Building a happiness toolbox


Want to shift your brain matter into a better space, without positive thinking? 🙂

When people suffer from depression, the brain can feel like it’s literally a fogged up car. With anxiety, there’s just way too much fight or flight going on and everything is overwhelming, unless it (feels) like the external world is under control.

Scientists are doing really cool work looking at how our brains work in complex ways when we do relatively simple things. Some time ago, a study was done with a group of people who underwent brain scans while being shown a series of 30 paintings by some of the world’s greatest artists. What happened? The artworks they considered most beautiful increased blood flow in a certain part of the brain by as much as 10 per cent – the equivalent of gazing at someone you love.

Beauty is one avenue for a brain boost. My friend Josi has always surrounded herself with works of colour, splashes of scatter cushions and things so visually lovely to look at that she takes herself out of her feelings and into the state she wants to be.

So what if you’re too depressed or sad or stressed to look at a painting? Or too afraid to even try peel yourself out of the house to go to an art gallery?

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Well, in times like these, what helps is a toolbox of ideas – like a physical, more creative version of the self-care plan. It’s a box of ideas and things that one can look at it, and feel sparked by. Or the box could have self-care comfort things within it. It should be something pretty, and filled with things that make you feel connected to something more wonderful than your awful feelings.

Some effort to set up, but after that it’s a ready-made tool to help you anytime.

When we are little, we slowly learn to self-regulate because if we don’t we see we are rejected by the group. So, while felt it good aged four shouting and hitting your friend, at age 10 you stop doing this because you have learnt to develop other ways of being – which make life easier, rather than harder.

Self soothing is a developmental stage, a skill that infants gain as they grow older. As adults we do this on a daily basis because if we didn’t, we would be a stressed out ball of emotion, constantly swinging between extremes.

If you’re mentally unwell, this ability to self regulate and self soothe might just feel too much. But it can be as simple as making a little care box for yourself to use whenever you need to.

If you don’t have the energy to make a box, a simple list will do 🙂

So, how do you start?

Write down a brain-load of things that the you-before-mental-illness enjoyed doing, and might enjoy trying now. This should be as long and varied as possible, and micro-step focused . Things you’ve actually done. Don’t put down skydiving if you’ve never done it. Unless you’re maniac it’s unlikely you’ll get there 🙂

For example:

  1. I used to like having a bath with glitter foam
  2. I used to laugh at memes and funny pictures
  3. I once said caring things about a tough situation to myself and then I felt better
  4. I used to love to vacuum the house while saying angry speeches to everyone I was remotely annoyed with.
  5. I used to wash my hair and blow dry it.
  6. I used to like putting colours together in new ways when I got dressed.

You can write this list and stick it next to your bed (I did this and it helped).

Or, chuck the words or sentences in your self care / happiness toolkit box.

Making the actual box goes something like this:

  1. Buy a box from a stationary store.
  2. Better still, use a second hand one – something around the house – as long as it’s fairly easy to see in (a wine case won’t do!)
  3. Write Happiness Box on it 🙂
  4. Give it a quick clean

You can do two things now. Put your happiness list in cut up words or sentences into the box. Then chuck a few things in which evoke sensation, scent or something lovely in you. For example, new socks, nail polish, a good pen, a perfume bottle, bubble wrap to pop.

Anything that’s small enough to fit and reminds you that happiness is accessible anywhere and anytime. You can mix the two up 🙂

Close the box and put it next to your bed or somewhere within reach. Stretching out to reach something can feel a bit much to do if you’re very depressed.

This is not a fix or a cure, but a little way of cushioning yourself when times feel impossibly hard.

Don’t worry if you can’t do it. If you achieve doing even 10% of this task, you’re winning. If you actually do any of them, try and observe your brain before and after. You’ll notice a difference!

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p.s. for more ideas, check out the awesome list of 25 ‘what to put in your box’ from:




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