by Jessie Cook
Life beyond "sick and tired"
|Happiness. A word that invokes feelings of many kinds. In its truest sense the actual feeling of happiness brings us joy and sometimes contentment. However the word itself can bring forth emotions seemingly unrelated, such as sadness from not finding a sought for happiness or anger toward those who appear to have found it.
So many of us have been battered around by people in our lives and the “system” we face every day ~ whether secularly or personally. We have been convinced that every bad thing that happens to us must in some way be our fault because of past mistakes, misdeeds or thoughtlessness. We also tend to believe that good things are random and bestowed on us by others or even by chance. We have resigned ourselves to the idea that only unpleasant work and little to show for it are the most we can truly expect ~ well unless someone else intervenes and “cuts us a break”. Is it any wonder that the depression rate in this society is so high!?!?!
What if we dared to challenge the normal thinking pattern? What if we made a change in our way of looking at life in general? What if the reverse of the above beliefs were true? What if the “bad” stuff in our lives was not entirely our fault, but more often put in front of us by others? (Admittedly we do make mistakes to our own detriment - but not every single time!) What if the “good” stuff in our lives was not just by chance ~ what if we produced it? What if we found our true talents and used them in every day life to better our outlook and thus our prospects for a better work environment? What if we channeled our assets to do more for us than against us ~ without relying on others? Would you look forward to the next day a little more than you do now?
There is no greater happiness I believe than the beginning of anything new. Beginning a book and looking forward to the plot twists and surprise ending or learning something new about a subject we are already interested in. Beginning a new project and anticipating the end result and how great it will be or look. The beginning of relationships are filled with excitement and interest in other people with different stories than our own, but some common thread that drew us together in the first place. It is a wondrous thing to learn the details of another’s history, what makes them who they are. Do we like the same things? Do they understand us? Ah yes, the ultimate search, the true purpose in reaching out to other people is to find those rare gems who share our outlook on life. The greatest treasures found through our search is that small circle of true friends who know exactly who and why we are.
It seems that we dwell (and are taught to dwell) on too many of the negative parts of our lives. We are constantly reviewing past pains to determine why they happened, how they have affected our present reasoning and ultimately how to avoid them again. Of course human nature and common sense - if we have any form of intelligence - work to protect us from harm by learning from our mistakes. But, really, do we have to let the negative parts of life shape the way we judge our own behavior? What about the positive, happy and joyful memories? Why not focus on the memories of new and exciting beginnings, the wonderful “firsts” in our lives that were so much fun and the forgotten dreams we held so dear and hopes we promoted so openly?
So many people give up on marriages, friends, jobs and even finishing projects because they become immersed in the negative and troublesome parts of the process. Why not refresh our memories of the beginning of the endeavor ~ the happiness and joy found in contemplating the future prospects of the journey ahead. When meeting new people - whether socially or professionally - we look for the possible benefits of the relationship, not the work involved or the possibility of disaster. Especially is this true of romantic relationships. People are people - imperfect and sometimes selfish because that’s how we survive. It is instinctive to be selfish sometimes because it is a part of self preservation. We all have good and bad qualities and hope for or even expect others to accept us as we are. Why then, after loving someone enough to agree to living with, marrying and being “one” with them, do we fall apart? Why do we hurt or let someone hurt us? Why do we cheat or let someone cheat on us? Why do we yell or let someone yell at us? Where did the love go? What did we do to make this happen? Let‘s take a step back for a moment. Let’s go back to the BEGINNING of the relationship and remind ourselves of the love and joy we had for each other and recapture it, if we are honest and open to working together and both parties are willing, problems can be solved. Joy can be found and happiness can be rekindled and grown again. The key is promoting the joy and happiness instead of the work and pain. This is true of any endeavor we embark on - relationships or otherwise.
