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Help yourself to happiness by liberating your inner child

Help yourself to happiness by liberating your inner child My definition of happiness is a giant ‘lucky bag’ crammed with Black Jacks and Fruit Salad sweets, and the old walking stick I used to clear swathes of my local wood. The formula lucky bag + walking stick = childhood happiness is not equivalent to Fermat’s last theorem, but it is good enough for me. It has been said that time is the ‘airbrush of experience’ and that we should not trust our memories of a happy childhood. But, if recollection brings contentment, there can be no harm in recalling when we were most content. Of course, happiness, like beauty, can be experienced simply and freely, without the accoutrements of childhood. We need to make more time for activities that are not bound by rules, regulations or risk-assessment protocols. This is important because, as we get older, caution, cynicism and scepticism can conspire against us. Instead of embracing new experiences, we tend to weigh up their pros and cons, and as often as not decide that they are a bit too risky. It is liberating instead to tap into our inner child and do pointless, silly things without worrying about social conventions. Contentment When, for example, was the last time you sat in the countryside and watched a wild animal running through the fields? Or lay on your back and gazed up, as the clouds transformed themselves into mythical beasts? These activities do not lead to heart-stopping happiness but they can produce contentment. Only the other day my neighbour and I had a food fight with old food destined for the rubbish bin. I cannot explain how satisfying it feels to throw a month-old sherry trifle in someone’s face or squirt a tube of glutinous cheese spread down his neck. Happiness can also mean the absence of pain or feelings of anxiety. I work occasionally in mental health services, where some clients experience happiness only after clambering out of what some describe as an abyss of depression and taking a rocket-propelled ascent up ‘manic mountain’. When this happens many feel as if they only have minutes to live, and they race around like toddlers on orange squash and chocolate. Some of them laugh so hard they are reduced to paroxysms of coughing and retching. Others play imaginary trumpets and drums while marching. One man becomes half hyena, half quick-fire poet, and howls his way through a tirade of vitriolic verses. My colleagues and I usually let these episodes fizzle out in their own time, being careful to keep the more vulnerable service users out of harm’s way. Sometimes, however, I join in with them and, when I do, visitors would not know whether I am a member of staff or a service user. It is as though their unfettered behaviour has given me, for a few fleeting minutes, permission to play the fool. Release Happiness can be a welcome release from our own institutionalised behaviour. It allows us to step out of ourselves for however long we remain happy and connect with others who also need a release. At such times, I think of myself as a runner in a relay race, carrying a baton to the next person I meet to produce a shared moment of joy. It has been said that nothing is real unless it is shared. How many times do we witness while alone things that are poignant or beautiful, and feel sad because we have no one with whom to share it? There is a phrase in mental health nursing to describe a kind of artificial or enforced jollity: ‘hand-clapping glad’. I have heard the phrase used about people who are so persistently cheerful that others suspect they are putting it on in an attempt to ingratiate themselves. I suppose laughter can be faked in this way – actors do it for a living – but if we try to fake happiness by outwardly smiling but inwardly crying, we are denying ourselves something precious. Eventually all the subterfuge and pretence will catch up with us and we will run out of steam. After all, happiness is not hard to find if you know how and where to look for it. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Mental Health Practice Royal College of Nursing (RCN)

Help yourself to happiness by liberating your inner child

Mental Health Practice , Volume 15 (4) – Nov 23, 2011

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Publisher
Royal College of Nursing (RCN)
Copyright
©2012 RCN Publishing Company Ltd. All rights reserved. Not to be copied, transmitted or recorded in any way, in whole or part, without prior permission of the publishers.
Subject
Opinion
ISSN
1465-8720
eISSN
2047-895X
DOI
10.7748/mhp2011.12.15.4.11.p6929
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

My definition of happiness is a giant ‘lucky bag’ crammed with Black Jacks and Fruit Salad sweets, and the old walking stick I used to clear swathes of my local wood. The formula lucky bag + walking stick = childhood happiness is not equivalent to Fermat’s last theorem, but it is good enough for me. It has been said that time is the ‘airbrush of experience’ and that we should not trust our memories of a happy childhood. But, if recollection brings contentment, there can be no harm in recalling when we were most content. Of course, happiness, like beauty, can be experienced simply and freely, without the accoutrements of childhood. We need to make more time for activities that are not bound by rules, regulations or risk-assessment protocols. This is important because, as we get older, caution, cynicism and scepticism can conspire against us. Instead of embracing new experiences, we tend to weigh up their pros and cons, and as often as not decide that they are a bit too risky. It is liberating instead to tap into our inner child and do pointless, silly things without worrying about social conventions. Contentment When, for example, was the last time you sat in the countryside and watched a wild animal running through the fields? Or lay on your back and gazed up, as the clouds transformed themselves into mythical beasts? These activities do not lead to heart-stopping happiness but they can produce contentment. Only the other day my neighbour and I had a food fight with old food destined for the rubbish bin. I cannot explain how satisfying it feels to throw a month-old sherry trifle in someone’s face or squirt a tube of glutinous cheese spread down his neck. Happiness can also mean the absence of pain or feelings of anxiety. I work occasionally in mental health services, where some clients experience happiness only after clambering out of what some describe as an abyss of depression and taking a rocket-propelled ascent up ‘manic mountain’. When this happens many feel as if they only have minutes to live, and they race around like toddlers on orange squash and chocolate. Some of them laugh so hard they are reduced to paroxysms of coughing and retching. Others play imaginary trumpets and drums while marching. One man becomes half hyena, half quick-fire poet, and howls his way through a tirade of vitriolic verses. My colleagues and I usually let these episodes fizzle out in their own time, being careful to keep the more vulnerable service users out of harm’s way. Sometimes, however, I join in with them and, when I do, visitors would not know whether I am a member of staff or a service user. It is as though their unfettered behaviour has given me, for a few fleeting minutes, permission to play the fool. Release Happiness can be a welcome release from our own institutionalised behaviour. It allows us to step out of ourselves for however long we remain happy and connect with others who also need a release. At such times, I think of myself as a runner in a relay race, carrying a baton to the next person I meet to produce a shared moment of joy. It has been said that nothing is real unless it is shared. How many times do we witness while alone things that are poignant or beautiful, and feel sad because we have no one with whom to share it? There is a phrase in mental health nursing to describe a kind of artificial or enforced jollity: ‘hand-clapping glad’. I have heard the phrase used about people who are so persistently cheerful that others suspect they are putting it on in an attempt to ingratiate themselves. I suppose laughter can be faked in this way – actors do it for a living – but if we try to fake happiness by outwardly smiling but inwardly crying, we are denying ourselves something precious. Eventually all the subterfuge and pretence will catch up with us and we will run out of steam. After all, happiness is not hard to find if you know how and where to look for it.

Journal

Mental Health PracticeRoyal College of Nursing (RCN)

Published: Nov 23, 2011

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