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.
One of my wife’s favorite tv shows is the “Biggest Loser” and I watch it when I can. If you are not familiar with the show I will give you a brief overview:
The contestants are all morbidly obese and range in age from late teens to sixties. They are divided between two personal trainers and spend most days in the gym working out extremely hard. They learn how to eat in a healthy way and live a healthy lifestyle. A contestant is eliminated each week until the finale. The is when the Biggest Loser is decided. The contestant with the highest percentage of weight loss is the biggest loser and wins the grand prize.
The contestants go through an incredible physical transformation as they lose the weight. Some have lost over half of their body weight by the finale. Another even more remarkable thing takes place. In order to make the commitment to work as hard as it takes to compete, many of the contestants work through the emotional issues that contributed to low self-esteem as well as the obesity. The life issues they face vary. But the result of working through the issues and taking off the weight changes them on the inside as well. You can actually see the internal changes take hold (better self-esteem, more content, a positive outlook on life).
They face all types of challenges and find they can overcome them. In going through the personal transformation that you want to achieve, it has to include your mind and body. You cant’t really be healthy emotionally if you are not working to improve yourself physically. People who feel good about themselves tend to take better care of themselves. The mind and body are connected. As you work on overcoming your issues you should work on making your body healthier as well.
One question I am asked on a pretty regular basis is whether it is possible to change things about ourselves. The answer is “Yes” we are capable of changing how we act, think, and feel. Much of what we do and think are the ways we learned to and these have become habits. The next question is normally is: How do I do that?
The first step is to identify what it is you want to change. What behavior or way of acting causes you problems? What way of thinking do you wish to change? You need to start by increasing your awareness in order to start changing. You will also need to find out what you will replace those thoughts or behaviors.
The next step I call catch and correct. Every time you catch yourself thinking or doing what you want to change, you correct your behavior or thinking to what you would rather it be. This takes vigilance and persistence. It takes time to break habits and establish new ones. It will take time.
Some counselors make it seem so easy. These are simple steps. But changing isn’t so simple and easy. Give yourself time and be gentle with yourself. You can do it!!!!!
My work is about helping people overcome the issues that have been inhibiting them from continuing to evolve as a person. I help them change the way they think and what things mean to them. More and more I am coming to understand how being honest and open and having the willingness to see things a bit differently, opens doors to incredible change and growth. It requires taking risks and a leap of faith. I ask them to take my hand as I guide them to an unknown place. I ask them to trust that going through a process that is difficult and sometimes painful will result in finding a more rewarding life.
It seems the most shameful and damaged part of our development is sexuality. This seems to be at the center of a huge number of issues people face. This has become more and more clear to me as a do more and more work in the area of early sexual abuse and how children are socialized about sex and their bodies. We can be shamed about a great many things about us. But, our bodies and our sexuality go to the core of who we are. The damage is deep and difficult to overcome. I refer back to the beginning of this post.
“More and more I am coming to understand how being honest and open and having the willingness to see things a bit differently, open doors to incredible change and growth. It requires taking risks and a leap of faith. I ask them to take my hand as I guide them to an unknown place. I ask them to trust that going through a process that is difficult and sometimes painful will result in finding a more rewarding life.”
I see this more clearly every day.
One of the most common issues facing the clients I have worked with over the years is not understanding what defines them. “I don’t know who I am. I feel empty.” So many of us go through our lives on autopilot and afraid to feel and experience life. Many of us are scared to have expectations and dreams. Life is too short not to live it. It is important to know ourselves and what we want from our lives.
Who are we? We are every thought, feeling, and experience we have had. We are the meaning we give to things. We are not what others think we are or should be. Many parents define their children. As adults many people use these outdated beliefs to guide their lives. Just because your parents had a certain belief, you are not required to care this thought with you. My Mother had the belief that life is a bitch and then you die. Much of my life I accepted this belief. As my Mother was before me, I was depressed and negative. I went years without realizing that I was depressed and that there was actually an alternative to what I was experiencing. I can’t call it “feeling” because I was pretty numb most of the time. When I finally realized that this wasn’t working for me and that my life was a mess, I had no idea that I had options. All I knew was what I was taught and what I believed. It took time. I tried different thoughts and beliefs. Then I tried one that began to work after a while. “Life is to be enjoyed.” It took time and was uncomfortable. But, after some time it worked much better.
What I learned is that I am my thoughts and feelings as well as my values and beliefs. I am the one who determines what that is. I am continuing to change and evolve as a person. What defines me is what is inside me and not what others believe about me. I try to convey and teach my clients to do this for themselves. This way that can be defining themselves and know what defines them.