By identifying the things that stay in our mind as positive or happy times we learn what we truly like. It is so very easy to remember those sad and painful or embarrassing times that have left such deep and obvious marks. What if we try to pull out happy and joyful memories from all the stages of our life? I don’t recall any “expert” in the field of behavior study emphasizing the good memories from our childhood ~ no it is always the bad, sad and horrible things. We find ourselves believing that every negative and unpleasant feeling we have now is almost certainly a result of some terrible childhood assault or humiliation. Couldn’t the reverse be true as well? Couldn’t the honors and praises we received from family and friends as children be remembered with great value in regard to our present state of mind? As the memories surface of happy times, places and events, we need to make mental note of them and maybe even write them down. When we start to focus on these positive items from our past, we start to identify what truly delights us - what makes us happy. And isn’t that, after all what we all strive to find? Happiness? We may also find some common threads that carry over from each stage of our lives into the next ~ our constant sources of joy.
It is a great thing to realize that we have found in our memory a forgotten treasure that can be brought out again ~ whether a physical item or a part of our personality or past that we can now share with our friends and family. We may suddenly remember a lost talent or hobby that we have set aside in favor of our busy lifestyle ~ we can try it again!! When we remember positively, we uncover peaceful moments which we can reincorporate into our lives. We inevitably discover lost activities and unfulfilled spiritual needs that we used to identify with much more strongly than we do now. When uncovering gaps in our “belief system” it is imperative to our internal happiness that we examine the difference between our present thoughts and activities and the beliefs and truths we truly hold dear. When we cross our own belief system, we confuse our conscience. We cannot switch our mind set without setting off our inner alarm system. We should not ignore these “pricks of conscience”. They are the basis for what we truly feel is right. We may find that we have never really left behind the values and ideas we cherished at more peaceful times. Maybe we just need to bring them up to a conscious level again.
Before our lives became so busy and full of burdens and responsibilities, some of the ideas we had were not naïve. We may have dumped the good intentions along with the painful and hurt feelings when we were disappointed by failures or unpleasant outcomes. In order to be truly happy and make a plan for our continued and future happiness, we must be willing to open our mind to the positive parts of our life. Too often we push these aside as “flukes”. Why do we do this? We have been conditioned to think that our lives are only shaped by the negative. We often think that the “bad” things that have happened to us have “built our character” - you know the saying: “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”. Well if that were true - we should all be made of steel by now! Our poor judgment, mistakes and rejections have not made us who we are. Of course we take what we can from them and learn not to make the same errors again (hopefully). But then, move on ~ don’t dwell on the why and how to fix it thoughts. They certainly have not produced the positive feelings that bring us happiness and fond memories. Let’s try to learn from the good ideas we have had, the right choices we have made, the bright, funny and witty things we have said and done. Reincorporate our talents and dreams into our daily life.
Have you ever considered where you thought you would be by now when you were at the most optimistic period in your life? It doesn’t matter what age we are now - we all had ideas about where we would be by age “x“. We may have to go back to grade school, high school or even mid-life to find our “take on the world”, invincible feelings. We need to mull over that feeling in our mind. Try to feel the way you felt then - even if it is just for a moment. You’re smiling aren’t you? Maybe you were wearing your Superman Cape ~ maybe you were planning life with your high school sweetheart ~ maybe you were sitting in a coffee shop with college friends exchanging ideas about how to change the world as you knew it ~ whatever the circumstance try to recapture the excitement and strength you felt. It is so invigorating to remember our positive emotions. We know why we DON’T do things, what we DON’T want, who we DON’T spend time with and why some things are PAINFUL. It may be time to focus on the opposite: what do we LIKE to do, what do we really WANT, who do we really VALUE - and why are some things so WONDERFUL. If we extract the good parts of our being, we can use them to direct ourselves to a happy future. If we are emphasizing the negatives in our lives, being positive can become our preferred choice. It is definitely a CHOICE and it requires some energy to put into place ~ but it is so much more fun and productive!
Some days it may seem that life is to be endured and survived instead of enjoyed. But even our biggest challenges can be turned into positive parts of our lives. Just having a positive hope or outlook will promote well being. Let’s face it, not many of us have what we think are ideal circumstances. We cope with all sorts of unexpected scenarios - sometimes daily, sometimes hourly. But when we base our thoughts on our authentic self - what makes us happy - we learn to incorporate those feelings into our daily activities and the positive energy we feel will be reflected in the choices we make about HOW we cope with unpleasant circumstances. How we cope is as much a part of who we are as the Proverbial “nose on our face”. If we have more negative than positive feelings about life in general, our coping skills will be weak.
