Failing the marshmallow test

Do what makes you happy.

It’s simple advice. I’ve given it. I’ve been given it.

It can also be crap advice.

What do you do when your brain is giving you two, entirely conflicting, paths to happiness?

On Sunday, I spent all day with friends and drank far too much wine. I rarely drink these days because I know it triggers my anxiety. But on Sunday, doing what made me happy meant drinking some delicious Riesling and playing a board game with friends. On Monday, that very same action triggered an (as of writing) 68 hour anxiety spiral. I knew it was coming, but my short and long term paths to happiness conflicted.

You may have heard of the marshmallow test. I’d fail it. I am hard-wired for instant gratification that squeezes on my long term happiness.

My inner child stomps up and down and asks “Why me? Why am I not able to enjoy pleasures without them becoming my vices or without them causing me pain?” What is it about some of our brains that makes us wired to poor choices? I count my blessings that mine cause harm only to myself. But I blame myself for my lack of will power, of emotional fortitude.

I guess in that case you might say, do what makes you healthiest. Don’t eat that marshmallow. Don’t drink that wine. Don’t drink that cup of coffee AKA liquid anxiety. Don’t skip the gym.

But what do you do when yout brain is making it almost impossible to get there?

I don’t want to make excuses for myself because there plainly are times I can get out of bed and go to the gym or skip the pastry in favour of fruit – and the reason I don’t in those cases is the same laziness and gluttony that afflicts the next person.

But some days, as I’m implored to do what makes me happy, I find I can’t. I can’t figure out what it is that makes me happy. I can’t move as I’m paralysed with anxiety. My depression, anxiety and lack of impulse control meld together in collective failure. I can see the alternative, healthier path playing out in my mind, but I am compelled to action regardless.

Or inaction. Yesterday, the best course of action for me, mid-anxiety attack, was to shower, make a cup of peppermint tea, and head to work, be surrounded by supportive people. Instead, I stayed home, paralysed by pointless fears.

So, yes, I’m trying to do what makes me happy, but working out what that is and actually doing it is a whole other battle.

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