspiration from the people around you is awesome. Working yourself into a frenzy because you feel like your life is a failure at 23? Not awesome. I constantly have to remind myself that not only is my life not a failure, I barely even have a life yet. In most people’s eyes, I’m still pretty much a child. I’ve got so much time, and I’m wasting it by worrying that I’m not using it effectively enough. How utterly dull it would be if all the good stuff happened in the first 25 years. What on earth would you do with the rest? There’s no rush. Good things are coming, and they’ll get here in time.
“Let it go.”
The little meaning and the big meaning for this one are pretty much the same, just on different scales. Remember the aforementioned sulking? This often means that a single, tiny bad experience can ruin my day. But here’s the thing: sulking about it doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. In fact, it means that I’m letting a bad past ruin a potentially happy present. Take a deep breath, make like Elsa and just let it go.
Bus running late? Let it go. Stand on your favourite makeup palette? Mourn, and then let it go. Friend made a mean comment? Confront them or let it go. Boyfriend didn’t do the dishes? Confront him or let it go. Embarrass yourself at work five years ago? Everyone but you has forgotten, so let it go. Forgive others, forgive yourself. I stopped keeping a diary because reading my old rants was helping me hang onto grudges that would otherwise be completely forgotten.
Obviously I’m not saying that you should be a pushover. If someone is treating you badly, you absolutely should not let that go. But I think all of us waste so much time being angry about things that really don’t matter that much. Take your time, process your feelings but don’t hold onto them after that. None of us are strong enough to carry all the baggage we’re dragging around. Ditch that old unhappiness. Travel light.
“Be here, right now.”
This one really came to the forefront when Niall and I were long distance. Every time I saw him, I would ruin the last day by spending the entire time with one eye on the clock, becoming increasingly miserable that we’d be apart again soon. And the truth is, that deadline was coming, whether I had an eye on the clock or not. Being gloomy didn’t stave it off, it just wasted time that could have been spent making memories. I spend a lot of time with my eye on the next amazing thing. And a lot of the time I really have to stop and look around and remind myself that actually, this moment, right here, could be amazing if I let it. You know those awful people who talk to you at parties while constantly searching the room for someone better? I’m doing that, but with my life. And that is uncool because my life is lovely and excellent and fun and complicated and wonderful just as it is.
“What are you waiting for?”
Little meaning: Stop saving your best stuff for later. I mean, don’t totally blow your load and spend all your money and burn yourself out or anything. But wear your pretty dress, even if all you’re doing today is cleaning out the fridge. Use that fancy, expensive candle your aunt gave you. Dance like a mad person when that song comes on, even if it’s in the background of a car advert. Sing in the shower. Make the cake. Ask them out. Book the holiday. If you’re gonna be living in the moment, why the hell not make the moment as wonderful as it can possibly be? Some of my best decisions have come from asking myself “why the hell not?”. This includes organising Take Back the Beach, going on holiday to Iceland, writing a book and bullying Niall into getting back together with me after he casually made the worst decision of his life. What have you got to lose? As someone very clever once said, none of us are getting out of here alive, so you might as well live while you’re here.
Big meaning: Again, the big meaning is really just an extension of the little one. Stop waiting for someone to give you permission. I’m like a labrador when it comes to desiring approval. I want someone to come along every so often, take a look at my life and say “Yes, well done, this is correct”. When really, correct is a great big massive lie. Not everyone is going to understand you and the decisions that you make. The only correct life is the one that makes you happy. Don’t try to find the textbook in the choose-your-own-adventure book. Do what feels good. Your life is yours and everyone else can just deal with it. Unless you’re Donald Trump, in which case, you should probably take a long, hard look at yourself.
I’m not going to pretend I’m perfect and live in a constant state of peace and serenity using these statements. They’re guidelines, not magic spells. But they’re a handy little map for the kind of person that I want to be and the kind of life I want to live. So take them, use them if you like. And have a ridiculously, beautifully happy life.