For some of us, happiness is not a given. We have to earn it.
We have to work and struggle to prove we deserve it. Too many of us are working at it in an unhealthy way and wondering why our happiness is getting farther away instead of closer.
The healthy way involves identifying the impediments to our own happiness and working through them on an informed basis. The impediments consist of perceptions, opinions, expectations, and beliefs that we picked up in childhood and never set down. They get in our way wherever we go. We may think we know what our issues are, “I’m insecure,” “I have low self‑esteem,” “I shouldn’t be so angry,” “I should be better than I am,” “I’m too nice for my own good.”
Many people think that once they know what their problem is, they can handle it by themselves. They would not dare to pull their own teeth, but they imagine they can resolve these issues their own way, in their own good time, without a clue in the world as to how to really solve the problem.
We cannot be objective about ourself because we cannot see ourself the way others do. We think that problem solving is common sense when in reality it requires very uncommon sense. Even doctors cannot treat themselves when they have a problem. Just like a dentist, no matter how good they are, they need to seek out another dentist. They don’t pull their own teeth. This is how uninformed people manage to perpetuate their misery until they die. Life is too short for that.
The truth is that there are issues below these issues that we do not know are down there. We can’t even find out. We don’t know where to look. We are too close to it. They are our wounds from childhood. This pain is inaccessible to us. We cannot heal.
To get beyond the initial avalanche of hurt, we can ask ourself questions to evaluate our own feelings in a practical way: “What is the situation? What is the worst part? How does this make you feel? When else have you felt this way?” Then go back to the first question and repeat the process until we have uncovered a seemingly unrelated experience or memory. In this way, we are peeling our emotional onion. It may stink and make us cry, but that is where the useful stuff is.
The next step is to tackle the ‘shoulds’ that underlie our pain and change them to preferences. If we do not get what we think we ‘need’ or ‘must have’, or if something happens that we think ‘shouldn’t’, then we will be prone to lash out to regain control. The irony is that the more we seek to gain control, the more out of control we become.
To help us move from demanding to preferring, we can ask ourself: ‘Where is it written that people should behave in certain ways? What makes me think I cannot deal with this? Do I trust my judgment to deal with it? What is the worst part about not getting my way?” These questions can shed the light of awareness on our behavior by recording our answers in a journal.
Writing seems counter intuitive. Our distress may be too painful and writing about experiences we wish to forget, may cause fear that we will be overwhelmed. Yet, journaling helps to release our painful emotions. There is no way anyone can put a band-aid on this hurt. Our pain must be experienced, so we can heal and move on with our life. Writing gives us control over how and when these feeling comes to the surface. And they will surface sooner or later.
Perhaps one day we are tired and hungry and then someone cuts in front of us in line at Starbucks. This minor frustration is the final snowflake that causes an avalanche of emotions to bury us. Yet journaling allows us to release our pent up emotions, so we can see each situation independently without being buried in similar feelings from the past.
Think of self-exploration as being the detective in an exciting mystery movie. Or as if we are a scientist trying to discover a major new insight into human nature. Learn to replace those old fears of looking inward with a sense of adventure, curiosity, and excitement.
The process of self-exploration is not like looking for an inner monster, it’s like looking for buried treasure. We may find inner roadblocks we didn’t know about; but we will find at our core that we care. It’s hard to care. It’s hard to be healthy. If we truly didn’t care, we wouldn’t feel hurt or disappointed. We only have these painful feelings because we care. It’s so much easier to be unhealthy and not care. But that is not sustainable.
Doing what is hard, like tolerating frustration and controlling our impulses is part of being an adult. Education, career, relationships, owning a home, these are all hard things to accomplish. Gold, diamonds are hard to obtain. Value comes from doing what is hard. We don’t value what is easy. We value what is difficult. So by doing what is easy and unhealthy, we feel even worse in the long run. Each time we do what is hard, it’s a growth opportunity. But it’s our choice, even if we do not like our options. To do what is hard or do what is easy, either way the choice is ours and there will be a consequence.