The concept of a “happy place” certainly isn’t unique to self-care. The phrase has long been associated with meditation (as, for example, a way to calm the mind during a restless night’s sleep) as well as with gratitude journalling, where positive thought can (for some) act as a barrier against some of life’s everyday struggles.
Personally, I like to have a happy place that I can physically get to at a moment’s notice, where placing myself in that zone has a calming, rejuvenating influence. Being an avid walker and living in the Peak District, outside space (especially one where you need a brisk walk/climb for the best view) is a good go-to. Or maybe it’s your favourite local coffee shop, or reading spot. (Can you see my introverted tendencies shining through?)
But my number one happy place is undoubtedly my Peloton bike. Those who’ve followed any of my blog/podcast output will be well aware of my addiction (it’s like the humorous adage: How do you know if somebody’s a vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you). However, I’ve never really spoken about what it does for my soul - and how its impact can actually sometimes be negative, as well as positive.
Happiness in the happy place
The UK Conservative party (for all of its many troubles) caused some uproar last year when party leader Oliver Dowden declared that civil servants needed to get “off their Pelotons and back to their desks”, in a tirade which was aimed to increase the return of people into offices during a lull in COVID. Yet the nature of the statement undercuts some of the most beneficial things that I find as a Peloton owner:
- Given that I share a bike with my wife, it’s cheaper than two gym memberships.
- Plus, I’m more likely to exercise, given that I don’t have to force myself out of the house and drive to the gym - the shower is only six feet away from the bike!
- This “quick fix” of a home workout means that it’s much easier to find a few moments of wellbeing within the working day; despite being the member of a Manchester city centre gym pre-COVID, I could never drag myself into the gym on a lunchbreak as it required lugging an extra bag of sweaty clothes on my commute each evening!
Knowing that my happy place is waiting for me is also an excellent carrot for myself during the working day, as I can give myself a quick reward of endorphins when I complete my final critical work task. (Although, as somebody who’s struggled with burnout in the past, be very wary of a happy place which asks you to exert more energy: you might be refilling the happiness tank, but your body needs to rest sometime too.)
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows
However, the instant fix of having your happy place on your doorstep can have a reverse psychological impact sometimes. As the parent of a toddler, I’d always been quite aware of the struggle to find a few quiet moments to myself, but it wasn’t until I purchased my Peloton that it became an issue for me.
The platform rewards you for repeat interaction (for instance, badges for completing streaks of consecutive days, and medals for completing set training regimes) and, even though my actual amount of free time (or lack of free time) hadn’t changed, my awareness of my time had changed. Suddenly, that brief half-hour of “me time” between finishing work and collecting my son from nursery can feel more frustrating, if I realise that it’s not quite long enough to squeeze in a class. Or if my son’s actually having a lie-in (an unfortunately rare treat), I feel bad because I can’t jump on the bike in case it disturbs him.
You’re allowed to be happy
When your happy place gives you the blues, it seriously sucks. But it was my wife who gave me the best advice here: it’s okay - and, in fact, practically a necessity - to take time for yourself. (Funnily enough, this is something that the Peloton instructors will frequently say as well; I often find myself nodding along when they espouse “maybe this is the only twenty minutes that you’ll get to yourself all day”.)
As the saying goes, if you’re going to be a healthy, functioning member of a team (or family) then it’s important to put on your own oxygen mask first. If you’re running on empty, you’re not going to be in a good physical or mental state of mind to help others.
As for time? We have more of it than we might think. (Did you know that there are twenty-four hours of it in a day?) Some of that time shouldn’t be sacrificed: sleep is important, and I’ve been guilty of getting late to bed because I’ve been trying to tick a few things off a to-do list. But workplaces are becoming increasingly supportive of flexible working patterns that can help to support your own wellbeing. In most organisations that I’ve worked with, for instance, nobody would mind if you extended your lunchbreak by 30 minutes (to support getting out in the fresh air, for instance) if you made some effort to make up the time - and you’d probably end up being more productive in that extra time, as you’ll be more refreshed.
If you’re not sure what your happy place is, take some time to consider: What brings me joy? What would I do more of, if only I had the time? What makes me feel revitalised after a long day at work? The answer to these questions may reap a huge psychological benefit if you can harness them into an accessible happy place.
Key takeaways 📝
- Having a go-to place/activity which calms and centres you can be a huge mental health benefit.
- Self-care isn’t selfish - it also benefits those around you.
- Utilise flexible working practices to make time where it might not seem to exist.