It seems that most people are in search of happiness. Clients come into my office saying, “all I want is to be happy. What do I need to do in order to me happy”? I read on message boards how people just want to be happy. Look at many of the daytime talk shows and you can find them talking about seeking happiness. You can find literally hundreds of book promising to help you find happiness in your life.
I do not think that happiness is a reasonable or attainable goal. Before you stop reading, let me explain and you might even agree with me. I believe that happiness cannot be a constant state of mind and happens from time to time under special circumstances. I think we can work toward being in the state of mind to allow happiness. I want to be in a place emotionally that will allow me to experience happiness when those situations present themselves during the course of my life.
There are feelings that I like to have and feelings that I would rather not experience. If I want to experience the feelings I want I have to allow myself to experience those feelings I don’t want. I don’t get to choose. It is important to learn not to judge our feelings as either bad or good. There are no bad or good feelings. There are only feelings. Having and expressing our feelings is all part of experiencing life and being a human being.
Ultimately, my goal is to feel comfortable enough in my own skin to experience and work through my feelings. I cannot judge myself for the feelings I have. This way I can allow myself to experience happiness and joy in my life.
Most of us grow up exposed to the habits and beliefs of our families of origin. We learn from them the way to do things and the way to think about and see things. Most of our beliefs come directly from them. It is common to adopt those beliefs or rebel and do the opposite of what we were taught. Neither is the best approach to life. Most of us grow up limited in our exposure to the variety of options available to us. My experience with clients and people entering a recovery process is the common view of seeing things in black and white.
Black and white and all or nothing thinking can cause people problems and inhibit their ability to solve problems and succeed in life. Many of us go through life unaware of how limited we are by our inability to recognize all the choices we have and choices we never consider as options. We have the beliefs we learn as children and carry with us into adulthood. Many of those beliefs do not apply to our adult lives. We have many choices for how we interpret the world around us. Keep this in mind. Many things mean many different things to many different people.
Most people tend to do what they are in the habit of doing and what is most comfortable for them. If we have not be raised in an environment of exploration and being open to new ideas it is difficult to go out of our comfort zone. We have to learn to think outside the box and explore all possible option in order to make better decisions and have a more fulfilling life. It is important to avoid black and white thinking and be able to see all the shades of grey.
(I am sorry that I have neglected my posting for the past several days. I hope this makes up for it.)
“It’s just not fair.”
“How can they do that to me?”
“Don’t they care how this affects me?”
“This always happens to me. Why can’t I catch a break?”
Have you ever said anything like the quotes above? I don’t think anyone goes through life feeling they have been treated justly or fairly all the time. We have all fallen victim to injustice at some time in our lives. That is, unless, you have lived some kind of charmed life. It could have been a relatively minor injustice like not being selected for a team or passed over for a promotion or someone treating you poorly. Some can be major injustices involving major losses. They can be anything from being falsely accused of a crime and being convicted, infected by a disease or injured by someone who was negligent, or being the victim of a crime.
Recovering from an injustice can be quite difficult and take a considerable amount of time. Many times the consequences can affect lives in many ways and for a considerable amount of time (possibly even the rest of someone’s life). I am writing this post because I have fallen victim to an injustice that has had a considerable affect on me and my life. I am writing this from the perspective of a mental health professional and a person trying to work through this issue. I try to use my own experiences in life to illustrate or help the people I have worked with as a professional.
How do you deal an injustice and the effects it has on a substantive as well as an emotional level? These are the type of events that you never anticipated and were not prepared to deal with. We see the man who gets released after spending years in prison when they find he did not commit the crime. We wonder how he was able to deal with the situation. People find themselves in situations that are unjust every day. Many of us have an intellectual understanding the life is not fair. Life just happens and sometimes bad things happen to us for no reason. When faced with these situations we must find a way to cope. We must find a way to continue living a productive and rewarding life. The other alternative is to remain stuck in the anger and depression from something we cannot change.
A good place to start is to process the feelings associated with the situation or event. It is not going to help you in the long run to avoid the feelings or self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, or some behavior (sex, spending, eating, etc.). It is okay to feel sad or depressed, angry, or nervous. These are all natural feelings associated with negative events we experience. It is not a good idea to judge what we think we should or should not be feeling. Let these feelings out. Talk with family and friends, write in a journal, or find some physical way of releasing these emotions. I don’t think it is productive to try to get some meaning about the event or events. If there is a meaning, you will become aware of it after some time has passed.
There is a grieving process that can take place. You can’t decide how long you will grieve. Allow the process to happen no matter the level of pain or discomfort. The longer you resist the feelings and the process the longer it will continue. When you are ready to move on with your life you will begin to accept what is. You will learn to accept those things that you cannot change and get on with your life. Dwelling on the past or the negative things in our lives accomplishes nothing more than keeping us from getting pleasure from life. This is good time to be looking at what you may have learned from the experience.
Eventually, you will get to the point of being able to accept what happened and allow yourself to move on with your life. Thoughts of the event or events enter your mind less often. It also affects your emotional state to a lessening degree. You will begin to heal and more so over time. Healing is an ongoing process and the emotional effects could be with you for a considerable amount of time. In my case, whenever I have to deal with something associated with things that have happened in my life, my feelings surface to some degree.
I am not the type to tell people they can completely heal from all experiences. In some instances this is true. In some instances it is not true. The affect linger. But, you are able to recover and cope and get on with your life.
I am not much into using the old cliches even though they are as true today as ever. “One day at a Time.” “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” They have truth to them. To be honest, there is nothing new under the sun as far as coping with life. What has worked still works and will always work. It is all repackaged and stated in another way. But, it is still the same.
I hear my clients discuss what they have read or heard. I have never heard anything new. It just sounds different. Truisms will always be true just like the sun will continue to come up and the seasons change. One thing I know to be very true: If you are willing to put in the work and be persistent, you can change and make your life better.
As much as would like our lives to be smooth and without problems, it isn’t the way life unfolds. It is not a matter of if we will have an issue or problems to deal with, but when. Having the ability to deal with and overcome adversity is an important part of having a rewarding and fulfilling life. For me it begins with accepting that life isn’t fair and that we have limited control over many aspects of our lives. When things are going smoothly we have the illusion that we have everything under control. It is not until a problem presents itself that we are hit the reality. There are many, many things beyond our awareness or control.
I hear many people say, “If it weren’t for bad luck I’d have no luck,” or “Why do bad things always happen to me.”, or “I must have done something very wrong because I am being punished.” None of this is true and the universe is not out to get you personally.
Don’t do things to avoid the feelings that come up with regard to the problem. Write about it. Talk to friends and family. Try to learn the lessons you can from the situation. The key is acceptance. You cannot change the past. You can only move forward.
You will find that you are much stronger than you think and can deal with a lot. We learn from the problems we face and the mistakes we have made. When we have not succeeded at something it does not make us a failure. There is a lot of truth to the saying that those things that don’t kill us make us stronger.