If you are like so many of us, much of the time you find yourself frustrated, anxious, and feeling like you’re always just trying to keep up! You feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and distracted by obsessive thinking. Thoughts of failure and defeat, self-doubt and criticism, resentment and injustice, compete for your attention. You wind up focused on all the ways things around you are not the way you want them to be, Life begins to feel difficult, even impossible. You worry about paying bills and not having enough money or feel alone or tired, unfulfilled or unsuccessful, unattractive or unworthy. When you look back on your life you feel like things haven’t worked out the way you had hoped, and when you look ahead you worry they’ll never work out the way you want. This is how we wind up chasing happy; on a never-ending search for the right change in circumstances to bring you the feeling of happiness that you so desperately desire.
Maybe you’ve changed careers, pursued higher education, experienced several love relationships, had a change in scenery, or turned to food, sex, alcohol, drugs, pharmaceuticals, Netflix, sports, social media, television, or therapy. Each of these experiences was motivated by a desperate desire to find that ever more elusive state of happiness. The sad truth is that no matter how many changes you make, or how many mountains you climb, it is only a matter of time before you wake up again with that feeling of needing or wanting something more, something else.
We are in the midst of a cultural epidemic! Lack of fulfillment, chronic stress, worry, judgement, negative thinking, and dissatisfaction are considered by many to be “Just the way life is“. Too often, we wake up not wanting to face the day ahead or are lie awake at night worrying about all of the possible challenges tomorrow might bring. These feelings are really a byproduct of widespread cultural ignorance. Although we may be promised the “pursuit of happiness”, we simply have not been taught how to do it! We are taught how to read, write, brush our teeth, count, walk, talk – just about everything – yet no one is taught how to be happy.
The reason for this is simple. We are not taught how to be happy because no one knows quite how to do it. Our ancestors, those who came before us, those who dealt with World Wars, the Great Depression, and scarcity became accustomed to living with what we now call depression. Those who came even before our immediate ancestors lived in a world unimaginably different from the one we are in now, one where struggle, hardship, plagues, death, and disease were just part of everyday life.
Although it may be commonplace to talk about being happy as though it is a routine part of life, there is no intentional strategy. There is no happiness training built into the culture as we know it, and that leaves us all horribly vulnerable to a sad truth. As a mental health professional, someone who has spent their entire life working with others day in and day out, I can tell you with the utmost certainty that the condition of being human does not lend itself to being happy easily. It just doesn’t. Complicating matters further, it has become impossibly difficult for us to separate happiness from getting what we want, to separate happiness from fulfilling our desires. This lack of separ is a sure-fire way to set yourself up for chronic longing and disappointment!
Democracy lends itself to this very problem. Since the 1950s, when advertising agencies began to study human psychology to figure out how to sell more products, we’ve been trained to believe we have to be more attractive, stronger, and smarter – that we need to make more money, have a more prestigious job title, a bigger house, better phone, and nicer cars, among other things – in order to be happy. With cell phones and tablets making their way into the hands of toddlers, there is surely no escaping the “not good enough” pandemic. The billion-dollar advertising industry is bombarding us with “you need more to be happy” messages that are also seen on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Combine these messages with our built-in human nature/survival instincts and it’s clear these elements contribute to our inability to truly be happy.
Sure, contingency happiness (which results from you buying something you really want or making a significant change) can bring a short term burst of good feelings, typically a dopamine release equivalent to eating a piece of chocolate. And in no way are we saying that you shouldn’t want stuff! It is my job, in fact, to help people get what they want. There is just one aspect of this strategy that no one seems to grasp – that we have yet to comprehend! I know this from years of digging deep to find my own sense of peace and happiness. What we have yet to understand is that getting what we want cannot give us the long-term sense of fulfillment or satisfaction we hope it will. The reason is simple, we are not built for it to!
All cultural issues aside, where science has failed us most is in putting forth an explanation of how the mind and body really work to create what it means to be human! Most people think of “trauma” as the result of violent experiences in war or abuse in childhood, but the truth is that trauma manifests as anxiety! Anxiety simply means that the body, unbeknownst to us, has hijacked the mind in an effort to keep us safe. It means that for whatever reason, be it an email notification on your phone, a loud noise passing by on the street, an irrational fear of spiders, germs, or anything else, be it real or imagined, your body has interpreted something in the environment as a threat and has therefore pushed the override button! Your body has instantly taken over you mind!
