Can you remember the last time you lay in bed wrestling with your thoughts? You desperately wanted your mind to become calm, to just be quiet, so that you could get some sleep. But whatever you tried seemed to fail. Every time you forced yourself not to think, your thoughts exploded into life with renewed force. You told yourself not to worry, but suddenly discovered countless new things to worry about. As the night ground ever onwards, your strength progressively drained away, leaving you feeling fragile and broken. By the time the alarm went off, you were exhausted, bad tempered and thoroughly miserable.
Throughout the next day you had the opposite problem – you wanted to be wide awake but could hardly stop yawning. You stumbled into work, but weren’t really present. You couldn’t concentrate. Your whole body ached and your mind felt empty. You’d stare at the pile of papers on your desk for ages, hoping something, anything, would turn up so that you could gather enough momentum to do a day’s work. It seemed as though your life had begun to slip through your fingers . . . you felt ever-more anxious, stressed and exhausted.
When you feel trapped by such troubled and frantic times as these, it can seem impossible to escape. And yet it is possible to rediscover peace and contentment once again.
Professor Mark Williams and I know this to be true because we – and our colleagues – have been studying anxiety, stress and depression for over thirty years at Oxford University and other institutions around the world. This work has discovered the secret to happiness and how you can successfully tackle anxiety, stress, exhaustion and even full-blown depression. It’s the kind of happiness and peace that get into your bones and promotes a deep-seated authentic love of life, seeping into everything you do and helping you to cope more skilfully with the worst that life throws at you.
It’s a secret that was well understood in the ancient world and is kept alive in some cultures even today. But many of us in the Western world have largely forgotten how to live a good and joyful existence. And it’s often even worse than this. We try so hard to be happy that we end up missing the most important parts of our lives and destroying the very peace that we were seeking.