Happiness: How to find joy on ‘Blue Monday’

Blue Monday is on the third Monday every January, and it is considered the most depressing day of the year, and I’m sure it’s even worse in 2021.

Made by Sky Travel’s PR department, it’s apparently the day when the financial pressure of the Christmas just passed hangs over us most, the weather is at its worst, and the extra pounds we’ve acquired over the holiday season are proving harder to shift than we anticipated.

So how do we stay happy during turbulent times, and what does it actually mean? There were a lot of responses that you’ll hear in the end.

Thanks to the following guests for participating:

Elizabeth of Elizabeth’s Luxury Cake Emporium.

Coach Helen Louise Adams

Yadiksha Hari, guide at the Modern Mystery School

Mindset coach and consultant Jessie Shedden

And social enterprise Salam Project youth worker Mohammed Addawe

Here are some of the resources from the show:

Author and news anchor Dan Harris of Ten Percent Happier – here is the link.

Harvard University Psychology Professor Daniel Gilbert at a 2004 TED Talk.

Mentalist and illusionist Derren Brown speaks to Google.

Books looked at this week:

Dan Harris: 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works

Daniel Gilbert: Stumbling on Happiness

Derren Brown: Happy: Why More Or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine

PS. I do not receive commission for reviewing books and talks.

Transcription

Exploring how we can master ourselves by looking at how experts say it is possible with your host Suswati Basu.

Intro music

Welcome to the eighth episode of How To Be…with me Suswati as your timid presenter, guiding you through life’s tricky skills by taking this learning journey with you.

Tomorrow is that reportedly non-day called Blue Monday in the UK, supposedly the most depressing day of the year, and I’m sure it’s even worse in 2021.

Made by Sky Travel’s PR department, it’s apparently the day when the financial pressure of the Christmas just passed hangs over us most, the weather is at its worst, and the extra pounds we’ve acquired over the holiday season are proving harder to shift than we anticipated.

So how do we stay happy during turbulent times, and what does it actually mean? There were a lot of responses that you’ll hear in the end.

Here’s one of the people – Elizabeth who runs the Luxury Cake Emporium, she told me about what happiness means to her.

ELIZABETH

On to our first book. Dan Harris, news anchor for ABC News is no stranger to battling stress. After covering wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he switched to writing 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works.

Using cutting edge scientific research and demystifying the ancient art of meditation, Harris shows how it can affect your body and mind and cope with the chaos of modern life.

Harris speaks on his 10% Happier channel here.

DAN HARRIS

One thing Harris suggests is to reign in our egos, because expectations and entitlement can end up making us unhappy if we don’t reach or get them. You can’t really ever satisfy an ego and it’ll always keep looking for more.

He also recommends that age old wisdom of mindfulness, which I’m so hopeless at keeping a daily routine of. Mindfulness is the ability to respond – and not react – to our surroundings as well as our impulses. Meditation is one of the practices that help achieve this by fully immersing ourselves in the present moment, and just notice the feelings and thoughts we may have.

Likewise, mindfulness training appeared to shrink the regions in the brain associated with stress. He says by being compassionate to others and yourself, you give yourself less of a hard time over things.

University of Massachusetts Medical School professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is seen to have introduced the practice to the west, says mindfulness can help make you more creative and more productive, as it clears your mind of unhelpful assumptions and routines.

Constant stimulation keeps us in a state of overload, which causes high levels of toxic stress chemicals to accumulate in our blood, which is why we still have our flight, fright, and freeze responses. So practicing can apparently help reduce the responses to this.

In the 1989 Crime and Misdemeanors, the ending monologue talks about our choices in making happiness. Here’s Martin Bergmann’s character Professor Louis Levy philosophising.

CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS

Harvard University Psychology Professor Daniel Gilbert is the author of the next book, Stumbling on Happiness. It explains how our brains make us think about the future and asks the questions why do we make decisions that can leave us feeling unhappy?

Here is Dr Gilbert at a 2004 TED Talk.

