My name is Lindsey Stirling - dancing violinist; but for the many of you who’ve never visited my small corner of the Internet, let me give you a pizza slice of my story: I was granted my first taste of fame when I was brutally kicked off the show America’s Got Talent. On live TV in front of millions of viewers, the judges said that I sounded like “Rats being strangled.”
To say I was humiliated is the biggest understatement of my life, but somehow I didn’t give up.
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As I continued to share my music, door after door shut in my face, that is until I discovered YouTube. Finally, I had found a world in which I could create my career on my own terms. To this day I am an independent artist, paving my way without a record label. I have nine million subscribers on my YouTube channel, two Gold albums, I’ve performed across the world and I continuously have the pleasure of proving that anyone can write their own story.
Through all of this I’ve learned that happiness is not connected to circumstances. External influences have the power to drag us down or lift us up momentarily but lasting joy is only created through consistent work on our mental health.
The term “mental health” has a negative connotation, but we all have to deal with it whether we realize it or not. Consider this: One in 10 Americans will experience depression at one point in their life. 80 per cent of people who seek help see dramatic results.
Mental health is something we can learn to manage, though it took me years to realise that.
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A lot of my fans view me as this beacon of happiness; however, I wasn’t always this way. In my late teens and early twenties, I fell deep into anorexia and depression. I was obsessed with being thin, pretty, successful – thinking they equaled happiness. I struggled without even realising I had a problem. However, I have never been more miserable in my life. I remember looking at other people who I perceived to be happy and I longed to be like them. Yet, when I looked in the mirror I hated everything I saw looking back at me. Happiness felt foreign, so I accepted that some people are born happy and others aren’t.
It’s not like I was choosing to be unhappy. No one ever thinks they are choosing to be unhappy. And yet every day we make small decisions that take us towards or away from happiness.
But with the help of loved ones and what I believe to be divine intervention from God, I woke up to the fact that the problem was within my own mind. Surprisingly this gave me hope. Since I’d found the source of the issue, it meant that I could fix it, and I’ve always been good at fixing problems. I learned to play the violin; overcame dyslexia; taught myself to dance. If I could train my body, I could train my mind.
With this revelation, I began to work on my happiness like it was a part-time job. I went to therapy, read books, practiced positive thinking, and visualised myself being who I wanted to be. Sometimes these routines seemed pointless, however these practices changed my life. Slowly, I started to feel excitement and joy again.
I’m not pretending that I am happy every day; no one is. I think author and speaker Brene Brown put it best when she said “We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions we also numb the positive emotions.” I am definitely not perfect in this; however, I try to be a little braver each day so I can appreciate every experience - good and bad - and grow from them.
There are so many ways to work on happiness but let me share with you one of the oldest tricks in the happiness guide: Gratitude. Gratitude is the most powerful antidote for depression, pride, and jealousy. Gratitude precedes joy and unlocks the pathway to self-love, giving love, creativity, and to your own potential.
It is not happy people who are thankful; it is thankful people who are happy.
Over the last year I’ve had to watch my father slowly die from cancer, but just several weeks ago I experienced the healing power of gratitude. My mom, three sisters and I sat around my father’s hospital bed during what we knew were his last moments on earth. The cancer had left him looking like a skeleton and he was merely a shell of the great man who raised me. He couldn’t talk or even respond to us at this point and in those moments I was overcome with indescribable grief. Then my sister suggested we share our favorite memories of Dad. The situation transformed as we told story after story of his humor, and the sacrifices he made so that he could be an incredible father. It was one of the sweetest moments of my life and I was filled with so much love, spirituality, and gratitude. Yes, I was losing an amazing father but I was reminded that I had an amazing father. How lucky was I?
The old me would have drowned in depression during these experiences, but because I had worked on my mental health and could experience gratitude, I found I had the tools to come up for air.
Having an attitude of Gratitude takes practice. So every day write down three things that have gone well for you today. They can be big or small but write down exactly what happened. Write down how this event made you feel and what you think caused this event.
These kinds of practices can feel small, and slightly cheesy but they will help you make happiness your default setting. Later this year I will be launching Happiness Takes Work, an organisation focused on preparing teens for the challenges they will face in young adulthood, and empowering them to live their happiest and healthiest lives. I look forward to continuing this journey with you, because you are capable of happiness, and you deserve happiness.
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