Do you want to help create a happier and kinder world? If so, please join our movement, add your pledge and we'll send you practical action ideas to make a difference. By choosing to Join, you trust Action for Happiness to take care of your personal information and agree to our Privacy Policy.

I will try to create more happiness and less unhappiness in the world around me



news rss feed rss logo

Small steps to happiness

10 Nov 2015 | Rachel Kelly

Rachel Kelly

When I came out last year as someone who had suffered from serious depression, I was often told how brave I was to share my story.

This worried me. If I was brave, I mused to myself, this implied I had something to be ashamed of. Would I have been labeled brave if I had confessed to having diabetes?

The stigma surrounding mental health means that we are still uncomfortable admitting we've suffered from mental illness. I know this because I've given many talks on the subject since I became an Ambassador for the mental health charity SANE, and since my memoir Black Rainbow: How words healed me - my journey through depression was published last April. I often ask audiences if they've been able to be open either in the workplace or with their families about their own experience of depression. Most haven't.

The reason, I think, is that those who suffer from depression feel as if they've failed in some way. And ours is not a culture that encourages us to be open about perceived failures.  

We are embarrassed if we get things wrong. We worry we will be judged, and mocked. Many public figures, be they politicians, sportsmen, doctors or actors don't want to be seen as vulnerable or human. I was amazed recently when I was chatting about my own experience of mental illness with a high profile BBC presenter. He had suffered a breakdown too, but had kept very quiet out of fear - he didn't want this life experience that he had had to impact negatively on his career.

If we are to truly beat the stigma that surrounds mental illness, we need to deconstruct the idea that you are only a success if you live a 'perfect' life free of challenges, pain or setbacks. We need to adopt something of the positive attitude towards getting knocked down that is commonplace in America, a land where they hold workshops, seminars and conferences celebrating the art of making mistakes. Where they write books entitled Why Success Always Starts with Failure and have coined the term 'failing up' - encapsulating the perspective that the obstacles in our way can also serve as our stepping-stones.

Pugh Cartoon 2

Supposed failure, mistakes and even suffering, however undesirable, make us who we are. I don't regret having had depression even though it was horrendous to go through because it has ultimately shaped my life in a new and positive way.

Thanks to the illness I've had to learn a new way of being, born of adversity. I now feel calm and well, and sometimes even feel as if I'm walking on sunshine. Had I not been so ill, I would never have changed my ways and learnt to live life more consciously and with greater intention.

I now use a colourful salad bowl of strategies to stay well and happy. We all know we need to go to the gym to keep fit, but I've learnt we need to take responsibility for our mental health too. There are plenty of small steps I now follow which have made me feel grounded and have simplified my life - and created an environment in which happiness comes out unexpectedly, as the wonderful poet Raymond Carver put it.

Many of them involve ancient Buddhist philosophies, now rebranded in the West as 'mindfulness'. Typically, for example: before I suffered my first breakdown I was someone who either spent time regretting the past or worrying about the future, but by using breathing exercises I've learnt to refocus my attention more on the present moment and learnt to enjoy it in a new way.

Pugh Cartoon 1

Other strategies have involved changes to my diet as I've becoming increasingly aware of the links between mind and food. I'm a great believer in Vitamin D supplements in our normally overcast climate, as well as the mood-enhancing effects of Vitamin B.

Most fundamentally though, I think, has been a shift in how I view 'failure'. Now I embrace and revel in it - grateful for each new lesson and bend in the road.

My own illness has given me a dream - that by sharing some of the ideas and strategies that have helped me recover in my new book: Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness, perhaps even one other person might be helped.

I wrote the book in the same time period in which I was fortunate enough to run poetry workshops for mental health charities including Mind, SMART and Depression Alliance. In these meetings, I shared my own steps to recovery and was lucky enough to hear what was helping others. It was electrifying when week-by-week, participants reported what was working for them and we were able to pool together our common insights and goals.

Now, today, I do feel brave. Not for sharing anything that's shameful, but for facing the wall of silence: putting myself out there and encouraging others to do the same.


Walking On Sunshine   Rachel -kelly

Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness is published by Short Books. For more information please follow @RachelKellyNet on Twitter or visit www.rachel-kelly.net

The Pugh cartoons (which also feature in Rachel's book) appear courtesy of the Daily Mail.


Useful Books

Here are two great books that can help if you're feeling unhappy or depressed:

Mindfulness Book   Pp For Overcoming Depression Book

Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world - by Mark Williams

Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression - by Miriam Akhtar

Lucy's story

Lucy Roberts 2

Find out how Lucy used ideas from the Ten Keys to Happier Living to help deal with depression and anxiety: Read Lucy's story

Action for Happiness


follow us on twitter