April 17, 2016

How to be Happy, No Matter What.

Ismael Nieto/ Unsplash

A truly happy life includes periods of sadness.

Because life is full of trials and tribulation. Events occur that are completely beyond our control, and they have an impact on our lives. We make judgments on those events: This is good, that is bad—this is right, that is wrong.

We are thinking, feeling beings—what we think affects how we feel. Based on what we think, we will feel good about some things, and we will feel downright sh*tty about others.

That is normal—and it is okay.

Despite the advice of the positive thinking movement, we do not need to reframe every “negative” event into a “positive” light.

While I know (from personal experience) that reframing our thoughts is very helpful in moving from dark feelings to lighter ones, I also believe it is most helpful to also acknowledge the dark side of the story, rather than deny or avoid it.

We can’t affirm the sh*t out of our lives, but we can affirm our ability to deal with it—and come out stronger.

True, we can make lemonade out of lemons, but the best lemonade is made from real lemons, not artificial flavor enhancers. And trust me, the lemons are going to come, so we might as well use them rather than buying a toxic version at our local supermarket.

What I’m saying is that happiness rooted in saccharine, sweet la-la land isn’t very strong or reliable. Its roots will be weak, and it can be easily plucked from us when a major crisis blows up in our lives.

To have a more resilient—more real—kind of happiness, we have to experience the contrast of our more painful emotions.

By going through the ups and downs, we come to appreciate the temporary nature of it all—and we learn to recognize and appreciate the “good.”

We also learn that we can ride out the “bad” times and come out stronger.

The truth is, we need to stop kidding ourselves, thinking that happiness is achievable 100% of the time. Because life simply doesn’t work that way.

For example, there will be occasions when we will be wronged by others. We will be insulted, rejected, bullied, abused, cheated, humiliated or shamed—and it is a normal response to feel angry, sad or frustrated.

And while we can reframe our thoughts about anything, so as to feel better about it, it’s not a good idea to suppress our uncomfortable feelings.

Because suppressed feelings don’t go away. They just get buried in our bodies, like landmines waiting to go off some other day when somebody else steps on our hidden wound.

A better strategy is to sit with our darker emotions and actually feel them. When we honor them in this way, they usually disperse of their own accord. Then we can turn our attention to changing our perspective about the situation.

There will also be occasions when we wrong others—because we are human and we all mess up.

We need to be able to acknowledge when we mess up, without hating ourselves. We need to be compassionate towards ourselves, as much as others, and that requires us to accept the “good” and “bad” that coexists in each of us. And every single day we now see others being terribly wronged while trying to go about their lives.

We are empathic beings. It is normal that observing hatred, cruelty and greed will cast a shadow over our emotional states.

As explained above, we can allow ourselves to feel sadness, frustration and even anger without getting stuck in a downward spiral of blackness. And when we stop being afraid that allowing ourselves to feel the negative stuff will prevent us from appreciating the positive, we can develop a keener awareness of our mental health.

We can observe our own patterns and learn what best supports us in different emotional states. Because as well as honoring our own feelings, we also need to take action when it’s time to start moving the lower energy out of our bodies—be that through exercise, food choices, technology detoxes or getting out into nature.

When we can accept that both darkness and light are as much a part of life, as they are a part of each day, then we can even find happiness during traumatic periods.

Because we can recognize that every moment of the day does not have to be perceived through a filter of sadness. No matter what traumatic experience we have to cope with, we can allow the beauty of nature—or joy in a moment of stillness or a moment of connection—to creep into our awareness and give us a moment of respite.

But here, I think, is the (sometimes life-saving) key: when we stop expecting a “happy life” to be devoid of painful periods, we can experience hope—and faith—during the difficult times.

We can take responsibility for shifting how we feel about events beyond our control, instead of shrugging our shoulders and believing we can’t change our state of being.

In order to survive this trying life, we need to know and accept that everything is temporary.

This too shall pass.

So if “this” is painful, we can take comfort—and take steps to support ourselves in moving through it.

And if “this” is joyful, we can more consciously and deliberately enjoy and appreciate it. Soak it into our bones, so that it may buoy us up when the next difficult experience comes along.

To be truly happy, we need to redefine “happiness” to be a state of well-being where there is room for all of who we are—and all of what we feel.



The Problem with Positive Thinking & What to do About It.


Author: Hilda Carroll

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

Photo: Unsplash/Ismael Nieto

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