Walking with my Dad tonight I found myself having to answer the most important question anyone ever asks.

“Why should I live?”

Dad is 80. He recently lost the love of his life – my Mum – after being with her for 62 years. Two weeks later he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given a year to live. Plus he has an advancing form of Alzheimers. A triple whammy if you like.

Next Tuesday he is moving out of our family home to a one bedroom existence in an aged care facility.

So, knowing all this, on our walk tonight he shared that there really is nothing else to look forward to other than dying. But he did say that he wanted to help some old people by pushing them around in their wheelchairs.

My comment was something that has given my life purpose recently.

It is …to be of service to another.

To be helpful.

To give and to see the effect of your effort on the face of another.

It’s a pity that this only enters our brain after a trauma and we are forced to re look at our life purpose. Or to find a purpose if our life direction has vanished.

But is this just my opinion? There seems to be some research into happiness that we are all aware of and it has been happening right under our noses for many years. We are reminded of it regularly in the news and it becomes the topic of our conversations for a period of time, then we slide back to our normal day to day life.

The evidence that I mention is the suicide rate of movie and rock stars comparative to those involved in community work or altruism.

Think about it. Recently we have seen high profile suicides – Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain and Avicii to name a few famous ones. It seems to hit the young and old, the male and female. The ones we think that would have it all to live for.

We are wrong. Accumulation of fame and wealth is not all it’s cracked up to be.

A life of meaning seems to be the way. It provides us with a blanket of emotional security that ensures that we are safe in the knowledge that we matter. That we are worthwhile. That tomorrow we will be of value to another.

And that is a reason that I used on Dad. He agreed and we walked home with a new plan starting Tuesday.

Good on you Dad.

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Either I’m happy or I’m not.

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Well it’s not that easy. There aren’t two destinations on this treadmill. And either end of the spectrum isn’t desirable or possible.

I mean, if you wanted to be 100% happy – REALLY happy – and couldn’t be calm until you got there, you would be a mess.

Firstly, 100% happiness is a myth. The people you think are happy – film stars, the guy who dates the pretty girl you look at, the best sportsperson in your area of interest – these people wake up some mornings and don’t want to get out of bed. I’ve asked them. It’s a universal truth. 100% happiness, 24 hours a day, is a myth.

So what is real? What is acceptable? What should you shoot for?

Here are some markers to hit on your journey:

  • Do you have a job? This gives you a reason to get up in the morning. Even if you don’t like your job, you are involved in something (hopefully) bigger than you.
  • Do you have friends? I know people who are depressed probably don’t attract vital, lively friends but there is a way you can work on this. Join a club, be a person who is like the friends you want, do a course, the list goes on.
  • Do you have a drug or alcohol problem? If so, get off it straight away. Hard advice for those that are addicts and easy for those that aren’t but the point is that substance addiction is a slippery slope that leads to depression and suicide and neither of those is fun.
  • Are you in an intimate relationship? Happily married people are less stressed and live longer. Enough said.
  • Do you exercise? I don’t mean the gym. Although that is fine, I mean somehow you have to let off steam and give your body a reason to go to sleep at night.
  • Do you sleep 8 hours a night and do you wake up early? Fatigue is a huge marker for depression along with a routine which means getting up early at the same time every day.
  • Do you make your bed? Now it’s getting weird I hear you say. Yes, this is one of those small things that tells your brain that you have got your act together. Plus it’s easy and it’s at the start of the day.  At least if it is the worst day ever, you will go home to a bed that’s been made.
  • Do you read? Do you educate yourself? Reading and education mean it’s impossible to get dumber as you get older. This means you will understand yourself more easily and probably find out about other highly successful people that you admire who also struggled. You might even realise that someone else was more unhappy than you and ended up smiling.
  • Do you have an area of your life that has meaning? If not, you can start by looking at the most depressing thing in another person’s life and start working to alleviate their suffering. You will be amazed at the rewards you receive by serving the needs of another.

Finally, if you start doing these, you will find that meaning in life is a form of happiness and in the end, happiness – any percentage of it – isn’t that important if you have a higher purpose.

