Do you remember the last time you had one life-changing, earth-shaking realization? A piece of insight that came to you like a thunderbolt and changed you forever. In moments like that, we remember the event in great detail, through all of our senses. For me, it was the spring of 2015. I was sitting at home on the couch in the living-room. My son was pushing some trains around in my husband’s office and I could hear the wrenches and the hammers and I don’t know what else making noise in the garage as my husband was changing the oil in my car. It was the perfect morning. I had the perfect life, the perfect partner and the perfect child. But I myself felt far from perfect. I struggled with dark thoughts of anger towards myself and others, profound insecurities about myself and a sense of powerlessness that felt awfully close to depression. I was filled with fear and worry about all kinds of things – some real but mostly imaginary. The irony was that I had been waiting for a morning just like that for decades, thinking that when I had everything in place “just so”, those dark clouds would dissipate and I would live happily ever after. The revelation that I had that morning on the couch was this: I had had my “happily ever after” and I still was not happy. I finally understood, right then and there, what they mean when they say that happiness is an inside job. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I had to find a way to feel happy. The outside circumstances were there. I just could not feel good anymore.
I spent many years reading whole libraries of self-help and psychology. I even saw a shrink for a couple of years. While all of that helped, somehow I found myself bouncing back into my old insecure, mildly (or moderately… or more…) depressed and powerless sense of self. I had good reasons, mind you… or so it seemed. I lost my dad to cancer when I was 10, after which my mom became severely depressed and later on sent me away from home to live with strangers. I had a sliver of self-esteem left and not much help in battling the dragons back then. Somehow though, I found my way to a lot of goodness. I went to school. I explored passions like writing and music. I had life-long friends. I became a teacher. Then, after what seemed like a very long search, I found my way to my husband and then my son. The dark clouds followed me there too though.
That morning on the couch, when I understood that I had to find a way to feel happy, I also understood something else: I had forgotten (for lack of a better word) how to literally feel happy. It had become a habit to “feel bad”. My body was used to it. I was literally addicted. But I say “forgotten” because I could remember a time when I felt happy: it was very, very far back and I was very, very small.
“What do I need?” I asked myself. If literally feeling good was what I needed, how did I go about feeling good on purpose? I had tried faking it before… pretending to be joyful and hoping that it might stick. But pretending did not work. It had to be genuine. So then… what next?
I felt tired, exhausted even. I felt like a rat that had been running on the treadmill for decades, trying to chase away unhappiness. Perhaps I could just stop for a few minutes… give up the struggle altogether. I settled into that comfortable couch of ours and tried to think of nothing but this: comfort. I wanted to be comfortable and enjoy it just a bit. My mind wondered. I thought about all the ways in which I had comfort on my life… in our lovely home, in the car that I drive and all the modern appliances that help make life so much easier. I thought about the blessing of having a bit of comfort for someone who is in pain. It was so very close to happiness… and so was I. Modest, ordinary comfort.. The comfort of a soft pillow, of running water and of having a fork to eat with.
I felt a bit better and left it at that. I was done struggling. But I had liked my little “comfort meditation” so much that the next day I tried “curiosity”. I love that feeling. I love the searches, the wild trips into the imagination, the explorations of the world. I love looking at curious children or curious animals. I love curious people and watching them explore. Curiosity, as it turned out, was part of happiness too.
That week and the weeks that followed I tried some other feelings: adoration, satisfaction, tenderness and more. At times I had to stretch myself, because I had run out of “good feelings”. My “good feelings muscles” had atrophied. But they were coming back to life. My life transformed. It inexplicably transformed.
In the months that followed I realized that somehow I had found my way to being well inside my head – and body too. I had discovered how to “be happy” – in a very real way. I had taught myself how to feel good on purpose and whenever I wanted. I felt good a lot of the time and then most of the time and then… the dark clouds became as rare as rain in the desert.
I wrote “The Happiness Switch” to teach others about all this – about the emotions that make up “happiness” and how to cultivate them on purpose.. Depression and anxiety hit everyone at some point. I really wanted to share my process in order to help others who struggled. Personal experiences are inspiring.
But this is not the first book that I wrote.
You will forgive me if I use the word “revelation” too much, but as it happened, I spent a lot of time contemplating my life and trying to make it work during those days, so I had some other insights that helped me find my balance. They came from my experiences as a teacher.
I have worked with hundreds of kids as young as 4 and as old as 16. I have worked with hundreds of adults from all walks of life. I seemed to have a knack for putting them at ease. Sometimes I had to deal with difficult ones (children and adults) – but they have taught me the most about what they need in order to heal. They have also taught me much about all the ways in which we are all the same: we are born healthy and whole, filled with love and enthusiasm and without a trace of “dark clouds”. Self-love and self-esteem are non-issues. They are so much there, in the very beginning, that they seem ordinary somehow.
There is a “sap” inside humans that guides us towards what is good and nourishing for us. A “sap” that loves us and wants all the goodness in the world for us. If the flow of the sap is restricted, the problems start. Harsh environments would do that. A lack of love or proper care would do that. But the connection can never be completely severed. It’s just impossible. This is why it was possible for me to go back to the “happiness juice” – to all those lovely feelings. This is how “Your Inner Child is a Winner” came to life. That was the foundation, in a way, for “The Happiness Switch”.
Those two books describe a way of life. My way of living happily. In health and in love and in joy. I live very differently in my head now – and in my body too. I am not only happier, but also more connected to life. I feel more loved. I feel more loving too – there is more of “me” available and present and capable of giving. There are other things too. Procrastination just dropped away – it was really only fear in disguise. My writing career took off. It feels as if the sap inside of me is flowing freely. I can feel it in my veins. It is so very good…
I have seen a lot of suffering in my life – and I have suffered a lot. I wrote those two books to share my experiences and to say to others: “There is a way out. You were built with a well of goodness and of love inside, that can guide you to your best life. You can always find your way back to it. You can feel good – simply because you decide that you are going to. Love and goodness were never lost. They are only a thought away.”
Christine Ellis is a teacher and writer. She lives with her husband and young son in an enchanted forest close to Brussels, in the chocolate-filled kingdom of Belgium. You can find all of her books on Amazon or through her blog, http://www.findgoodfeelings.wordpress.com.