Now that January is over, can we go back to being who we really are instead of carrying on the exhausting pretence of being happy with our ‘new year new you’ stuff?
Why do we do it, all this relentless self-improvement? It get so wearying and has such weird, negative undertones. We’re meant to say that the old us was ‘fine’ but this BRAND NEW us who doesn’t eat chocolate/ drink alcohol/ works out every day/ meditates hourly is so much better. So our old self wasn’t ‘fine’, and in fact, it should come with a sticker saying ‘old and shit’.
Self-improvement teaches us to endless chase happiness. Happiness is not a destination. Happiness is an emotion. It comes and goes. Self-improvement is the key to happiness, right? Except it isn’t. Well, it may be in the short term whilst it’s all going well. But as soon as we trip up, self-flagellation rears its ugly head.
As I wrote previously, I’m not disparaging attempts to lead a healthier, more balanced life. I’ve given up processed sugar since the beginning of the year, and I have experienced some pleasing benefits. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that overall, my life is filled with buckets more joy and happiness. I’ve made difference choices mainly for health reasons. I know I’ve made the right choices, but I wouldn’t say I’m skipping around like a little lamb on an unseasonably warm April day.
I wondered if I’d failed. If by giving up processed sugar and not finding the secret fountains of internal happiness meant I was doing it wrong. But apparently not. Underneath the slick marketing, the pursuit of happiness (I dare you not to think of the Will Smith film…) isn’t as rosy as we’re told it is. A study published in 2011 found that seeking happiness was a paradox, and often let to more feelings of disappointment when happiness was not found: Actively going out to ‘find’ happiness runs the risk that you don’t find it, and not finding happiness causes sadness. Yes, I know it’s confusing.
This article (titled ‘Can Seeking Happiness Make People Happy? Paradoxical Effects of Valuing Happiness’) shares it’s findings with other studies: ‘Desperately Seeking Happiness: Valuing Happiness is Associated With Symptoms and Diagnosis of Depression’ and even ‘The Pursuit of Happiness Can Be Lonely’ (all three articles are available from the journal ‘Emotion’ and aren’t too science-y and bewildering to read. I recommend checking them out.)
I sought happiness last week when I went to the 7:30pm Friday night candlelit class. ‘How lovely,’ I thought, almost smugly as I knew most other people would be at home on the couch with wine, crisps and a box set. ‘A calming candlelit class to end my week’. In reality, I spent the whole time falling over and literally lay down and gave up. Only some gentle chiding by the teacher got me through the rest of the class.
As very much the realist (true pessimists sneer at my part-timer attitude to negativity, whilst optimists always tell me to “cheer up!!!!” Exclamation marks definitely theirs, and most certainly not mine), I have no problem accepting that I’m not going to enjoy every yoga class I go to. I don’t like it when my body refuses to ‘do’ yoga the way I want it to, but I try to accept it. But by going with preconceived ideas of ‘this will make me happy’, I think I’m missing the point.
What makes us happy is when we’re able to rise above the fleeting emotions that come and go and instead, search for meaning. Meaning is what gives us purpose. Being a parent or caring for another relative: Does that make us happy? Not always. It can be negative: Infuriating, tiring and draining. It can also be very positive: Hilarious, inspiring and joyful. The emotions come and go, sometimes good, sometimes bad, but what we’re left with is a sense of meaning.
We can’t always be at our best. Sometimes, often times, we’re at our worst. Next time you’re in the yoga studio, forget the notion or concept of a good or bad class. Think about what you can get from the class that transcends positive or negative feelings. You may not like the class. You may not enjoy the class. But you will always get meaning from yoga.
Yogi since 2005, Alex has practised hot yoga in studios across Europe and the USA, but Hot Yoga Society is her favourite!