A few weeks ago, I posted on my Facebook page that I’d discovered a cure for the blues, depression, anxiety, stress and all other ills: The Muppets Movie (if you’re in need of an instant pick-me-up, I highly recommend you watch this clip). And on Saturday night, I discovered another cure: Karaoke. Give a bunch of women (and a few brave men) a couple of microphones and you’re in for a long, noisy and hilarious night.
I held a karaoke party for my 41st birthday and any remnants of the glumness I talked about in my last post disappeared as I listened to myself and my dearest friends (several of them single and in their forties) sing our hearts out while dancing around as though we were in the latest girl band. Suddenly, the Mark Twain quote written on another birthday card I received came into its own: “Sing like no one’s listening, love like you’re never been hurt, dance like nobody’s watching and live like it’s heaven on earth.” I don’t know about anyone else, but I was definitely singing like no one was listening. I must get back to those singing lessons. And while I ended up with a very sore throat afterwards, it was one of those feel-good evenings when you look around at all your friends, giggle to yourself and feel incredibly grateful.
Aside from The Muppets and karaoke, there are a few other cures for the blues I’ve discovered since I was hit with a brief spell of age-related sadness on my 41st birthday morning: stop comparing myself with others or thinking that the grass is always greener and get down on my knees every morning to thank God for all my blessings and another day filled with possibilities. As long as I remember to do all of the above, I’m guaranteed a pretty good day.
One thing that really got me thinking since my last post was a response I received from a fellow 41-year-old woman I met recently whose circumstances are completely different to mine, but whose feelings are much the same. She shared that she had all the things I thought I’d have by this age: the home, the garden, the partner, the children, the pets, the latest fashions and an array of baking tins. She’s also had career success and now has the freedom that comes from working for herself. But she still feels empty and lonely at times and struggles to appreciate everything she has. She feels like she’s never working hard enough or doing enough for her business and she definitely doesn’t feel like a grown-up, despite being responsible for small people ie. children. She still feels dissatisfied and feels she hasn’t lived up to the expectations she had for her life. I’m really grateful for her openness and honesty and her comments have reminded me that there’s no easy or external fix for that sense of inner dissatisfaction or incompleteness that I sometimes feel. Having what we always thought we’d wanted will not suddenly change the way we feel on the inside. As I’ve written before, happiness is an inside-out job, not outside-in. If we can learn to be content whatever our circumstances, we’ll be more able to enjoy the present.
On the topic of happiness, a friend bought me The Happiness Project for my birthday, a book by Gretchen Rubin that’s also given rise to a website of the same name. I’ve only just started reading it but I’m really enjoying it. So far, I haven’t come across anything I haven’t heard before or don’t already know – I’ve read that adequate rest, sleep and exercise all improve our mood – but it’s good to be reminded that there are so many simple things we can do to change how we feel. I also just spotted something on her website that I could really relate to and it’s good to hear it from such a successful author. She was describing how she’d just received the preview copy of her latest book and while she felt thrilled, she also panicked and couldn’t bring herself to open it. She goes on to say:
I get the same feeling when I have a piece run in a newspaper or magazine. Most writers seem to love the moment when they see their work “in print,” but not me. I’m not really sure why. Am I afraid of spotting a mistake? Or seeing something that, by this point, I’d do differently? Maybe. Do you ever experience that? Something that seems to make other people wildly happy—that you think “should” make you happy—for some reason, doesn’t?
I’ve definitely had that experience with stories I’ve published. There’s been positive feedback and praise but I’ve been scared to look at them and struggled to accept them as being good enough or to get any real satisfaction from them.
This reminds me of something I heard at the Women of the World Festival last weekend. Comedian Angie Le Mar, speaking on a panel called Crash and Burn that was about mental breakdown or hitting the wall, shared how she’d leave a show after making the entire audience laugh and receiving endless praise, but she’d feel empty inside. What was making everyone else happy wasn’t making her happy. It was a moment of awakening when she realised happiness and fulfilment had to come from the inside. I was touched by what she shared and by Ruby Wax’s story of her depression, which she shared on the same panel. You can read about Ruby’s experience and about her mental health show Live from the Priory, which I saw her perform at the festival and absolutely loved, in this Guardian piece: Ruby Wax, depression, me and you.
Before I sign off, I came across an article the other day about a new stage show that discusses the impact of alcohol on women, which sounds both funny and moving. If you’ll recall, I blogged a few weeks back about my own lucky escapes from dangerous drunken situations. The play is called Thirsty and is performed by The Paper Birds and there was a write-up of it last week in The Guardian.
Have a happy day.