Conditions of Happiness: Happy vs. Unhappy - Do We Have A Choice?
Everyone is in the process of seeking greater happiness. We are each involved in the search for feeling good inside our bodies. What may come as a surprise is in the midst of a binge, anorexia, bulimia, or other addiction process, happiness is essentially at the core of what is being sought. The individual is experiencing some feeling of unease in their emotional state and physical body and is attempting to seek an alternative state of feeling better.
There is no crime in wanting to feel better. The body's natural state is meant to be aligned with feeling good. So what do we do when we don't feel good? Certainly, continuing on with an addiction is one choice. And if addiction is the singular lonesome tool a person has in their tool box, than hallelujah! The self-loving survival instinct is alive and functioning as one coping mechanism is chosen in an attempt to feel better.
Eventually though, we find that the addiction or fix from the outside doesn't last too long. It's more of an external short-term fix that doesn't work too well in the long term. And the consequences become more than we wish to bear. Eating to cope can lead to excess weight and associated health problems. Bulimia can lead to heart arrhythmia. Anorexia can lead to impaired mental processing. All can lead to an untimely death. So the outcomes may not be wanted, but the often unconscious and underlying intent was love, self-preservation, and feeling good.
If we could take all the emotional judgement, shame, and sense of failure off the eating behavior, we would be able to see the deepest desire as an attempt to feel good. Using food (or the lack of food) to cope does not mean that we are sick or defective. Indeed, we are competent managers of our lives. Perhaps stuck in one method of coping that has become complicated and no longer works so well, but none-the-less still coping and still managing life.
New solutions are possible and we are capable of creating new strategies for feeling good. Changing behavior does not so much require a deep understanding of what happened in the past, or even how dysfunctional our families were. Change requires us to engage in the effort of developing new patterns of thinking and acting.
WHAT IS HAPPINESS?
What exactly is this thing called happiness? We know it when we feel it and we certainly know its absence. Just what constitutes happiness? Scientifically speaking, happiness is a basic sense of satisfaction with your self and your environment.
Did you know that, as stated by psychologist Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky in a study in 1994, "Happy people do not experience one success after another and unhappy people, one failure after another. Instead surveys show that happy and unhappy people tend to have had very similar life experiences. The difference is that the average unhappy person spends more than twice as much time thinking about unpleasant events in their lives, while happy people tend to seek and rely upon information that brightens their personal outlook."
Chronically happy and unhappy individuals differ in the specific thought and motivational strategies they use. For example, happy individuals interpret life events and daily situations in ways that seem to maintain their happiness, while unhappy individuals interpret experiences in ways that seem to reinforce unhappiness. Happy individuals are more aware of the joy and happiness while unhappy people register more sorrow and difficulty.
Wow! This is important information. The implication is that greater happiness can be learned. We can decide to take our own unhappy situation into our own hands. We can stop analyzing, stop blaming our parents, our childhoods, even stop hating ourselves for our troubles, and determine instead to focus on changing our thoughts and actions. Instead of focusing on the problem, we can learn to focus on the solution.
UNHAPPY IS A NORMAL STATE
It might be useful to remind ourselves that happy and unhappy are emotions that do not last forever. Sometimes we can shift from happy to unhappy with the passage of time. Allow more time and we can shift back into happy. Recognize that everyone has experiences of just not feeling happy. Blame it on hormones or PMS or the weather. It doesn't matter. One basic truth in life is that not every day is going to be an easy and miraculously happy day. Happiness is a decision that we make and a decision we support with our thoughts and actions. And it's not a one time decision. It may be a daily, or even hourly, decision to remind ourselves that feeling happy is our primary concern in life and we alone are responsible for creating this state.
Acceptance is one tool we can use to deal with unhappy days. Yet it takes courage to use the tool of acceptance. Imagine accepting unhappy as a normal and natural state. Imagine courageously deciding not to fight the current state, but to accept being at peace with the process that is happening right now. The benefit? Once acceptance has taken place, the burden of unhappy being 'wrong' disappears. A certain pressure of perfectionism disappears. A whole new way to relax and take care of one's self opens up. Once unhappy is acceptable, a Pandora's box is available to the curious mind:
What actions can I take to love myself while I am feeling unhappy?
Can I choose to be okay with this emotion?
Can I choose to feel happy while at the same time feeling unhappy?
Can I be grateful even while unhappy?
Realize the human capacity for enjoyment is great. Reward areas in the brain seem to be greater than areas that produce unpleasant experience. If this doesn't appear to be currently true for you, explore how to expand or enlarge the pleasure areas of the brain. What can I do right now, today, while I'm feeling unhappy to produce pleasant experiences?
Also, much of the research on individual happiness boils down to a difference in ability to control one's environment. What can I do to control my environment?
The question has been asked, indeed I have asked this question, of why happy moments can be so often forgotten while sad or terrible times become entrenched in the mind? Why is there the tendency to 'play with problem' or fixate on something negative? I do not know. It has occurred to me with realized clarity that we are afraid of happiness and push it away from us.
The courageous decision becomes to open up to more possibilities of greater pleasure. When feeling unhappy, it might be useful to remind yourself of a few alternative thoughts. Changing a few thoughts can often be the fastest way to feeling okay and not so lost. Even though I'm unhappy:
My life has meaning.
There is value in what I am feeling.
It's okay to feel what I am feeling.
We all have happy and unhappy moods, feelings do not last forever.
The world is safe, I don't have to be happy every moment.
This too shall pass.
I can choose to pamper myself while I am in this unhappy place.
What actions can I take to pamper myself while I am feeling unhappy?
Today I woke up not feeling particularly happy. Actually this feeling has been with me for a few days now. What an opportunity to focus more intently on my own life and the experiences that would feel joyful. No need to fight the unhappy, just an opportunity to be tender to myself. An opportunity to say yes to more pleasure, refrain from playing the martyr, and stop being a pleasure delayer. Here's what I've done so far today and my plan:
Instead of immediately starting work, took a 30 minute walk around the neighborhood this morning.
Accepted that an unhappy feeling was journeying with me for a short while. This feeling is worthy of my acceptance and my love. I am worthy of loving myself even when I'm not in my typical feeling state.
Supported myself with a healthy, colorful, and nourishing breakfast and lunch. Added some protein for better balance and groundedness.
Wrote in my journal about my current experience which helped me get a more balanced perspective. I'm not completely unhappy. My life isn't all or nothing.
Wrote a detailed gratitude list.
Played with my cats.
Decided to write this article because even though it seemed demanding in the short-term, it would bring me pleasure in the long-term.
Will reward my efforts for completing this task by getting a 20 minute chair massage shortly.
Will sit outside in the trees and by the creek behind my house.
Have asked myself the question, what specifically do I want to do tonight that will be different and fun?
I honor myself. I meditate, pray or in some way find my 'still point' every day. I do good feeling physical exercise, give myself the right amount of sleep, and eat in a manner that feels good in this moment and in future moments. I commit to consistent and daily renewal for my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual strength. I take note of my efforts. I acknowledge my successes. I am grateful for my life.
Dr. Annette Colby, RD
Nutrition Therapist & Master Energy Healer
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