Prior to entering the field of counseling, I wholeheartedly believed that the ultimate goal in life was to be happy.
Upon further reflection, I began to ask myself questions such as:
What does happy look and feel like?
How do I know when I have achieved happiness?
Paired with years of my own personal struggles, I began to wonder if there was something wrong with me because I usually didn’t start each day happy. On the contrary, I usually wake up relatively grumpy, refusing to get out of bed and face the day. I snooze for at least 30 minutes and throw a full blown adult fit on my way to the shower—usually bumping into a wall or two on the way. It isn’t until I have had my coffee or tea and arrived wherever it is I need to be that I actually accept the day.
Learning different methodologies for helping people in the counseling realm led me to ACT-Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. This is a mindfulness based therapy that helps folks leverage being present to defuse from negative thoughts, images and feelings. The best part of this philosophy is that it acknowledges that we cannot control our thoughts and feelings and that our brains have evolved to sense and avoid danger.
This is why we worry.
Here are the four Myths of Happiness:
1. Happiness is the natural state for all human beings.
Research actually demonstrates the opposite. Unfortunately, one in 10 adults will attempt suicide and one in five will suffer from depression. Most of us are thinking that everyone around us is waking up happy each day, but that is not the case—we are not alone.
2. If we’re not happy, we’re defective.
This one hits home for me. I have spent half my life trying to alter my life to be happy—read a million self-help books, exercised, partied, went to places I enjoy—all to still wake up cranky the next morning. In our culture, we avoid suffering and deem it problematic and abnormal. It is judged. It is not accepted and yet it is inevitable. I happen to believe that from our suffering we grow—we become more connected to ourselves and to what matters most. If we are unhappy, worried, stressed, anxious and ready to defend ourselves, our mind is doing exactly what it has evolved to do—we are not defective.
3. To create a better life, we must get rid of negative thinking.
Life is all about balance. I invite feelings of happiness, contentment, excitement and joy into my life. And I do experience all of these almost every day, usually later in the day. However, to create the life we want, we must prepare for challenging thoughts and feelings. Take relationships for example. At times, we will feel connected, loved and happy. At other points, we may feel scared, unhappy and frustrated. That is okay and completely normal. We just don’t speak about it as often, as we usually showcase our high points in life.
4. We should be able to control what we think and feel.
By trying to get rid of negative thinking, we are only going to feel like a failure when we realize that we cannot control our thoughts or feelings—which then perpetuates the negative feelings. We may ask ourselves: Why can’t I just get over it and be happy? Then we shame ourselves for not being able to do so. How many of us have tried to get that memory, image, or negative thought out of our mind and have been successful at it? We might be able to distract ourselves temporarily to get rid of it, yet it most likely comes back. And who has time to constantly remain distracted? When we are avoiding painful thoughts and feeling with things like avoidance and distraction, we are also blocking the positive thoughts and feelings, pulling us away from living a rich and meaningful life.
Rather than trying to control our thoughts and emotions, I would suggest inviting them in, making space for them, creating peace with them.
We just may find that they are not as powerful as we have perceived them to be. What we can control is our actions and how we respond to both positive and negative emotions.
Take a breath.
Observe your thoughts and know that your brain is just doing what it evolved to do.
Nothing is wrong with you.
Suffering is part of life.
I want to hear from you! Have you tried to control your thoughts and feelings? What was that like? Have you fallen prey to the happiness myths and in what ways?
Author: Brooke Jean
Apprentice Editor: Lois Person/Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock