What's 'the recipe' for happiness and emotional resilience?
I’ve working as a psychotherapist and coach for many years now, and accumulated over 30,000 hours of client work.
I've worked with children as young as six and people in their eighties. I've worked with the unemployed and chief executives. I've worked with clients caught up in the deepening spiral of depression and I've also worked with highflyers who want to achieve goals and be the best version of their selves.
With every single client, my starting point has always been to ask one very important question.
'Which of your emotional needs is not being met by your current lifestyle?'
By the time Vicky rang me to ask for help, she had already been to visit her GP and been given a prescription for antidepressants. They weren’t working. She had been ‘feeling down and depressed’ for a couple of years without understanding why.
She told me; 'I don't understand it. I've got everything I need; a lovely house, a loving partner, two healthy grown up children. I’m in full-time employment, but something’s wrong.
When New Year arrived, I didn't feel like celebrating. There was no enthusiasm for the future. I just can't picture the future and that frightens me.'
Vicky and I started working together, firstly by taking her emotional needs ‘audit’.
The ‘recipe’ for happiness
Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever your culture or religion, age or gender, you are a human being and, as a human being you have the same human needs. These needs arelike ‘a recipe’. If you get the ingredients right, you will feel good about your life.
We have needs for Safety, Attention, Fun, Family and Friends, Emotional intimacy, Status and Privacy. We want to feel we are Achieving something, have a sense of Control over our life; all of which gives us a sense of Engagement.
The recipe spells out the word ‘SAFE SPACE’ which is really significant, because the recipe is all about creating a psychological safe space for emotional health, happiness and wellbeing.
The great news is that we’ve all been born with the resources necessary to get our needs met. Our extraordinary human brains are astonishingly adaptable, capable and creative. The primary role of our brain is to enable us to get our physical and emotional needs met. It pushes us not just to survive, but to thrive and become the very best version of ourselves.
In my business, we call it ‘the actualising tendency.’
The key to getting the ‘happiness recipe’ right is to give yourself permission to 'jump off the hamster wheel' for long enough to assess what’s working, or what needs attention. This allows you to tune in to your emotions. Your brain is constantly nudging you towards getting those essential needs met by sending you signs and signals through your emotions, some of which can feel pretty uncomfortable.
I encouraged Vicky to be a 'lifestyle detective' by looking at which of her needs was not being met. This would provide the ‘clues’ to the source of her depression.
It soon became clear she was in the wrong job.
As a graphic designer she was spending up to ten hours a day in front of a computer screen. Yet Vicky was an outdoor person. As a young woman, she'd been physically fit and active and had lived an outdoor lifestyle on her father's farm. Even though her current job was paying the bills, it was destroying her inside.
I asked Vicky this question:
'If anything was possible and failure was not an option, what job would make you happy?'
Vicky thought for a while and replied ' I'd be a landscape gardener!'
Vicky’s depression lifted as soon as she made a decision to start moving towards a life that was right for her. With her partner’s backing, she started a part-time course in gardening and landscaping.
Take your own emotional needs audit now
Answer these questions with a simple 'yes’, ‘no’ or ‘sometimes' to identify which of your emotional needs is not being met by your current lifestyle.
- I feel safe and secure in my life
- My needs for attention are met
- I regularly have fun with family and friends
- I have an emotionally intimate connection with at least one other person
- I have status. I feel valued by others
- I have opportunities for privacy when I need it.
- I feel as though I am achieving something with my life
- I am in control of my life
- I feel engaged with life, that it has meaning and purpose
So, are you living your best life? If not;
- What are you going to change?
- What are your choices?
- And when will you take action?