One of the first questions I ask new clients is to think of a place they’ve felt happy. I encourage them to connect with a moment in time where they felt at ease, relaxed and well.
No pressure. No overwhelm. No fear. No stress
It might have been last week, it might have been decades ago. It might be in their imagination.
In trauma therapy, it’s a way to resource clients so they can reconnect with this Happy Place (calling it a safe place immediately brings danger to mind) and begin to calm down when triggered or flooded.
You can read more about ventral vagal anchors HERE but you don’t need to in order to use your imagination to help heal your whole self.
Find your Happy Place
Happy places don’t need to be idyllic beaches or forests or mountains (although many of mine ARE).
It might be sitting on your sofa with your cat / dog / lizard. It might be with a person. It might be on your own out in space.
Give yourself a few minutes now.
The beauty of this is that it’s super quick and simple AND gives the whole system a break from those potentially intrusive, ruminating thoughts that might be keeping you in stress response mode, impacting your health and wellbeing.
Press into the soles of the feet and any part of you that’s touching the floor, chair, sofa etc. Feel into that grounding support.
Know that you’re safe.
(If this is NOT a safe time to practice, please wait until you can actually relax into this process.)
Using your imagination and/or your memory, think of a time when you felt really relaxed.
As if, not matter what was going on, all was well.
You were well.
Who – in your imagination or memory – are you with? What are you doing? Where are you? How does it feel?
Make it as vivid for yourself as possible and use your Happy Place practice as often as possible (at least once a day. It can be a great thing to do before you go to sleep as connecting with a more image based way of thinking than our wordy days demand can ease you into a better night’s sleep).
Do feel free to email email@example.com with any questions about this.
Choose something that works for YOU
As I mentioned in the book, when I started giving my ever hypervigilant nervous system a break with this simple but effective mind body practice, the only place I could think of was floating, face down, out at sea. Far from any people but in no danger of drowning (I’d never go out that far in real life).
In real life, I love to float face down. I used to finish my hour long pool swims with this enormous ahhhhh and get brief little moments in the sea – obviously, I don’t want my relaxation moment to worry anyone else (a lifegard at a gorgeous public pool in Sarajevo once DID get concerned and I misjudged it once in Essex, too but am generally relaxed AND alert to avoid worrying anyone else).
A friend and I used to call it Disturbing Position (because we recognised the potential for this deeply relaxing ahhhhh to look quite disturbing from the outside)
And even though I’d never floated face down way out in the middle of the ocean, the experience in pools and closer to shore gave me enough of a taste to be able to amp it up in my imagination and create this instant Ahhhhhh of relaxation.
A mini holiday in my brain
From that (and with all the other healing practices I was working with) I built up quite a repertoire of real life Happy Places (the sea, the beach, a favourite tree, the lane I live on, the garden, town, the mountain.
Writing this am actually in awe of how transformed my life is in terms of being so much better at allowing that ahhhh and relaxation when it had felt so impossible for decades.
I’m sharing it in case you’re (like I used to) judging your own Happy Place as Too Weird.
It doesn’t matter. It’s in your imagination.
Start somewhere – anywhere – and add to it with time and practice.
A quick caveat
By building up a repertoire of Happy Places, we can adjust when life suddenly means that a moment that brought us ease and joy to think about, suddenly brings a wave of loss or sorrow.
A breakup or bereavement are just two examples (I don’t want to encourage sad thoughts by listing more) which will temporarily derail your Happy Place practice.
In time, you’ll be able to look back with love and affection and it may return but for now, for THIS practice (obviously, none of this is about toxic positivity. Take time to grieve and rage), for now choose something else.
Anything that brings you peace and ease rather than sadness and pain.
One of my Happy Places is London Liverpool Street Station
A few months into one of the Level 5 lockdowns, I noticed that before I was going to sleep at night, I was thinking Happy Thoughts about London Liverpool Street Station.
The bane of my life as a commuter, decades ago, I was so nostalgic for the hustle and bustle of strangers going, well, potentially ANYWHERE, I’d exhale more deeply as I imagined sitting or standing in the middle of it all, breathing it in like fresh sea air..
These pics were taken during my recent London and Essex visit – my first time back since January 2020. I surreptitiously snapped them while beaming under my mask, so so happy to be back for a few days.
We’d moved from Tottenham, London to Essex when I was about 4 years old and so Liverpool Street Station meant FREEDOM from an early age.
Then, when I went to university in Bangor, North Wales then lived in Cardiff and then London again, Liverpool Street Station meant I was nearly back to my parents’ house and visits with old friends so, again, HAPPY.
Both / And
There was a temporarily less enthusiastic relationship with the station when living in Essex commuting in rush hour to the other side of London meant regularly feeling trapped in an overcrowded concourse due to seemingly endless delays but after starting my own practice in 2004, the station again meant either interesting work meetings (and a lot of press lunches and other events) or meeting friends.
Now it means seeing friends on visits back there. And with this one being after SUCH a long time, I welled up a little.
Now, when it’s more crowded than feels comfortable for me (heading back to my friend’s house when, while not technically rush hour, it was way more packed than felt relaxing in a pandemic) I can use an array of mind body practices to regulate (aka feel better) without anyone even knowing. And the novelty this week is of course different to someone having to navigate anywhere.
But by recognising that a place or situation can be deeply relaxing AND stressful you can refine your own Happy Places.
Maybe you love the idea of the sea but the thought of seaweed freaks you out.
Perhaps you love a good mountain but aren’t great with heights
Use your imagination. For this practice, your Happy Place can be completely tailored to YOUR needs and wants. It’s your imagination.
What’s your favourite Happy Place to use for this practice?
I hope this post helps you remember existing Happy Places to help you calm, recharge and heal your whole system.
Please feel free to share this post on your social media etc so others who may can read it.