For the majority of my younger years, I thought happiness could only be achieved through external means. I didn't really understand the concept of it 'coming from within', and so most of my time was spent either searching for happiness, or pinning it on something else.
'I'll be happy once I leave school'.
'I'll be happy if I make it in the music industry.'
'I'll be happy once I get out of my hometown and live in a city.'
My life, during that time, was essentially one big countdown to the next best thing, constantly assuming that the grass would be greener on the other side, whatever that other side may be.
And don't get me wrong, it's not the worst state of mind I could've been in.
I had hope - lots of it.
But, any joy I derived from the present day was based solely on that hope, and the hope I had was for a life that couldn't be guaranteed. Because of this, on the days when I had little confidence in that dream becoming a reality, my happiness was instantly jeopardised. Not exactly ideal.
And what's more, I did in fact leave school and I did in fact get out of my hometown to live in a city (I'm still waiting on that music industry bit. We live in hope, kids).
As you've probably guessed, I was utterly miserable in the wake of both events.
There was no cliché moment in which I felt everything fall into place, no grand epiphany that this is where I was always meant to be.
There was just a lot of crying. Oh, and pinning my happiness on something else, like the day I finally had the money to travel, or the day I had a promising career. Then it would be my time. I'd be happy.
I imagine you'll have figured it out for yourself by now, but just in case you haven't, let me clarify - this philosophy was a disaster of epic proportions. Naturally, I started to worry that I would never, ever be satisfied; I was always waiting for the next best thing to come along.
And what kind of life was that?
So, I left the city and I moved back home. I went back to work in a retail store. I stopped telling myself that if I never made it in the music industry, I would never experience happiness at it's full potential.
Slowly but surely, I started to understand that the foreign concept of 'finding happiness within' wasn't as nonsensical as I'd initially thought.
Now, at first, this was a great thing. I found myself engaging on a day to day basis with the concept of mindfulness, a way of tuning in to the present that originated in meditation practices from the East. I noticed the pressure I put on myself start to dissipate, rather finding joy in more attainable things like spending time with a friend or exercising regularly (ok maybe joy is a bit of a reach, there), things that came with little responsibility. Little expectation. Carpe Diem.
Of course, before I go any further, I just want to say that I do not, by any means, discourage practicing mindfulness. It can be incredibly useful and incredibly healthy, particularly if you're someone who spends a lot of time worrying about the future.
But, being the black or white, all or nothing thinker that I am, I started to give a little too much weight to mindfulness when it came to my happiness. It wasn't long before I started to lose sight of what I was passionate about, of what set my soul alight, so to speak.
It was almost like my mentality had gone in the complete opposite direction to before. I no longer saw being happy as something controlled by external factors, it became something controlled entirely by internal factors. I stopped monitoring my environment, and I very quickly started living a life that my hope-fuelled younger self could never have imagined.
It looked a little bit like this.
Granted, this is a very simplified version, but it captures everything I need it to. The repetition. The routine. Living solely for a Friday, and losing the will to live on a Sunday. Even the supposed 'me time' that I gave myself was spent simply trying to recharge my energy - I felt constantly drained, and I didn't really understand why.
My happiness was in my control. But, if it all came from within, then why the hell couldn't I find it?
I became very despondent to life very quickly. Everything started to feel robotic, like I was living in auto-pilot mode, and I wasn't actually doing anything for the sake of my happiness - I was doing everything out of habit.
Trying to fit something else in around that routine just felt incredibly overwhelming, and so, naturally, I rarely tried to.
Turns out that I was completely clueless as to the impact that this could have on me mentally, and the results were quite distressing for me.
But, a little time after the breakdown of my emotional wellbeing, I attended a session in which my therapist proposed an analogy, one that I believe I will remember for the rest of my life, and I've tried to put it into my own words (accompanied by one of my trusty diagrams) for others to look at and understand.
If you are reading this, all I ask is for you to really think about the following in terms of your own lifestyle.
1) Imagine that your time and energy is money.
2) Your life consists of two bank accounts - the Bank of Responsibility, and the Bank of Self. The Bank of Responsibility represents your working life, and the Bank of Self represents your personal life (things that make you happy, time with friends, self-care etc).
3) Sometimes, the two cross over. Perhaps you enjoy your job, or you have lots of friends at work. Maybe your work has meaning and you get a sense of purpose from it; it could be something you've always wanted to do.
In these cases, for every pound you put in the Bank of Responsibility, the Bank matches your price and puts the same into your Bank of Self. Because your work is rewarding in some way, both the bank for your working life and the bank for your personal life are filling up at the same speed. You have balance.
4) Now, let's say that the two don't cross over. Maybe your work is unfulfilling or you don't enjoy it. Perhaps there are people/things at work that drain you, or your job is causing you a lot of stress. Still, for every hour you spend at work, more and more of your time and energy (money) is being invested into the Bank of Responsibility. Only, this time, the Bank of Self is left untouched, because you get nothing back from the work that you do.
5) Of course, during the hours that you aren't in work, you get the opportunity to invest in the Bank of Self. For me, this would be songwriting, going out for food (of course) with a friend, writing an article, gigging, or maybe just watching TV. Obviously, everyone will use this time differently, but the same still stands - the money goes into the personal bank.
But remember, the more time and energy you invest in your working life, the less time and energy you have left to invest in yourself. So when you get the free time to do so, let's say on a weekend, all you can really be bothered to do is rest, because you grab your wallet of time and energy and...
6) As we know, the whole point of an investment is putting in with the intention of getting profit back. From the Bank of Responsibility, our profit is obviously monetary. That's why people go to work - to get paid.
On the other hand, our profit from the Bank of Self is happiness. And it doesn't matter how many hours you work or what your financial return is - if you don't put equal investment, or I would even argue more investment, into yourself, you will eventually suffer the emotional consequences in some way or other.
It's exactly what happened to me.
Because the external factors don't create happiness on their own, nor do the internal factors.
It's all about balance.
Author and motivational speaker Alexander Den Heijer wrote a book called 'Nothing You Don't Already Know', and within this book is a quote that captures the essence of this article entirely. He writes:
"You often feel tired, not because you've done too much, but because you've done too little of what sparks a light in you."
So, treat your time and energy as if it were money. Spend it wisely, with good intentions, and with your happiness in mind.
Make sure to invest in the Bank of Self whenever and wherever you can.
Figure out what sparks a light in you.
It's okay if you're not quite sure yet. But once you figure it out?
Please, go and do it.
All the love,