A loooong time ago I wrote an entry called “Stress, Pride, and Sleep” that discussed the effect that a poor night of sleep can have, the pride that bubbles up from the denial of something potentially as so simple as getting on a better nighttime schedule, and the stress that can occur from neglecting it through that pride.* As I was looking back on old entries, I realized how much this model of a little thing like sleep affecting your psyche and happiness can apply to so many other aspects of mental health.
We like to look at happiness as an achievement of grandeur; a journey with a destination. “When I graduate university, then I will be happy.” “When I’m a successful artist, then I will be happy.” We put off happiness this way, as something you’ll have a long time from now, and even sitting here thinking about it I’m realizing for the first time how silly that is. Why put off feeling good for the sake of a goal? Happiness is the journey and the destination.
The journey, however, involves some maintenance. I’m gonna pull the nerd card out here and say that when you’re a character in an open-world video game, like Minecraft, Fallout, The Witcher, Skyrim, et cetera, you embark on magnificent quests and adventures worthy of storytelling. Nobody ever talks about what you had to do to get those magnificent things done though. You have to eat porkchops in Minecraft to keep going. You have to craft your health potions to drink in Skyrim.
I hope I’m not losing you here in this metaphor. My point is that being happy involves a whole bunch of things, big and small, and the small should not be neglected for the sake of being small. Before you attribute your bad feelings or moods to the big issues or the things you don’t have yet, check your vitals. Have you eaten consistently today? Did you sleep well last night? What about showering recently? Work on those little things, and when those are squared away you may find that your unhappiness dissolves with each small act you carry out. If it doesn’t disappear, then these acts were still worth doing, as it makes a clearer process out of facing the big stuff.
If you want to gain a bit of direction on small steps toward happiness improvement, I wrote a blog post here last week on 60 little things you can do to boost your mood.
* For those of you that have sleep disorders, this is not me trying to invalidate you, I promise! Insomnia has affected members of my family, and while I don’t personally have it I fully understand that it can be a hard thing to fix one’s sleep and I hope I don’t make you feel bad by implying that it’s easy. When I speak here, I’m speaking toward those who don’t have these kinds of issues and may be neglectful of their sleep out of poorly established habits, not out of diagnosed illnesses.