Most of us love books, television shows and movies with happy endings; the characters get what they wanted and worked for it and all the conflicts are resolved. Those endings seem to imply that life will be essentially smooth after you overcome problems.
Sometimes that may be the way we view our own lives.
If Only…Then I Would Be Happy
If we can just get through high school, then we’ll be happy. If we could just find someone to love, then we’ll know joy. If we could find a job in our field, we’ll be content. Though you know life isn’t really like that, it’s hard to resist those thoughts.
Many people have the idea that happiness is the goal of life. Though they may not voice it that way, they believe that finding happiness is what the work is all about. So they search for it. They search for in the latest iPhone, the perfect partner or work. They get the latest phone and then decide a cutting-edge tablet would be so fabulous. They find the almost perfect partner and work to control them into being absolutely perfect.
When those efforts aren’t successful they may turn to finding temporary happiness in warm chocolate chip cookies or glasses of wine.
They may get lost in “either / or” thinking. They believe that they are happy or they are not. They want certainty. If there is any part of their life that is difficult, then they may not see themselves as happy or content. It’s like having a perfectionist view of life; it must be perfect and then they’ll be content.
Change is Constant
In truth, that time when everything of importance in your life is going the way you want it to may not come. Or if it does, it may not stay that way. Life is constantly changing and what gives you contentment may change as well. In addition, life holds many problems and situations that create sadness and misery. It’s not possible to solve them and be done with it. Losing someone you love, illness, loneliness, conflict and disappointments are ongoing.
Our culture values the image of being happy and successful with no weaknesses. So it may appear that others are happy and have solved all their problems because that’s the image that is encouraged. When others around you have that image of perfect happiness, that can bring about negative judgements about your own life. More misery follows the judgements.
Often people judge themselves as flawed or not doing something right when they view others as happier than they are. People may believe they need to get rid of their less desirable feelings in order to have a life worth living. However, the more they try to eliminate difficult emotions, the more they are likely engage in behaviors that increase their discontent in the long run.
The truth is that most experiences hold both emotions that we want to experience and difficult emotions as well. This is particularly true for people who are emotionally sensitive. For example, graduation from high school is bittersweet. You are happy to achieve a goal and you are sad about the loss of friends, and perhaps scared of the next step. A new job brings excitement and fear and perhaps sadness about leaving people you cared about in the old work environment.
Sometimes getting what you want involves losses that are painful. For the emotionally sensitive, the sadness and loss may be so intense that it’s difficult for them to be aware of the joy that also exists.
Comparing yourself to others adds to the despair. Most people choose to compare themselves to those who seem to have it more together than they do. They compare their financial situation to those who are richer and their fitness to someone who does triathlons. Rarely do they compare themselves with those who are not as financially solid or who are less fit.
If you view the goal of life as consistent, pure happiness, you will likely be disappointed when that doesn’t exist. You are likely to blame yourself. Why can’t you be happy? What’s wrong with you? Why does happiness come and go? Why can’t you control your emotions?
Blaming yourself for being inadequate and flawed will bring about more misery.
The truth is no one can control their emotions. You can learn to control how you act upon those emotions, but experiencing emotions is not a choice. That’s the way the world is. And it’s not your fault.
Giving up judging and comparing is not easily done. Accepting that life is rich with a whole range of emotions, including sadness, hurt, shame, guilt and anger is a challenge. Yet the acceptance often lowers the intensity of those feelings and can show a path to contentment.
Finding contentment may also mean giving up the striving for happiness, though you will feel happiness at times. It may be about accepting life on life’s terms. In other words, being mindful of life moment by moment, without judging or attempting to avoid. Contentment cannot exist when judging and avoiding are present.
Note to Readers: Thank you for your willingness to answer my survey questions–you have been so helpful. I appreciate your help in learning more about emotional sensitivity. If you haven’t participated, please consider answering the survey questions. Additional results will be given in a future post.
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Giant Comfort » In Pursuit of Happiness (August 6, 2012)
Last reviewed: 5 Aug 2012