Everyone wants to get what they want.
But have you ever gotten what you wanted, only to find that it didn’t make you happy after all?
Instead, you felt numb, or you freaked out, or you decided you didn’t really want it after all.
A few months ago, I got possibly the best news of my career to date. Bloomsbury, a significant publishing company, told me that they wanted to publish a book I’ve been writing.
But instead of being happy, I was overcome with anxiety. I was flooded with visions of all the ways I might fail and, even worse, how my life might change if I succeeded.
I found myself doubting if I even really wanted to be a writer.
There’s not much advice out there on how to cope when good things happen. Perhaps it’s an unspoken assumption that we’ll simply embrace blessings, and if we don’t, we’re either ungrateful or idiotic.
But the truth is, many people are afraid to be happy, and so, they don’t react well when good things happen. (Is it any coincidence that “happy” and “happen” have the same language root?)
Some of us can’t enjoy ourselves at our own party. Some of us lose touch with reality if we become successful. We can acquire fame, wealth, new relationships, even children, but at the same time find ourselves getting stressed, impatient, or caught up in our own self-importance.
The French author Michel Houellebecq put it well when when he said, “Unhappiness isn’t at its most acute point until a realistic chance of happiness, sufficiently close, has been envisioned.”
Why does this happen? In some cases, it could be the contrast. The promise of happiness brings the parts of our life that are falling short into sharp focus. Our previous dissatisfaction starts to feel more acute.
But I think there’s also a more profound explanation.
Happiness illuminates the dark corners of our psyche, showing us the insecurities, blockages, and thought processes that are holding us back. And simultaneously, the positive experience of happiness gives us the strength to “see” these unconscious aspects.
Basically, happiness shows us what is holding us back and gives us the potential strength to go deeper and heal.
Looking back, I can identify many times in my life when I was close to what I wanted, but I inadvertently self-sabotaged. I would shut down and act disinterested or do the opposite and appropriate a big act of bravado.
I vacillated between acting blasé and striving for perfection.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but these were defense mechanisms compensating for my fear. These amazing opportunities were evoking my insecurities, so I was acting out in a way that allowed me to mask and avoid them. I was protecting myself from my inner darkness—but little did I know, I was also keeping myself frustrated and stuck.
In order for “good things” to become “good things,” we need to have the courage, awareness, and coping strategies to allow them into our life.
I was fortunate this time that the book I’m writing also happened to give me the answer for how to cope with my good fortune. You see, the book is about breath. The breath, my most valued teacher, has taught me what it is to be centered.
If we are conscious and centered, we can use good experiences as springboards toward growth. If we are not, we self-sabotage.
Being centered is different than being grounded. Being grounded is having two feet firmly planted on the ground. Being centered means being completely connected to ourselves.
Centering is firstly being aware of our feelings, and then experiencing those feelings without getting swept up in them. This is the process of “allowing” that the Law of Attraction philosophy speaks of. To stop blocking good things from our life, we also have to stop blocking our feelings. The allowing starts with us.
Consequently, centering techniques are different from grounding techniques. Centering is largely about connecting to middle of the body—the heart and lungs—and thus, the breath plays a large role.
The breath has the potential to connect us to our feelings, shift us from the chaos of the mind and its emotions to the stability of the body, and then center us between both. In this centered space, we find the lessons we need to move forward.
Here’s a simple six-step process for you to try next time you are blessed:
1. Acknowledge. Are you are hitting a “happiness ceiling?” Has something good happened, but you find yourself feeling stressed, numb, or low? Has your behavior changed?
2. Breathe. Focus your breath. Don’t try and breathe deeply—this can make us repress our feelings more. Allow yourself to take shallow, soft breaths. Notice the rhythm that starts to arise.
3. Feel. Once you get comfortable with your breath, take a peek at your feelings. What is coming up for you?
4. Imagine. Imagine that you are breathing into the feelings you feel.
5. Center. Feel yourself at the center of the storm, still breathing into those feelings, without trying to get rid of them. If you start to get swept up in the current of your feelings, keep coming back to your breath.
6. Wait. For as long as it takes, keep returning your attention to the breath and the sensation of breathing into your feelings, without any intention. This is the process of allowing and integrating. Trust it, and you will reap the rewards.
At moments, we may get swept back into the drama, but if we can keep returning our focus to this mindful breathing exercise, something gradually will begin to shift. We get the sense that we are breathing into our feelings.
After some time, we also get out of our own the way. The clouds part, and we get clarity and insight—even revelation. None of these would have been revealed had we had either prevented the feelings from surfacing or else gotten caught up in them.
If we can combine this breathing technique with a movement practice—anything from yoga and tai chi to swimming and running—we beautifully enhance the results.
So, what did I do when I got my good news? I got straight on my yoga mat. I centered myself in my body. I breathed into my emotions, and as the clouds parted, I received the insight I’ve just shared with you.
All was right in the world.
Author: Yolanda Barker
Editor: Callie Rushton