What we experience as a result is stress, fear, an outlook on life, or a belief system, leads us to feel the only thing we can do is to control how we feel by manipulating the outside world to our comfort and desire. What we wind up with is a belief in a conditional, or contingency, happiness. The “if, then” happiness strategy. That is, chasing the idea that happiness will come some time later when we get what we want. “If I get this promotion, then I will be happy;” “When I get my degree, then I will be happy;” “If she loves me, then I will be happy.” Some of us buy into the system, the belief that happiness will come someday from jumping through hoops. From getting good grades, going to a good college, getting a good job, getting married, buying a house, having kids, among other things, We try to find what seems like the easiest way out of our negative emotion. We think, if I found a lover, lost 10 pounds, had a nicer car, if she would just stop drinking, if people learned how to drive, if he just paid more attention to me, if I graduated from college, if I made more money, If I get promoted…then I would be happy”. We think that by manipulating our circumstances, getting someone or something to do, say, be, or act the way we want, then we could finally feel the way we want to feel. In the end we have confused happiness with desire, happiness with getting the things we want, and, unfortunately, the good and bad news is the human mind and body just isn’t set up that way! The moment we get what we want, we’ve been designed to turn our attention to wanting something else. A byproduct of simply being human!
You see, the nature of being human is such that it’s our perception in each and every moment that truly determines “the truth”, not the circumstances. Here is the million-dollar problem! Our thoughts are mood dependent. How you feel at any given moment determines the nature and direction of your thinking. Case in point: on the first day of my holiday vacation I threw out my back! Now, luckily for me, and all of those around me, I am not someone who has had to deal with chronic physical pain because my mood tanks instantly. Pain causes me to be miserable! Translation, I was a supreme b**ch! As a result, my mind began to deceive me. Everywhere I looked I saw reasons to be angry and resentful. By the end of the day I took it out on someone I love sending a scathing text message that could have easily ruined our relationship forever. Absolutely nothing had happened. There was no change in my circumstances from yesterday to today. What had changed was me – my mood! It was my mind that told me there was a problem! Remember this…
It is rarely, the circumstances of our lives that are causing our pain and suffering. It is how we feel and, therefore, perceive things to be. After years of studying mental health and wellness, researching, and exploring all that we can find on the topics of happiness and change, we have learned that the secret to happiness and achieving all that we want in our lives is actually really simple: put happiness first, and then everything else falls into place.
At the end of the day that truly is the great irony of it all! By putting how you feel first, making that the priority, by changing the inner game rather than the outer, by making the most important thing of all feeling good, you’re a lot more likely to get what it is you want! Why is that, you ask? The simplest explanation I can muster is that it has much to do with the nature of perception. When I feel good, life is good! When I feel good, all things are possible! When I feel good, life seems to go my way! When I feel good, I am a lot more likely to take chances, to forgive, to laugh, to see the world through rose colored glasses, and to just go for it!
Joseph Campbell said, “Follow your bliss,” and at MYND MVMT we say, “Get into alignment!” For us, that means turning away from the opinions of others, the noise of the outside world. To leave the past in the past and forget about what you’re afraid could happen in the future. Forget what other people will think, forget what you think you “should” do, and pause!
Happiness is a state of mind that you have to allow to come through. When you reactivate thoughts of the past and future, what you have done is left the moment and gone somewhere else. Can you train yourself to do the following?
1. Be Present – Focus on the here and now and allow the spontaneous person that steps forward to be okay as they are right now. Stop the analysis. Stop the criticism. Stop the castrophizing. Stop obsessively observing other people to guess what they think or feel and just allow yourself to be you right now. Once you’ve learned to be present, you can follow your instincts to do what feels right to you – right now.
2. Allow – Often this is the hardest for most. Allowing is all about letting go! Let go of the anger. Let go of the resentment. Forgive, and move on! Let yourself feel good by focusing on what makes you feel good. Watch a funny cartoon. Look at your amazing children. Focus on that song you love. For some strange reason, people think they have to look at all the things in their lives that make them miserable, not recognizing that if they just looked away, they could feel a sense of relief instantly.
3. Look for the Solution- Whatever you look at gets bigger. If you focus on heartbreak, heartbreak grows. If you focus on not having enough, you just see all the things you don’t have enough of. If you always scan for the “problem,” problems have no choice but to continually emerge. Try instead to allow yourself to feel good by not looking at all the things you “should”. If you stop looking for problems and start looking for solutions. Solutions have no choice but to show up.
4. Get Honest – Spending New Year’s Eve in a Kundalini Yoga class has become a tradition for me. If you have never done it, I strongly encourage you to try! Last night, the teacher shared that in yogic numerology 2020 is the year (and decade) of the heart! He said we will long for connection with others and for honesty, for our truth. He said the truth is going to reveal itself to us, and we will have no choice but to listen, like it or not. What the heart wants it will go after, with you or despite you!
In the end, happiness all comes down to do this – change only happens one way. You have to step into this moment, the here and now, and make a different decision than you ever have before.