January 7, 2019

How I Stayed Healthy and Happy During the Worst Year of My Life

how i stayed happy and healthy during the worst year of my life, positive psychology

How I Stayed Healthy and Happy During the Worst Year of My Life

Have you had an especially tough year? Fear not, many adults have been, or will end up here at some point in their lives. That point in your life when you feel like everything around you is working against your happiness. The feeling can be likened to quicksand. Any tactics used to escape can make it seem like you are sinking lower and faster.

On October 1, 2014, my husband walked out on me. We weren’t fighting, no one was unfaithful, we still loved each other (and still do)…he just wasn’t happy in our marriage. I teach happiness so I understand when someone wants to pursue their own happiness. I was devastated but I understood. I was overwhelmed with sadness but I was not angry. I want to share with everyone out there going through a tough year how I stayed healthy and happy during the worst year of my life. I will walk you through my very personal account of my worst year, then tell you how I prepared myself to process all the negativity around me and proceed with a healthy and happy life.

Anger Can Be A Naturally Common Reaction, But It’s Not The Only Way

I am always fascinated by how common it is for people ending a marriage or relationship to be angry with each other. I frequently witness rants on Facebook where people trash their ex, brag about cutting off funds from them, and forcing their spouse into poverty…I guess I can’t speak for all of the unfavourable reasons why people split – like cheating and constant fighting. If that was me, I think I would be angry too. However, our health and happiness is in our hands so we need to focus on how we can control that in a bad situation.

Red robot with holding broken heart how to be happy and healthy

Honesty Is The Best Policy!

My divorce was an amicable split, and I’m grateful for that. And, in a way, I think both my ex and I chose to end it that way. We CHOSE to be amicable. We swore we would not get lawyers involved or yell at each other over this. We CHOSE to be nice. That all stemmed from honesty. Rather than hiding our true feelings to ourselves, which is why I believe people encounter infidelity, fighting, and a fall out of love, we CHOSE to be honest with one another. My ex CHOSE to be honest about his unhappiness. He CHOSE to find a solution to his unhappiness. As much as it hurt me, I have to respect his decision to be honest. It broke a relationship apart, but it saved it from degrading into a bitter, unhappy, and unhealthy relationship. Armed with the truth, we are far more prepared to come to grips with a bad situation and pursue happiness for ourselves.

a couple sitting on a park bench trying to figure out how to work through a breakup

Where Do We Go Once The Anger Fades?

Honesty helped me understand this devastating situation and move past anger rather quickly, but what came next was a bit harder to move past. Honesty did not help relieve the incredible sadness I felt for the loss of my husband, for the loss my children were feeling and for the loss of our life together. I felt so alone. I felt a tremendous hole in my life – like a limb was missing. I felt like my whole future had been erased. And where did my past go? It felt as if someone stole a huge part of me, making me feel like I wasn’t myself anymore. But therein lies the solution. How, in the face of sadness, do we find ourselves again? There is no one size fits all for this conundrum. For some people, it takes the support of family and friends. For others, it may be revisiting things from your past that you may miss. I always recommend that people revisit hobbies/passions/interests, call them what you will, and breathe life back into them. What commonly happens to people suffering from sadness is they tend to ruminate on the past. It stops them from living in the moment and finding new happiness. Instead, they long for the old happiness in the past, and ruminate about why it’s gone, and possibly how they can get it back.

Be Prepared… Things Can Get Worse!

As much as I hate to say this, things can get worse. Sometimes we hit a point where we think it could never get worse. Then it does! What then? A few weeks after my divorce with my husband, my mother, who was 87 and living in a nursing home, decided that she didn’t want to eat anymore. I tried making her favourite meals and fed them to her, only to have her throw it all up a few minutes later.  Every time I went to visit I watched her die a little bit more. For months I was visiting her every day. Every day she refused to eat. This only added to the mounting sadness I was feeling. I needed to pull myself together, but it seemed that 2015 was just a runaway train. Was there a stop I could get off at anytime soon? Unfortunately, the bad news kept rolling in.

woman with her hands over her face in distress how to be happy and healthy

So What Do We Do When We Hit The Peak?

Month after month my mother stayed alive by drinking protein drinks. But I knew she was slowly passing. She didn’t want to stay any longer. On August 10, 2015, she passed away peacefully. I remember seeing her in the casket. She looked so beautiful, just like she was sleeping. Once again, the sadness was overwhelming. Both my father and mother were now gone. Then, on September 26, 2015, my father-in-law – the man who was like a father to me – died suddenly. He had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease but he was comfortable and we weren’t expecting him to go that day. At this time, I was so tremendously grateful for the resilience training I had. You see, I study the science of psychological well-being and I teach it to audiences around the world. So I knew what I had to do to stay healthy and happy at this very difficult time. I was overwhelmed with grief and sadness and I wondered how people without my training get through times like this? How is it possible?