Oh, one more thing that I borrowed from AA. It’s the last step in their 12 step process. It’s to help another person on their road. But get going yourself first.

Start with the easiest one.

Then make a routine of it.

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Wrote in my journal today that the days seem to be passing quicker. 56 years of age and with my mother recently dying and my father fighting Alzheimers and cancer, the brevity of life seems all too real. The only choice, it seems, is to relax and watch each moment pass. This seems to bring about a sense of calmness and acceptance.
The busier life is, the more important this becomes.

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Similar to being in the ocean, the more you struggle the harder it is to stay afloat and enjoy the swim.

 

We can’t control what our parents did. It’s in the past.

But we can control what we do. That’s in the present. Even though it may not change our current state, it has a direct bearing on our future state.

Remember, you are what you are because of what you did yesterday. It created you. So what you do now, will gradually have an effect on what you become. Even if you do nothing, that still has an effect.

So, one small act now, then repeated tomorrow, is all it takes to bring about huge changes. People in the future will say, “Yeah but you’re lucky”.

If only they knew.

Parenting

 

This exact question was asked as I finished a speech recently on depression and anxiety.
I had told the audience about how widespread depression is. That every day, six Australians take their own lives.
The Lucky Country question disturbed me as I didn’t really have an answer. I mean, if your life is threatened you will fight tooth and nail to survive. So, when our standard of living is so high and our safety assured, why do we feel empty?

The answer lies in a fascinating scientific study conducted in 1999 by Simons and Chabris. They found that when we focus on a given task we selectively delete other factors even when they are right in front of our face. To watch this, called the gorilla experiment, click here: https://youtu.be/vJG698U2Mvo

But here comes the crunch. When we are focused on the things that make us comfortable, it is often at the expense of the things that will provide us with the most reward.
Our mission, or purpose in life, is invisible when we are comfortable.

Our job now is not to make ourselves uncomfortable to achieve something.
It is to clarify what matters most.

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1A46F4E2-C086-4120-9DBD-A81BAEE48220Wrote in my journal today that the days seem to be passing quicker. At 56 years of age and with my mother recently dying and my father fighting Alzheimers and cancer, the brevity of life seems all too real. The only choice, it seems, is to relax and watch each moment pass. This seems to bring about a sense of calmness and acceptance.
The busier life is, the more important this becomes.
Similar to being in the ocean, the more you struggle the harder it is to stay afloat and enjoy the swim.

Work, relationships, life direction.
I think the decisions we make today have a profound effect on our future. Small actions I make regularly don’t mean much in the short term but over the years people tend to comment “you are so lucky”.Sean Allen
Not luck at all. Just patience I think.

Some notes to reflect on:

I cried most nights for about a year.
There were times that I had to wait 5 or 6 days for a counselling appointment and struggled in the meantime.
Trying to work whilst dealing with the trauma of a broken marriage was incredibly hard.
Some nights after I finished work I would say goodbye to the staff, lock the outside door then go into my office and crawl under the desk and lie in the foetal position
I tried to self medicate but it didn’t work.

BUT:

My mum gave me the advice “one day at a time“ and that was exactly how I got through it.
I conducted myself in a way that made me proud in later years.
When my kids grew up they realised I was traumatised by the situation and now respect me for the way I handled myself. I have become a role model for my son.
I make much better decisions now.
My life and current level of happiness is much better than it was prior to the trauma.

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Plunge on my friend.

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The saviour of common sense.

A ritual. A daily routine. Regular tasks that set you up for success and a positive mindset.

Mine involves simple tasks that make me feel good about the start to my day. Here they are: Read the rest of this entry »

My talk today…

Posted: April 7, 2018 in Uncategorized

Today I speak again on behalf of BeyondBlue. One of my messages is to look at your lifestyle and constantly ensure you are on track and moving in the direction of your values and beliefs.
Life is not suffering. And it’s not all happiness. It’s a mixture. Remembering that allows you to stay calm when in a storm.
You may find you are surrounded by certain conditions but that doesn’t mean you have to stay there.
Sean Allen.IMG_E1851