For those of us who struggle with depression or other mental health issues, achieving happiness can seem like a huge mountain to climb. The brain is a powerful organ, and when there are not many things that trigger the serotonin or dopamine (happy) chemicals to our neurotransmitters, sadness can take over all too easily. Luckily there are many simple ways we can help ourselves as individuals. One of them is making time to focus and do the things we enjoy.
In my high school yearbook from my senior year, many handwritten notes reflect on how often I was seen smiling or laughing. I’ve been told by loved ones that it’s something about my smile, and the way that my eyes give off a vibe of happiness. Nice compliment, right?
Although positivity is one my strengths according to the Clifton’s Strengthfinder test, I have always thought that this outward attitude was possibly too good at hiding my struggles with mental health.
Research says that 50% of variance in happiness is determined by our genes, 10% is determined by circumstances and 40% intentional activity. It’s actually much more complicated than that and the whole numbers are probably a way to help normal people understand. The truth is that there’s not a simple formula that works for everyone; pursuing happiness is complex and different for each individual. But, what the research does at least infer is that some of our happiness is within our own control and that to achieve some aspects of happiness requires committed effort.
For me, to make sure the outward optimistic attitude that I convey is balanced with my mental health internally, I continue to make an effort to how I obtain happiness in all aspects in my life. Especially the one that I spend most of my time on—work.
Making time for happiness
Interestingly enough, in contrast to the common saying, “money can’t buy happiness,” a group of scientists did a study that says otherwise. However, a higher sense of well-being wasn’t the result of overindulging in materialism. Rather, it was money spent that resulted in more time.
“There’s not enough hours in the day” is a saying that relates to the time stress that we all experience. Although the study inserts that purchasing time-saving services (like grocery delivery) can help reduce the feeling of chaos, the underlying problem that people struggle with is control. “People often complain of being in a time bind, not only because they are objectively busy, but also because they perceive a lack of control over their time.”
When it comes to being happy and feeling like I have a sense of control at work, instead of buying more time, I make the time to doing something that I enjoy and “get in the zone.” This feeling of the “zone” is what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow.”
Mihaly’s discovery of “flow” stemmed from his research of athletes and creatives, but it doesn’t always have to happen from doing a physical act. It’s all about doing the things where you have complete concentration and get to a point of “getting lost.”
For instance, I find the process of learning exciting and energizing (even just researching for this blog post was thrilling). When it comes to being in the state of flow, learning about a new project and finding design solutions (through color, typography, symbolism, etc.) is something I can get fully swept away.
Making the time to do the simple act of learning, even with budgetary time constraints that would rather have me prioritize other tasks, is intrinsically rewarding for me and a must in order to be happy and passionate with what I do.
Small and simple, on a frequent basis, can make a big difference
When it comes to dealing with a mental illness, big acts of change are usually the solutions that people give. But often times, those solutions are not feasible or accessible. Which is why doing small acts on a frequent basis, like at work for example, could lead to path of being happier. Whether that means going into a state of flow to obtain personal growth, saying hi to co-workers to build better relationships or doing small acts of kindness in your office to help build a sense of community; taking the time and making the effort to do small acts could eventually pile up and make a big difference.