People often come into therapy wanting to “be happy”. They think there is something wrong with themselves or their lives, and that other people are happy.
This makes sense because many of us are raised to think that being happy is the purpose of life. I have no idea where that originated but I truly know that a constant state of happiness is impossible, and not even a valid goal. We are created to have emotions that constantly ebb and flow, and give us information about what is happening to us and around us.
But in addition to ups and downs, many of us learned to be negative thinkers and it is impossible to create happiness in the face of constant negative inner chatter. So while we may not be able to find a state of constant bliss, our efforts to retrain our thinking style can bring us more happiness and joy.
Existential Psychologists have revealed that fulfillment is much more satisfying than simple happiness. In truth, we want to feel needed, we want to feel like we matter, or that we have made a difference for others in some way. We want to have a purpose. Maybe we want to raise healthy well-adjusted children, or maybe we want to help people with health or illness, or create new products that make life easier. When we follow our passion, we feel fulfilled. Sometimes that happiness and fulfillment can be as simple as admiring your clean home! Yet even then, happiness does not stay for long.
What I have learned on my personal journey of growth & healing is many factors contribute to happiness, contentment, & fulfilment, and they all require effort from me.
A big part of finding greater happiness can come from our attitude about life, i.e our Perspective is of utmost importance. How do you approach life? What is your philosophy about struggle or challenge or disappointment?
Do you think life should be easy? Do you think others have an easier time? Do you label yourself as “bad” or “unworthy” if you struggle or feel let down? Many of us think these things. These thoughts do not create an inner world of happiness. One of the greatest lessons for me was the Buddhist sentiment that we create our own suffering by thinking that things should be different than they are. Everyone struggles; the grass is not greener. Let’s look at our self to start to feel better.
What is your inner dialogue like? Are you hard on yourself and critical? Are you a worrier?
- Mindfulness: A mindfulness practice is a wonderful first step to know yourself on a deep level. When we pay attention to our thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and more… we begin to see our natural ebb and flow, our inner critical comments, how anxiety gets triggered, etc.
There are many wonderful APPS and classes offered to help the novice with a Mindfulness practice. “Head space” has a free introduction. It has nice little videos and instructions to help keep you on task. Also great daily motivators and tips.
The more we practice Mindfulness, we notice we block our own happiness. And research shows a mindfulness practice actually changes the brain in positive ways. We start to be an observer, and less immersed in the drama of life. That can be very empowering.
2. Gratitude: Gratitude practiced daily can also change the brain. I love my Gratitude practice. I think of it like a little mini holiday that I can step into, any time I choose.
Sarah Ban Breathnach introduced a daily practice of “Simple Abundance” many years ago.
When we put effort towards noticing what is good, we start to see more good, and when we see so much good, how can we not feel Blessed and occasionally ecstatic?! So every day give thanks for 5 things you are grateful for. Do this regardless of how you feel. Do this no matter how busy you say you are.
But please make this more than just a mental exercise, actually allow yourself to FEEL GRATEFUL in your BODY…this is the mini holiday part…all your cells will benefit and thrive each day. And if at first you feel stuck and bored, just know that over time as you expand what you feel grateful for you will eventually have a shift towards greater happiness and contentment.
These 2 practices can bring much peace and inner contentment. These practices are available any time and anywhere. You do not need any special time to practice. You just need to put in the effort each day, and over time you will experience your own personal benefits!
Don’t worry…do the work and…be happy…!
My next 2 Blogs will go into more detail about Mindfulness and Gratitude, so please stay tuned!
Stacy Bremner, Citizen of the World