Happiness is something gained through the doing of everyday things. Fearne Cotton is a woman who knows this, and her new book is full of just that – useful advice on how to live a happier life.
I’m the first to admit that I’m not too fond of books fronted by celebrities. But every so often one lands on my desk that takes me by surprise in the nicest possible way – TV and radio personality Fearne Cotton’s newest book Happy: Finding Joy in Every Day and Letting Go of Perfect did that to me this week. Cotton is a woman who exudes cheerfulness on screen; she seems a very ‘light’ figure in the best sense of the word, happy and self-assured. That’s why it might surprise many to know the dark demons she’s had to battle – namely depression – in order to feel comfortable in her own skin.
Her newest book details this battle, and her victory overcoming it. She is refreshingly honest about depression, not seeing it as a weight to be tied down with forever, but rather something that can be accepted and worked through by being more better towards yourself. It isn’t about self-love as a cliché, but the act of being more generous to you, not just others in your life.
Cotton describes her depression as a “black pit.” A weight she was unable to hold on her own because she was stuck underneath it. “Everything was a drag and felt heavy. I felt antisocial, cut-off, alienated, and they were massive warning signs. Everyone has that light bulb moment that they need to do something differently, but for me, it was feeling stuck.” Some of it stems from a family history, and it seems to happen, she says, when she focuses too much on the negative: bingeing bad news or agonising about the state of the world.
Her words resonate hugely, especially when she writes of not wanting to talk about her mental health publically for fear of what I deem the ‘Why Me?’ syndrome. This is when you fear that your issue is too small to be significant in the grand scheme of things; war, suffering, homelessness. So you think “why me?” What have I got to complain about? Yet, it’s this way of thinking that is depressive in itself, says Cotton. You are entitled to feel good and seek help when you know something doesn’t feel normal, and you have the right to do so without any feelings of guilt. Despite all that might be wrong with the world, self-care, Cotton argues, is the first step to controlling depression opposed to it controlling you. Here are some of her tools:
Talk Talk Talk
If you slip into the darkness, find someone you trust – friend or professional – and tell them about it. Cotton also advises go with your gut when choosing to open up; you don’t have to take advice from others when you do this, as long as you do it when it feels right to you.
Find Your Balance
Cotton cites the theory of the ‘inner Pendulum’ as one that helped her greatly. This theory leads you to notice your own natural swing of emotions. Rather than swing with great force from one feel- ing to another, you can sit above it all, on the top of the Pendulum, and observe it unfolding – it basically means finding your own middle, calming ground. You ask questions such as “How are you feeling today?” “How’s your work-life balance?” How are you at putting your phone away?” “How are your stress levels?” – More of these are on page 29. Weigh up your answers from okay to good, great, bad, terrible. If your answers are swinging too far one way, look at your balance. It’s fine if you have problems in some areas, but you are doing great in others, that’s a balance of sorts as long as it makes you comfortable – that’s the key – to keep an eye out for the swing.
Don’t Be Afraid To Slow Down
“I know that when I get closely involved in a project, I’m excited about, it’s partly to do with the fact I love to feel busy and useful, but it’s also to do with the fear of stopping,” Cotton says. “What if I truly stopped? How would I feel? Would my demons creep back up and shout in my face? My inner compass will always spin towards the route of exhaustion and boundary-pushing, but I now try to reprogramme my mindset to take a little time to stop, get centred and look around me. I tend to favour the kind of ‘stopping’ that allows me to trick my mind into thinking I’m still ‘doing’. Yoga, painting, running or cooking. This suits my over- active brain – and probably quells my underlying fear of truly letting go. Learning to slow down and stop once in a while is a tricky change to make, and you have to be prepared for where your mind might go [in terms of thinking of more worries, etc.] once you’ve stopped trying to distract it with other things. I think facing these things is a better option than battling on and covering your troubles by keeping busy.”
Happiness isn’t a mountain to climb, according to Cotton. “It’s just one foot in front of the other on your path,” and her insightful book is full of little steps that will help make simple, practical differences count.
Orion Books, approx. €17, out now.