Let me share an example of my own: Recently I was wrongfully accused of some potentially serious misconduct. This accusation could have damaged my personal as well as professional relationships. Initially, I felt scared and defensive (who wouldn’t?!). I decided to look into the matter on my own. I knew it was false and I was pretty sure I could prove it, but I decided that even if I couldn’t I knew and anyone who truly knew me would know that it was false. I also was sure I would feel happier if I did what I could to resolve the situation. After hearing more details of the accusation and retracing my own “steps” mentally to discern where and how the misunderstanding occurred, I was able to give a truthful defense and the accusation was proved false.
Now, we can take the preceding incident and use it as a “template” of sorts to describe just about any negative circumstance we may encounter. The point to ponder is our initial reaction and our following coping skills. When faced with a negative situation - big or small, true or false, “uncontrollable” or not, physical or mental ~~~ the list goes on ~ the most important thing we must do in order to get through it with our dignity and self esteem is decide (or choose) how we will cope with it. Before we know what the “whole story” is, before we know the steps we will have to take to “fix” it, before we make any decision at all ~ decide what our coping stance will be. Yes, the situation itself is negative - no way around that - but the way in which we choose to deal with it will make all the difference in our feelings. Lets say that we decide it is the end of the world and we have had enough of the crap. We just can’t fight any more and we are finished!!! Well, the problem may go away on its own ~ or not. Someone else may take control of it and fix it for us. We may be able to walk away from it and never look back. But, did we get any happiness from it? Did we accomplish anything? Did we CHANGE the fact that the problem is or isn’t there anymore? NO! Why? Because we can only change ourselves and we can only choose our actions not those of others.
Regardless of what others say, do, think or feel ~ we are the only ones who can make ourselves feel good!!! Even if a situation does not turn out the way we would prefer ~ the way we deal with it makes all the difference in OUR life. It will not matter to the other parties - even the ones closest to us - as much as it will to us. And isn’t that what we are talking about here? We want to be happy. We want to know how to ensure our future happiness.
Strength of mind is sometimes hard to attain when we are being constantly assailed with attacks on our character. Think about that for a moment. We may have a demanding work environment with many rules and regulations to follow - granted these may have been necessitated by others misconduct - but we may feel our integrity being questioned at times. Maybe we have an overbearing spouse or close friend who reminds us of our mistakes often. Even advertising is an attempt to attack our character by insinuating our lack of ability to choose the correct vehicle, food, beauty product, clothing etc. Our well meaning family and friends can unintentionally point out flaws in our personality - real or imagined. Add to that the attacks we make on ourselves because we actually start to believe what others say and question our own intentions - and you have a pretty good case AGAINST yourself don’t you?
This is the point at which we must step away and look at ourselves objectively. We cannot let ourselves fall into despair over things said by others or even by mistakes we have made. On the other hand, we cannot ignore our imperfections - and we all have them. The trick is to strike a balance between self hate and arrogance. Or even more to the point between that common constant and nagging doubt about self worth and our rebellious “I just don’t care - kiss by butt” side. Those are the day to day emotions we struggle with - and neither one brings us joy. In the middle though, we can find our true self. There is a comfortable spot in there where we are o.k. We are not less than we want to be and we don’t have to prove anything. That is where we are the most comfortable - like our favorite chair, pillow, clothes etc. This is where we find our strength to make choices that are good for us and bring us the most joy and happiness. This is also where we find courage to change things that we did not think we could. We also draw from this part of ourselves the ability to choose our coping stance - which, when positive, brings the most satisfying results. If we can bring ourselves daily to our true self and learn how to make our decisions based on that person, we will find happiness in those decisions. Even if we make choices that are not the best - we will cope with the results in a positive way and end up happy anyway.
