Although I see myself as a happy person that doesn’t mean I’m immune to feeling low. In fact I often have days when I feel quite miserable. The reason that I remain generally happy in my outlook is that I know that these ‘moods’ are temporary. I don’t resist them so I don’t get stuck with them. I recognise when I have an issue I need to deal with and I deal with it, but the majority of the time I recognise that my mood is being caused by biological factors that in the short term are beyond my control. In such cases the only course of action is to accept how I’m feeling and be kind to myself: allow myself to feel how I feel while I make myself as comfortable as I can.
Often it’s the thoughts that we have about our moods that cause the most pain and discomfort. When we resist them with thoughts such as ‘I don’t want to be feeling like this again’ or ‘I shouldn’t feel like this’ our feelings don’t get to flow or change. These thoughts act like a flimsy dam: you have to work hard at stopping the natural flow of things; it’s tiring and unpleasant and the feelings will do their best to burst through wherever they can. Their presence is hard to ignore and it eats up the energy we could be spending on doing things that bring pleasure and joy.
Another way that we can add to the discomfort of our misery is to give it unnecessary meaning. For example ‘I’m feeling low today, I must be a weak person to get so depressed so easily, why can’t I stay positive?’. The thought ‘I’m feeling low today, and that’s ok because my biochemistry must be playing havoc, what can I do to make myself more comfortable?’ keeps the misery at much more manageable levels. There is no denying that much of our unhappiness is based on complex thought patterns that result from our experience of the world. I’m not suggesting we should pretend that this kind of unhappiness doesn’t exist because ignoring it certainly doesn’t help. When there really is something we are unhappy about it needs to be dealt with somehow. However, if we can recognise the times when our felt sense of misery is largely down to our biochemistry then there’s no need to torture ourselves with finding unnecessary meaning for it.
It’s readily accepted that small children become grumpy and tearful when they get tired, or haven’t slept well, and that’s rarely a result of complex thought patterns (although sometimes resistance plays a part). Mostly this is about fatigue affecting their biochemistry. Well it affects ours too! If you’re not sleeping well (which most of us aren’t) it’s not surprising that you’re going to feel grumpy and miserable. If we don’t resist or add meaning to this misery it’s a lot easier to deal with because it will flow and change. Similarly accepting that pain is making us miserable today makes that misery more malleable.
Hormones, blood sugar issues and post exertional malaise can all play a biochemical part in our misery too. We can take measures to tackle and prevent these issues in the long term (pacing, appropriate diet, supplements and avoiding exertion), however in the moment of misery we can do little more than accept it and let it flow.
Now I’m not suggesting that we should just resign ourselves to a life of misery because we are almost constantly dealing with it’s biochemical causes. We need to rise to the challenge of learning new happiness skills that make positive changes to our biochemistry. These positive changes are much easier to achieve when we allow our feelings to flow and change. However some days these illnesses have a more powerful effect on our biochemistry and on those days our most powerful tool is acceptance.