I’ve been listening to a course on LinkedIn Learning by Chris Croft entitled Life Mastery: Achieving Happiness and Success. One of the things he says, which I’ve been thinking about a lot this week, is that happiness is like the sun – and our worries, problems and negative emotions are like clouds. The sun is always up there, shining down on us, but sometimes we don’t see it because the clouds get in the way. The implication is that if you want to be happier, you don’t focus on trying to increase your happiness – you don’t try to make the sun brighter – you focus on getting rid of the clouds that are preventing you from feeling the happiness that is already there.
But if happiness is the sunshine, and negative emotions are the clouds, I think our daydreams are the houses. Right now, looking out of my window, it’s windy and raining, and the sun is nowhere to be seen. So I’m glad to be tucked up inside with a cosy blanket around me. But I also know that if I go more than a day or two without leaving my house, I start to feel tired and frustrated, and little things stress me more than usual. The place that’s a safe haven from the wind and the rain doesn’t give me all of the things I need to feel happy and fulfilled. Sometimes, for my own wellbeing, I need to venture out.
That’s the trouble with daydreaming. Our houses are just too nice! Even on the warmest and sunniest of days, we’re not really inclined to go out. And we’re certainly not going to go out in the rain.
Where this analogy falls down though, is that while we might sit inside and wait for better weather, most of the time the clouds in our heads don’t go away on their own. We have to take responsibility for dealing with them. We can’t just stay in the daydream until real life offers us the happiness we are seeking. We have to take responsibility for creating that happiness, or rather for getting rid of the clouds. We have to go out into the wind and the rain, work through the discomfort, survive the challenges, and blow the clouds away. And, yes, it’s OK to pop back inside for a break while we’re doing that work, but it’s not OK to give up on the work completely.
It’s also not OK to confuse the clouds and the house. Most of us stay in the house because we don’t want to go out in the wind and the rain. We daydream because real life isn’t, or wasn’t, a comfortable place to be. We don’t blame the house for the fact it’s raining outside. Similarly, we shouldn’t blame our daydreaming for everything that’s wrong with our real lives. Real life didn’t fail us because we are daydreamers. We retreated into our daydreams because real life wasn’t what we needed. So even if it was possible to just stop daydreaming, it wouldn’t magically make everything OK. If daydreaming has become part of the problem, cutting back on the daydreaming might be part of the solution, but it’s not the first step. Deal with the clouds first. Getting out into the real world will be so much easier if it’s a more optimistic and welcoming place to be.
Just as it’s OK to aspire to have a cosy welcoming home and a vibrant beautiful garden, I think it’s OK to devote time and attention to our daydream world provided that we also work on our goals and aspirations in the real world. Being happy in real life is not only possible, it’s your right, your default state. If there are clouds in the way right now, remember that they are temporary problems. No matter how daunting they may seem, with the right support and a little bit of determination, you will be able to overcome them. The sun will come out again one day. Just don’t stay in your house for so long that you fail to notice it when it does.