How Can You Tell If You're Okay? And Why It Matters
Creating harmony and contentment in your life
Posted Oct 05, 2017
Readers of my column over the last few years will know that I am very keen on feeling okay. This concept was first introduced to the public by Thomas Harris in 1969 and most therapies are now based on getting to an okay place – not a perfect place and certainly not someone else’s view of what’s okay but somewhere you’re comfortable and is good enough for you.
Feeling okay about what exactly? About yourself, primarily and then feeling content with most aspects of your life. Are you physically and mentally in good shape? Do you feel comfortable with where you are in life? What are your relationships like, both professionally, socially and personally? Do you have the ability to observe yourself and others compassionately, with humour and kindness?
These are very important questions and I suggest that if you “don’t know” then the likelihood is that you are not feeling okay in relation to some aspects of your life. Signs to be aware of are that you are irritable or short tempered, judgemental or feeling judged, righteous, angry, sad, sick at heart or unwell for long periods with no discernible cause. Headaches, stomach aches, fatigue, insomnia, rashes and crankiness are all signs that something is definitely not okay. Add to the list being cynical or disengaged, fed up or bored, pugnacious or discontent or just plain sad and weary. Any or all of these are red flags and you need to do something about it.
The first thing you can do which will take care of 50% of the symptoms is to exercise. Exercise regulates mood and appetite, it regulates sleeping and wards off depression. Information released in the last few weeks by The American Journal of Psychiatry who has just finished an 11 year study of 22,000 Norwegians, concluded that people who did not exercise were 44% more likely to become depressed than those who did exercise for as little as 1-2 hours a week. So get moving. It costs nothing and you could save money by either walking to work/school/college/the shops and by doing your own housework and, if you have one, gardening. This is the most important intervention to make time for; any and all activities will improve your mood.
Be kind to yourself and others. Be compassionate; life is hard enough for many folks without being judgemental or blaming. When things go wrong, see this as an opportunity to learn. How could you/or others have done things differently – what worked? What didn’t? If you are one of life’s perfectionists, please, give it up! It’s exhausting being a perfectionist and holding yourself and others to account and, additionally, you will find that most people don’t like you – that’s seriously good grounds for not feeling okay. Fine to have high standards but realise that these are not always necessary and that not everyone will share your view of their importance. In the word of Elsa “Let it go!”
If you think most people are doing better than you, are liked more than you and have an easier life than you, then you, too, will feel not okay whilst feeling that others are okay. Action is the only cure. What can you do about your situation? One simple step is “learned optimism”. Martin Seligman studied the differences between people who were fatalistic and people who were active in their own lives and the only difference was one of attitude. The people who felt they could impact their situation, however small, were optimistic realists who saw the best in most people and most situations based on the information to hand. They very rarely used words such as “always” or “never” when describing their situation. They didn’t say they were “only” mothers, janitors, lawyers, policemen, taxi drivers, doctors etc., they were proud of what they did and took action when things went wrong.
You can adopt this attitude for yourself and there’s a pretty big chance that things will improve and by taking action, too, you will empowered. So if you have always wanted to be a chef, find out what qualifications you need and start getting them. If someone is bothering you or bullying you, find support and confront this person. Focus on people you admire who are doing well and start copying their behaviour. I finished my psychology degree at 40 – it took me 6 years and I was working and bringing up two children by myself. I’m not saying it was easy but it was certainly worthwhile and it’s totally the reason why you are reading this now!
It’s not okay not to feel okay! Humans are designed with a great capacity for joy and contentment and most of these feelings are not based on jobs, status and possessions but on good relationships – firstly with yourself. So be kind to yourself, treat yourself like a beloved child, relation or pet. Do what’s in your best interests, what you know is right for you and what feels good and brings contentment. Secondly be kind and involved with others. You may need very little company and be a natural introvert or conversely be very gregarious. However you are, any positive interaction on your terms is good for you. We know that isolated humans die much earlier than those who are socially connected. Smile, say hello, take an interest in others, suspend judgement and in treating others as okay you will come to feel okay yourself and your capacity to enjoy life will expand and blossom.
Harris, T (1969) I'm OK/You're OK, Harper and Row
American Journal of Psychiatry , Prof. Samuel Harvey, ongoing
Seligman, Martin E P, Ph D, Learned Optimism, 1990, Vintage Books