At the bus stop near my house where I catch my ride into town on a regular basis is an unusual piece of graffiti. I often walk to the bus stop, sit down and turn my head to the ground and read the line of words neatly scrolled on the pavement that I guess you can only call vandalism but it seems somewhat inappropriate to label it so –

“You Deserve Happiness”

The first time I read this I had a chuckle because it felt wrong to be reading a statement intended to be uplifting in a format usually reserved for rude comments or political statements. I put it down to the fact that my suburb has an unusually high proportion of new age hippy types with an affinity for positive affirmations. I love people like that. I’m one of them too so I’m living in the right place.

Positive Affirmations

Over the more recent years I’ve worked hard on my own self-talk to improve the way I speak to myself. You probably know your own inner voice quite well. It’s that little trail of thought in your head, that little voice that says things to you throughout the day, that reacts to what other people say, to what you say and what you do. It probably says too much but it has an opinion on absolutely everything so it’s hard to get it to shut-up.

In my recent history my inner voice was part of a problem I had. I can’t wholly blame it for all my issues but it was a major contributor to something I suffered through in my late teens and early twenties. I remember quite vividly the first few times I suffered the symptoms.

I jumped on the bus from university to go home after a day of lectures. I don’t think it was a day any worse than any others. I showed the bus driver my ticket, and being the cool guy that I was went to the back of the bus to sit down with all the other cool back-seaters. I can’t remember what I was thinking at the time but I remember feeling that it was quite inconsequential – everyday worries about university and life – the sort of thing most people would think about when they were a university student.

Suddenly out of the blue a feeling of absolute fear gripped me. It felt like it came from nowhere. My heart raced, my thoughts rushed, I couldn’t sit still and I had this horrible feeling like I was going to die. The sensation passed within a few moments.

I went on to experience this many times, sometimes in really obscure places like in the middle of watching a movie at the cinema, walking home just talking to a friend, sitting in bed before going to sleep and listening to a particularly boring lecture. It was all quite random and strange and not something I enjoyed at all.

Eventually with the help of my counsellor mother I figured out I was suffering from panic attacks. My story was not unusual as I read a book about the problem. Apparently one in five people suffer from the disorder at some point in their life. Whether it is because of brain chemical imbalances or for whatever reasons it is quite prevalent in our modern western culture and I was its lucky latest “victim”.

For people who have never experienced a panic attack it can be hard to fathom what it is like. It is pure fear. An awful rush of emotion that causes your body to react in ways it should not react given the present situation. As the book explained to me my panic attacks were the result of a very animal instinct, a fight or flight instinct that in normal circumstances would come on in situations of life-threatening danger. The rush of blood, increased heart rate and alert senses where meant for me to be able to run away from or fight whatever it was threatening my existence, just like any good animal would. However sitting in the movies is not a situation of life-threatening danger so clearly something was messed up.

Learned Behaviour

Over the course of the months and years from the point when I first had a panic attack I went through therapy to help improve my situation. With verbal guidance from my mother and father, a helpful book or two and lots of self-development I managed to curb the problem. I did go through several recurrences especially during difficult times in my life and I can’t really say that I am 100 percent cured even now but I feel totally in control of that aspect of my life.

To anyone reading this who currently suffers from panic attacks believe me when I say this – it is definitely possible to get control of them and eliminate them from your life. I may occasionally feel the sensations of one coming on but I’m at the point now that I can simply control my thought process to stop it. It no longer has any power over me at all.

As a result of that experience I gained a very powerful skillset – the ability to control my thought process. The benefits of being able to do this go way beyond helping me deal with panic and anxiety – I can now control my emotional state by changing the way I think.

Can you imagine how helpful that is? Think about any time you have been depressed, demotivated or reacted adversely to situations with anger, or frustration or self-loathing or hatred or by beating yourself up by drinking too much or taking drugs. While positive thinking and being in control of your emotional state is not a cure for life’s problems it’s pretty close and I am very thankful for it’s benefits.

Positivity Training

Some people scoff at positive affirmations and consider them useless but as anyone who has had panic attacks will tell you, at the root cause of them are the opposite – negative affirmations. As a result of spending most days thinking negatively and repeating self-talk that beat myself up my body reacted with panic attacks. In your case you may not have the same reaction as I did, but if your self-talk is negative it’s holding you back from achieving your dreams and can certainly be a cause of things like depression, feeling like you have no control over you life and an inability to feel happiness.

Here’s an exercise for you in positivity training – you are going to need to expand your awareness somewhat if you haven’t done this before. During today stop and take note of how you react to situations and be aware of what your little voice says to you as you go about your daily activities. Pay particular attention to how you react when other people speak to you, when you receive feedback directly relating to you or something you have done and when you see other people enjoying something you want.

You may be very surprised to notice that your self-talk is terrible and you spend a lot of your day beating yourself up over your inabilities, inadequacies and perceived failures. It’s amazing how easy it is to be down on your life and reinforce that attitude by telling yourself that it’s all your fault or you are just not “lucky” or you have no talents whatsoever. What is the “truth” doesn’t matter, what is important is to change your attitude, react positively AND think positively.

By changing the dialogue in your mind you become the greatest life coach you could ever have. Your trainer will be with you at all times, ready to pick you up no matter how bad your reality is. Then, and here’s where the magic really starts to happen, by simply telling yourself positive things and believing in positive outcomes you want and deserve they actually start to manifest. Whether it’s an active result of your positive attitude, a subconscious motivator or some great spiritual force doesn’t really matter, (and all you negative thinking skeptics will never experience this, not because it doesn’t work, but because you don’t change your attitude), what matters is that you will actually notice an improvement in two of the most important things in your life – you will feel great and you will start to achieve things you used to beat yourself up over because you lacked.

The Key To Happiness

During a particularly angsty period of my life searching for the meaning of it all I went looking online for answers. Who do you turn to when looking for answers? Why Google of course.

I typed in “what is the meaning of life?” and came across one of my now favorite web pages that I often refer people to when they are really down in the dumps and questioning everything. The page is mostly plain text and aptly titled for good search rankings although I doubt the author knows anything about SEO –

The Meaning of Life

This page attempts to answer quite a few questions and while my intellectual side thoroughly enjoyed the discussion it also helped remind me of a very simple fact –

You Choose To Be Happy

Happiness is ultimately not in anyone else’s hands or controlled by any external element at all. It’s purely a choice you can make. As often as I can I choose to be happy. It’s not always as easy as that but by undertaking to change the way you think and create an ongoing positive dialogue with yourself you are both working towards the same goals – that’s you and your little voice – both aiming for happiness.

Remember what the sidewalk tells us –

“You Deserve Happiness”

Yaro Starak