We know instinctively that we should be aiming to be happy, because it feels better, it feels good, great even. But few of us can actually say that, for the most part, we are consistently happy throughout our lives.
What if your job in this life is simply to figure out what feels good to you and do more of it? You can use your feelings at any point in time as your guide to how you’re doing on the job. The truth for most of us is, quoted from one of my childrens' books by Janan Cain, “Feelings come and feelings go, you never know quite what they’ll be. Happy, mad, glad or sad, they’re all a part of me.” - we’re a mixed bag.
Thank goodness for that mixed bag, the contrasts. I remember fathoming out as I was growing up that, in order to know great happiness, you have to first know what great sadness is; otherwise good would feel, well, mediocre, normal.
Too often though we try and cut out feeling bad altogether, preferring to stay in a state of numbness over pain, or getting quick fix euphoria. Remember, feeling is at the heart of our human experience.
The last episode of Grey’s Anatomy I watched, one of the doctors had a moment where he realised he kept running away each time things got tough, and that ‘running away’ is different for each of us. For him it meant taking another tour of duty, for the doctor he was talking to it was drugs, but the epiphany he had was the things they were running away from are actually a vital part of our humanity.
Many of us have developed a ‘coping mechanism’ when things are tough, whether it’s a big glass of wine, or simply tearing into the cleaning at home. But what kind of life is one where you’re ‘coping’? Yes, painful things happen, really painful sometimes. The worst thing you can do is try to run away from that pain, because all that happens is it grows, you give more energy to it by focusing on not wanting it. I’ve seen people let it affect them their whole lives, passing it on through families and generations.
Actually it’s sadly common, Look at some of the world’s quarrels now, borne of generations. As a Scot I can tell you the fierce hatred of the Sassenach’s (English) still runs rife in our patriot blood. Mine rises to the occasion watching sporting events, despite having been born in England and having some wonderful friends and family there.
Feeling bad (whether it’s despair, resentment, anger, or any other variant) is simply your inner self telling you that you’re off track from what you’re truly wanting. I’m not saying you need to dwell there, in fact, it’s not helpful if you do. Instead, feel into it, then let it go – let it point you towards what you do want.
When you face it, and feel into is, it’s overwhelming at first; but it soon starts to dissipate. Despair can turn to unworthiness, then to anger, then to disappointment before moving into more neutral territory like frustration. Eventually you start to feel hope and, from there, more positive feelings arise.
Equally, when you’re feeling good, don’t just dive on into the next thing in your day. Take some time to just let that feeling soak into each cell, you’re in tune with yourself, celebrate it by staying in tune. Start to hardwire happiness into your brain as Dr Rick Hansen would say.
When you catch yourself thinking about how tough you’ve got it in life, the quickest way to turn those negative thoughts around is gratitude. While gratitude has become a bit of a throw away word, clichéd almost, too rarely do we actually feel into it in its truest form.
As I’m in the process of moving cities and saying goodbye to many people at the moment, it’s been a great opportunity to thank those people for what they’ve added to my life. I’ve even been grateful that we took over the new house early, with my partner going ahead to get it painted while I stay back and pack up our old house and look after the kids.
In situations that are stressful, the combination of my own ‘wanting time to absorb and reflect’ nature, mixed with my partner’s ‘dive right in’ nature can exacerbate the whole experience. As hard as it’s been, separately moving through this time has had its upsides and has helped me appreciate his contribution greatly.
When you’re struggling to think of things to be grateful for, go big, general even. The more general you are, the less you can argue with yourself. Who isn’t grateful that the sun comes up each morning and fills the world with vibrant colour? That helps our plants to grow, giving us air to breathe. For the rain that comes sustaining us and giving more life than it ever takes away.
Even the things you’ve been looking at through the lens of ‘life is tough’ are a blessing. In knowing what you don’t want, you can start to discern what you do want far more specifically.
Yes, your aim is to be happy; but it’s not ‘never to be sad’. That said, don't dwell there, growing the story in your mind and firmly setting anchor. Use those negative experiences as a contrast, use them to guide you quite deliberately towards what you do want - the best and happiest version of your life.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn.
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