The Christmas break was over, summer was in full swing, and work was firing up, but I wasn’t. Nothing terrible was wrong – I wasn’t unwell, there were no family crisis, no excessive work demands – but something wasn’t right. The things that usually gave me joy, no longer were; the work ideas that usually kept me feeling alive and challenged felt onerous and dull. It just didn’t feel like me.
As I sat in my favourite Sunday café with a cup of tea and reading the newspaper an article caught my eye. It was about happiness and wellbeing and highlighted some oft quoted research on the course of happiness across different age groups. I saw the familiar U-shaped curve showing a peak in happiness in childhood and a second peak in older adulthood – in our late 60s and 70s. But what really struck me were not the peaks but the troughs in wellbeing – in particular a big, fat, ugly low point in our early 40s. Holy cow – this was me. The most distressing thing was that the curve took a long time to begin its up swing, indicating that you don’t get out of this wellbeing slump until you are in your late 40s or early 50s.
I had always looked at this data as how it applied to other people, not how it applied to me. I research, write, talk about and apply wellbeing science in my work life on a daily basis. I know what to do. So where along this journey had I stopped doing the things that look after my wellbeing? How had I got here - surviving but not thriving?
I immediately activated my “wallowing policy”. When something unpleasant happens in my life I give myself 24 hours to wallow, to lose myself in judgemental, critical thinking, to have a certain lack of self-compassion, to be as irrational as I so desired. And right now I desired it. This is not a period of healthy healing – of making room for uncomfortable emotions – this is a period of self-indulgent, unhelpful wallowing. It can include an over indulgence in wine, food, TV soap operas and mournful music – like the theme tune for the movie Donnie Darko. The irony of implementing this wallowing policy is that I am usually over myself in half a day or less and am ready to try something a little bit more constructive.
First thing I did was talk to people – check in with their experience and hear their words of wisdom. I also checked in with my own values – what do I stand for? Who do I want to be? This helped me see the direction, if not the exact pathway that I wanted to take. Finally, I consider the strengths and resources I have available to me – in this case I know a lot about wellbeing science, I have supportive family and friends, I am grateful, and I enjoy thinking creatively and solving problems. So eventually, my valued direction turned into a couple of possible pathways, and some specific actions that I could take to help decide which pathway would be best for me.
The net result? A plan to bring back my spark, to re-find my mojo and to defy the law of happiness averages by bringing my personal wellbeing back on line. The name of the plan is Do4Hope. By teaming up with my inspirational friends at Band4Hope, I plan to wear and give away a band4hope copper bracelet every month in 2015. So how will this help me and help those around me?
The premise behind the Band4Hope campaign is that you:
1. Join the campaign by buying a band4hope copper band, registering online as the current owner, and nominating a global or local charity to receive campaign profits.
2. Wear your band until… you spot an act of hope, kindness or inspiration that moves you.
3. Give your band to the person that inspired hope in you, and share the purpose of the band with them. They then repeat the cycle – register online as the new owner, wear the band, look for acts of hope, pass it on.
4. Follow your band online as it passes on from person to person creating a ripple of hope, connection and stories.
Each month as part of the Do4Hope project I will blog about who I gave my band4hope to, and why. I will also share the related wellbeing science, and talk about some of the talented people that do and apply the wellbeing research in Australia and beyond. The Do4Hope project is not meant to be all about my own wellbeing – my hope is that other people will join me on this project, will help share the wellbeing science, and turn ideas into daily actions. Along the way we get to connect with people, be curious about their lives, recognise their acts of kindness and inspiration, and enhance, or in my case, re-find my wellbeing-mojo by sharing a little hope with the world.
Now I am off to put on my first 2015 band4hope and look out for acts of hope, kindness and inspiration. #Do4Hope #Band01/2015
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This blog is part of a 2015 series called Do4Hope. It shares wellbeing science and stories through an action based project called Do4Hope. The challenge is to spot acts of kindness, hope and inspiration and to choose one person every month to pass on a Band4Hope copper bracelet. They then become a hope ambassador and are encouraged to do the same – creating a ripple of hope, kindness and inspiration. Profits from the bands supports the community that makes them in Africa, as well as local and global charities.
Buy a band4hope at: www.Band4Hope.com
About the author
Jo Mitchell, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, Auntie to nine amazing young people, lives with Matt and cat Chico in Melbourne, and loves psychology, technology, and re-mixology. Jo is Co-Director of The Mind Room, a wellbeing and performance psychology practice in Collingwood, and Wellbeing Manager for the AFL Players Association.