DANIEL GILBERT

Dr Gilbert says our brains has the ability to fill in missing details and transform our perception of reality. We assume that what we see is a true reflection of the world, and yet it isn’t: it’s partly the construction of our mind.

This also includes thoughts about the future:  they’re largely based on our imagination helpfully filling in details, but we still put our faith in them. Apparently our current emotional state strongly influences how we imagine future events even if we make mistakes. This is because the brain is much more concerned with the present moment than the future due to its primal instinct for survival.

And this goes with memories as well. Dr Gilbert says, we have a habit of remembering the unique and strange over the mundane. Which means we are not aware of how our brains make these processes work. This lack of awareness leaves us prone to making mistakes when deciding about the future. Therefore, the choices we make will often leave us unhappy.

So his advice is: If you’re faced with a decision of whether to do something or not, just do it. Your mind is an expert in taking the positives out of your experiences, but it cannot do the same when you don’t act. So, even if the decision does not pan out the way you expected, you will still be able to take something from the whole scenario. He also recommends asking people about their experience.

We all feel a similar way when confronted by similar things. So, by asking someone how they felt, you will in fact get a glimpse of how you will feel.

I couldn’t leave without talking about mentalist and illusionist Derren Brown’s book Happy: Why More Or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine. I have to say I love this guy, even went to one of his shows for a birthday. It’s spooky how easy the mind can be manipulated.

Here he is speaking to Google during lockdown.

DERREN BROWN

Happy takes a look at the ancient world’s most zen philosophers – The Stoics – and asks what we can learn from them which is apparently a great deal.

For one they taught us we can’t get happiness from material goods. Epicurus from 341 BCE says true happiness comes from accepting what we already have or can reasonably expect to acquire over the course of our lives. 

Stoics argue that you can’t change the world around you, but you can change how you react to it. One of the most famous stoics, Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, who ruled between 161 and 180 CE, said emotions are anything but permanent and are constantly changing in reaction to external events. As a result external events and other people don’t control our emotional reactions – we do.

Hence letting go of the things you can’t control is a central tenet of Stoicism. Greek philosopher Epictetus said there are only two things we can control – our thoughts and our actions. Which reminds me of the serenity saying: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

Focusing on your performance is a better use of time than obsessing over outcomes. As American actor Bryan Cranston’s put it in his speech at the 2012 Academy Awards, the only part of an audition actors can control is their performance.

Anger is the enemy of reason and leads to unhappiness and remorse. As the Roman statesman and Stoic philosopher Seneca put it in the first century, angry people destroy what they hold dearest and weep over the losses they have inflicted upon themselves. 

And the best way to control it is to wait for the moment to pass and analyse what triggered it. Also curiosity killed the cat, don’t bother looking into the lives of others that could disturb your inner peace. All this requires daily practice.

So to sum up:

10% Happier says to let go of your ego and practice mindfulness.

Stumbling on Happiness is about not trusting our brains to make the right decisions so ask people who have had experience for advice, and when facing a decision to do it anyway.

Happy by Derren Brown takes the stoic approach and says accept what we already have, not to let outside factors unsettle our emotions, accept the things we cannot change, look at your own performance instead of others, and ignore what others are doing that could make you angry.

In terms of mindfulness, I do use apps such as Calm and Headspace, and I actually bought a 31 day mindfulness card pack to try something new and actually stick to it. I keep the serenity prayer up in my Gratitude diary app with the same name.

And because this topic was so popular, here’s a montage of speakers: Coach Helen Louise Adams, chicken-loving, cult-escaping badass Girl Jessie Shedden, South African teacher and guide Yadiksha Hari, and social services Salam Project worker Muhammed Addawe. And if you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe!

Published by suswatibasu

Suswati Basu is a writer, journalist, producer and feminist activist residing in London. She has written for the Guardian, Huffington Post and the F-Word blogs, and has worked for various media outlets such as the BBC, Channel 4 and for ITV News/ITN. She currently works as a senior intelligence expert.

One thought on “Happiness: How to find joy on ‘Blue Monday’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: