Shame and Happiness: How to Make Yourself Happy

by | 9 Mar 2015 | Happiness

I wrote in my last blog post about the inspiration I get from my 9 year old daughter on how to love life, and she came up trumps again this week. We were chatting away about random things on the walk to school as usual; I can’t even remember how we got onto the topic, but J wisely mused “the world doesn’t have to be perfect for us to be happy“!

I was blown away by this simple, and profound insight, and then asked her what helps her to be so happy: “Making other people happy makes me happy” she replied.

So inspired by her, and feeling both proud and humbled, I’ve been pondering on the subject of happiness quite a lot this week

What I’ve come to realise, is that happiness is like blue sky; it’s always there, it’s just that sometimes clouds can get in the way of how we experience it. I’ve also come to realise how often the biggest clouds in the way are those of guilt and shame.

But we make those kind of clouds ourselves.

I love Brene Brown’s work on shame and vulnerability and periodically revisit her inspiring TED talks on the subject (here and here). In her book Daring Greatly, she writes “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable…If we speak shame it begins to wither”. This is so very true.

As I’ve been beginning to pull together the content for my new online course (working title Revealing Happiness – how to get out of your own way and love your life again’ – my version of J’s insight, because helping other people to be happier, makes me happy too), an exercise I’ve been testing out for myself is an ‘audit’ of all those areas in my life where I notice I feel some shame and/or guilt.

It’s not a comfortable exercise, but is really helping me with my personal ‘spring clean’ – taking a deep breath and delving into all those dark corners, the ones I normally won’t face head on, that I hope no-one else will notice, and that somehow they will just magically go away all by themselves.

And of course, just by shining a light in those dark corners, I realise it’s not as bad as I thought; the shame begins to wither.

And to really accelerate the withering, here I’m going to name just 10 of those ‘shame zones’ for me (oohh, this feels scary!):

1. My stomach.

Lots of us have body shame. I was fortunate in my youth to really like my body – I was slim, attractive and took it all for granted.

Now, age 48 after 3 kids, not enough exercise, WAY too much alcohol and good (and bad) food, I have (to my mind) a really fat stomach, which throws up health risks, wardrobe dilemmas and a big sense of SHAME that I’ve let it get like this – all those ‘shoulds’, self-judgements, blame that play right into emotional over-eating, inactivity and alcohol consumption.

But now I’m starting to shine a light on it, I see it’s not my stomach that’s the real issue, it’s the shame I’m holding around it and that helps me to make other choices, if I wish, and accept how I am without the shame.

2. Having credit card debt.

Money, and all it represents, is a huge source of shame to so many. To be fair, I’d already started work on this by working out a clear plan of how to pay off the debt, rather than keep on shuffling it around between 0% balance transfer offers as I’ve been doing for years, and by the end of 2015 I’m on track to be entirely debt free. But it’s been a massive source of guilt and shame for too many years. I’ve already shone some light here, now I want the shame gone for good.

3. Not making more money in my business.

When you have your own business, it can seem like everyone is doing better than you. But often this is down to comparing the ‘turnover’ of other businesses to your own net profit!

And it wasn’t dissimilar when I was employed. An underlying sense of shame that I hadn’t been promoted more, that I wasn’t earning more when I compared myself to the ‘public’ success of others. More evidence to my shamed self that I was simply not good enough.

It doesn’t take a lot of light shining here for me to see the reality about all the cr@p I’ve been telling myself here that only serves to feed the shame and perpetuate the problem.

4. The house and garden.

Shame because they’re not ‘perfect’. That we need to redecorate in places, that bits and pieces of maintenance need doing. That we’ve not got round to replacing the light fittings and curtains we hate in 11 years. That neither are immaculately tidy and we’ve so much ‘stuff’ it seems wasteful and a burden.

Again, when I shine my ‘anti-shame’ laser beam, instead I can see more clearly what a lovely comfortable haven of a family home we have that more than does its job. It’s spacious, keeps us safe, warm, dry and comforted.

So what if I want to do a bit of a clear out, splash the walls with paint and shampoo the carpets!

Better than the one bedroom apartment with only cold running water that little Valya lives in with the whole of the rest of her family (check out here to find out what I’m talking about).

5. Relationships and parenting.

Ooh, so I’m rubbish at keeping in touch with people, picking up the phone to see how people are, always leaving it to others to suggest a social get-together. Being ever-late in sending birthday cards and presents to nephews and nieces.

I’m much better these days around parenting shame, but when I was employed full time, rather than having my own business and being more in control of my days, the guilt, shame and doubt around not making the school assemblies, not always being ‘there’, being away on business trips etc etc could just eat away at me.

6. Sex.

Ok, so I’m not ready to talk this one through on my blog – I’m still a private person and think some things should stay that way! It’s a big enough step for me to just admit it’s an area that throws up some guilt and shame for a variety of reasons, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.

7. ‘Wasting time’.

Eg playing electronic games rather than doing something ‘useful’ or more meaningful. Not having already done some ‘amazing’ achievement/quest/challenge, not squeezing out every last drop of my potential. And yes, you’ve guessed, it’s actually the shame I carry around it that could make this self-perpetuating (it’s also not true if I put a different filter on what I’ve achieved so far in life).

8. Procrastinating.

Related to wasting time, but when, for whatever reason I’m avoiding getting something done (see my post here on procrastination), it can really start to build a sense of shame, guilt and burden – which then of course means I avoid it even more.

9. Not being able to cook, &

10. Not being very good at swimming.

These two are very similar in that they seem so basic things that somehow I ‘should’ be able to do better. I know that if it became important enough, I could choose to focus my attention, energy and time on learning how to cook, or how to swim (or another area that’s just popped into my head, learn another language), but I don’t.

So it’s both a source of shame that I can’t do them well in the first place, and then a source of shame that I don’t do anything about it!


Phew, well, that’s a load of my chest. I’ve blown away a few of those clouds in the way of the blue sky of my happiness. I could go on and on, and I’m sure there’s plenty I don’t yet have the courage to name, even to myself, but it makes me smile to reread all these sources of shame, and see them for what they really are; to see them withering in the sunlight of my compassionate attention.

I wonder, what would be on your list?

Could you ‘name and unshame’ them, even just to yourself?


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