The Path Out of Unhappiness Is Paved With Hard Work!

I think of times like this as the ‘Olympics’ of our lives. The most challenging thing we could imagine. And I can’t imagine going to the Olympics without training first. With all the training I had, I was ready to go to the Olympics and succeeded at not falling into a depression. Nor did I need to resort to medication to get me through this (Not that there is anything wrong with that if you need it). I also didn’t binge drink or eat to fill the void. I did the opposite in fact. I ate better than ever and went to hot yoga every day. I knew that taking care of my body would be the best thing I could do for my mental well-being. The research really does support the idea ‘healthy body, healthy mind’.

two woman working out in a gym giving each other a high five while planking how to be healthy and happy

You Need To Open Your Mind To A New Perspective…

The funny thing about our brains is that a lot of what we feel is about how we perceive things, rather than what is actually reality. Through years of stress, sadness, trauma, etc we form these filters. They can be a strong reason why we ruminate about things we perceive as injustices against us. Rather than finding solutions to the problems these filters sometimes give us justifications. For example, some people cannot mend relationships with family or friends because their filter makes them perceive any, or all, their actions as purposefully harmful. Sometimes we can release ourselves from this toxic way of thinking by changing our perspective. 

My Big Perspective Shift and How It Saved Me 

In my darkest year, I turned to gratitude. When a door closes in our lives we often sit for so long at that closed door, angry, filled with resentment, banging on that door, wishing it would open. And yet it stays solidly shut. We forget that we have a whole life going on – if we only had the mental energy to turn our attention to all the other good things still in our lives. I decided every morning I would wake up and make a list in my mind of what I was grateful for. Good health, family, friends, living in a great city…the list goes on forever. And don’t underestimate the power of actually putting this list to paper. Putting something on paper makes it feel even more real and appreciated rather than letting it float around in your thoughts. Gratitude was my greatest resilience tool and still is to this day. You cannot be unhappy when you are appreciating everything around you. And there is always, always, always something to be grateful for. This is when I realized that humans don’t have a single path to happiness. We have to open ourselves up to all the possibilities that can result in happiness.

a pad of paper with headline reading Today and numbers 1 through 4 listed below it how I stayed healthy and happy during the worst year of my life

Find Your Foundation To Build Your New Happiness Around

With an overwhelming sense of sadness in 2015, I also reached out to my friends to find solace. And I did every day. When my husband walked out, my girlfriends came to my rescue. Every day they texted, took me out, dropped by my house with food, uplifted me with kind words, took me dancing…you name it, they did it.  On October 1, 2015, I decided to invite all the girlfriends who were involved in my healing to a special thank you dinner. There were 22 women around the table. I told each one of them how they contributed to my healing. I told them all how grateful I was for their friendship. To this day, aside from my daughters, my girlfriends are the greatest gifts of my life. When you focus your energy on what you’re grateful for, you deprive your mind the time to ruminate on the past. You have the power to leave the past in the past. And once you do you will find yourself a more positive person. 

two women sitting on a patio with beers and laughing together how to be happy and healthy

And Last, But Definitely Not Least…

BE KIND TO YOURSELF! I was also a good friend to myself during my roughest year. What I mean is, I was self-compassionate. With so much going on, it would be easy to beat myself up and say negative things to myself. I wasn’t going to go there. Never once did I utter an unkind word to myself. Come hell or high water, I was going to treat myself like my best friend would treat me. With love, friendship and kindness. And that made all the difference. We have to forgive ourselves for our mistakes because everyone makes them. We also have to remind ourselves that it isn’t necessarily our fault that bad things are happening in our lives. We have the power to perceive, so use a filter that is set to a default of kindness and compassion for yourself.

Until next time,

Comments 10

  1. I was very touched by this article – somehow it was just what I needed to hear to remind me of the need for self care – friends – gratitude and family. The losses of life can at times seem overwhelming and endless – the pain can be so deep and profound.
    Your courage and grace in getting through is amazing. Thanks so much fo sharing.

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      I’m so glad it was helpful Carol. We often put ourselves last when we are going through such rough times but that is when we need self-care the most. Thank you for your kind words.

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  2. Thanks, Louisa, for your courage in sharing about such a difficult period in your life! Your prescription for resilience is a wonderful gift to your readers!

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  3. Always so insightful and I love how you share your vulnerability to help others through tough times. Thank you for the reminder and the permission to be human. It all comes down to being grateful! Thank you thank you

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