Mental health woes and the concept of escapism. Does travelling make a difference or are there other ways in which we can seek happiness?
Given the number of times I've had friends tell me "I need a holiday" or "some travel would do me so good" after a long drought of work with no holidays, it then made me wonder if I'd subconsciously started adopting the same mindset. What if it was through travelling and being able to experience new things that I could "escape" and be happy? Kind of like when you're able to play a computer/video game to escape the woes of everyday life.
This week is mental health week.
That means that we are encouraged by our community to talk about what mental health means to open the dialogue to draw more awareness to the invisible disease.
My experience with mental health has taught me one very important lesson. No one's battle is the same; no struggle should be compared and nor should an individual's coping mechanism. This blog doesn't have the answers, rather it has a personal quest to find out what it means to be happy.
I thought about what it takes for people to be happy.
I started reading all these articles that talked about how travelling is a large part of making you happy. In an age where we're drawn to the concept of #wanderlust and the #travelbug... I started wondering if there were other ways in which we could be happy too.
So then I got curious.
I asked Google "Is it possible to be happy without travelling?"
And I found a couple of cool things.
There was a fair balance of articles and blogs that talked about how travelling made you a better person and how science proves that travel is the secret to happiness, but there were also articles on ways to discover yourself without travelling the world as well as ones that questioned if travellers were truly happier.
And one sentence Spencer wrote struck a chord with me.
"But what I do know is that people want to do what makes them happy. Humans go to great lengths, no matter what the cost, to strive for happiness."
So then I think it comes down to what it means to be happy.
I think the problem lies in the reliance on travel to find new experiences... When we could simply look around us and experience new things every day.
You don't always need to travel and explore cultures to broaden what happiness means to you. It could simply be seeing how people do things in another suburb that you haven't been to before and finding out about the different lifestyles and habits of the people around you.
Happiness comes from within yourself.
This is a concept that a lot of people struggle with - whether they like to admit it or not. It comes down to being able to accept yourself as you are and not having to find validation from external sources. You'd be surprised at the number of people experiencing mental health problems around us and people that battle with depression and anxiety on a day-to-day basis... Everyone has different coping mechanisms, and it's up to us to decide what makes us happy and what steps we can take towards achieving that state of contentment.
As I delved into how people with mental health problems coped with their anxiety and ways to overcome it, some spoke about how they used to be caught in a constant cycle of battle and recovery, but were now full of enthusiasm to see the world, describing it as
"feeling a lust for living that I'd forgotten was even possible" -Emily
And one sentence she writes sums it up well:
"Whilst Instagram depicts travellers’ carefree lifestyles of sunsets and waterfalls, sometimes, even with your best intentions, you still have bad days and you aren’t immune to your brain misbehaving while abroad."
Understanding what mental health issues does to a person's state of mind is hard to comprehend entirely, but we can learn to empathise. For some of us, it's harder to control where our mind wanders. We all need some time to recharge and give our mind some space from everything else that happens on the regular. Travelling gives us the opportunity to do that, but it's not the only solution.
Ways to be happy with yourself
Yoga and meditation
One of my best ways of coping is through yoga. My sister first introduced this to me when I was going through a particularly stressful period, and I've found that it's done leaps and bounds to my overall wellbeing. There is something so inexplicably calming about being in the yoga studio, and after each practice (regardless the intensity) I always emerge feeling refreshed. If there's one thing I'd like you to try, it would certainly be this.
Find happiness through giving
Research has shown that the greatest benefit of social connection stems from the act of giving. Being generous delivers an immense amount of pleasure, and being able to support others is a gift in itself. This could mean anything - from helping a friend out to doing something special for a loved one spontaneously.
One of the things that is becoming more underrated these days is volunteering. Nigel recently wrote about the things he learnt from volunteering in Cambodia and Papua New Guinea, and the opportunity he was given to make a difference in someone's world. He didn't realise that he had the potential to make the day of someone he'd just met on a volunteering trip, and the impact that he made really resonated with him. If he could make such an impact, then so can you.
Get enough rest
Take care of yourself. This essentially means being kind to yourself: eating well, sleeping well, and not succumbing to over-exhaustion. Learn how to say 'no' when there's simply too much on your plate. What do experiences mean when your health is at stake?
Invest your time in a meaningful project
Have you always wanted to start a YouTube channel? Maybe you've always wanted to run a blog but have kept putting that off? You'll find what you'll enjoy over time with something truly meaningful, and it is in spending time doing these things that gives you a sense of fulfillment. I used to work a hectic job that saw me at work from 9am in the morning and late into the office till midnight on a daily basis. Needless to say, I felt burnt out. I started finding ways in which I had something to look forward to, and so I enrolled into acting classes on the weekends. That became my way of having something to look forward to after a long work week. My point is, anything is possible as long as you strive towards happiness and make it your effort to be content.
Making the every day extraordinary
I read about how Anna went on a trip and met a man using a typewriter. What started off as a simple request to take a photo with him for her father (who loves typewriters) turned into a long-term pen-pal relationship that she kept. The man not only agreed to the photo, but also handed her a paper that said "please send me a copy of this photograph" with his address. They've been pen pals for two years now!
Experiences like these are what make travels extraordinary, and it is possible to have such experiences even without taking a flight out overseas. You never know what life throws your way and it's all about making the every day extraordinary.
Just a few days back, I was reflecting on where I've been as an international student. Experiences make your world richer – more than anything else in the world ever could. It was through experiencing different things that I gradually found my footing, and walked my path into the person I am today.
And when I think about the money it takes to allow me to travel, I think about the other things I could do to achieve that same sense of happiness - that immeasurable feeling of your heart so full; that despite a long weary day, you are more than content to face the next with a bright smile.
Travelling is a temporary solution - never a permanent fix. The memories will linger for as long as you will them to. And at the end of the day, if you can make your every day extraordinary by experiencing new things, then it is possible to find happiness through ways other than travelling.