Finding your authentic self may seem a bit abstract at first because we don’t often think about the fact that we are usually hiding some part of ourselves that we think is unattractive. We do this so automatically that we don’t even realize it. Stop right now and think about how you act when with others. If we are honest with ourselves we know that we don’t truly say or do what we feel inside when with other people because we fear it would mean rejection. Of course, sometimes what we are thinking or feeling truly would be inappropriate behavior and is best kept in. But for the most part we are the only person alive who knows our true feelings. Even when we try to share some of our deepest feelings and thoughts with a close friend or family member, they may not truly “get it”. It is these deep feelings and thoughts that we convince ourselves may be unattractive or somehow even shameful. We may think that if others found out our true feelings they would finally really know us and never want to be around us again. It may be a self perceived flaw that we don’t want others to see. Whatever it is that we hide from others it is a part of our authentic self and we, if no one else must accept it and embrace it. This may be difficult to do because we may have spent so much time putting it away and locking it inside that we truly hate it. To pull it out, think about it and embrace it may be painful initially. We may have convinced ourselves so thoroughly of our incompetence, unattractiveness, stupidity, selfishness, inadequacy, or all of the above and maybe even more, that we have actually accepted it as our authentic self!!! How sad. We are so enormously hard on ourselves sometimes.
To truly find joy and happiness within ourselves and thus live happily, we have to actually BE happy with who we are. We can only accomplish this by taking a serious and honest look at ourselves and turning self deprecating thoughts into self accepting thoughts. We are not and cannot be perfect - it is not humanly possible. Accept it. Cope with it positively. We can however change the imperfections we have to be more acceptable to ourselves - and as a result actually like who we are. We can find that balance between self doubt and “kiss my butt”. It is o.k. to be ourselves - it is necessary. When we do this, we will naturally look better, feel better, gain confidence, perform better, and attract people who we actually like and who share our basic interests and beliefs - and who like us for who we are!! Once again bringing us to our goal - joy and happiness.
The people in our life may not be able to control our thinking or make our choices for us, but they do influence how we think, feel and act. It is vital that we be who we are inside and out so that we do not become involved with people who may be detrimental to us. That may sound simplistic. We cannot choose our family or workmates or children or many of the other people we may have to spend time with. Those people may become “situations” we must cope with constructively. What we want to focus on though are the people we choose to spend time with. Maybe you cannot choose a workmate for example, but you can choose whether to go out for a beer with them or not. If we are honest with ourselves and others we will naturally attract people like ourselves and repel those unlike ourselves. The problem we face is our desire to be accepted by others. When we want to be accepted by people around us we may start to fall into that “fake” personality. You know the one - hiding anything you think they might not like to see. Thus you loose your authentic self and end up spending time with someone who ultimately is not like you and eventually will resent you or vice versa.
The meaning here is: It is important to get along with people we spend time with whether by choice or otherwise. However, it is not necessary or healthy to conform to another’s personality in order to “fit in”. This is especially true when pursuing romantic relationships. It is so easy to put on our “best” side to impress the one we are so madly in love with or so desperately don’t want to loose. Unfortunately, that side will not always be available. It is the worst crime against ourselves and others to put up a “front” in a romantic relationship. There is no good or happy end to it. Sooner or later your true self will emerge - good or bad. The thing to think about here is this: even if you are good natured, if you have distorted your appearance in any way, the true picture will change the way others see you - whether its good or bad - and there is a feeling of being deceived. We all know that when we feel deceived we loose trust. No relationship can survive without trust. The bottom line is if we don’t find our authentic self, accept it and show it (live it), we will never be happy with the people around us because we will only have around us people we don’t really like and who don’t really like us - because we don‘t know each other! Be yourself = be happy!!!!
The way we spend our time has so much to do with our joy in life. How’s that for an obvious statement!!! The ironic thing is we often choose to do things that: a. we don’t want to do, b. we don’t like to do and c. we are not good at. WHY?!!? Many reasons, but most commonly because: a. we think we should, b. we think it will make someone else happy and c. we think we will gain something from it. Let’s face it - we are instinctively selfish to a point - we don’t do things we don’t want to without some kind of reward. Now there are some instances when doing something we don’t want or like is noble - we may be doing it for a good cause and someone will actually benefit from it - maybe even us. But we are talking about things that we do for the wrong reasons and what we could be doing to make our life happier.
This is a good time to bring up those happy memories again. What really made you happy as a child? Yes, looking back that far can bring up things we have forgotten we even like. What about as a teenager? How about during your “invincible” stage? When you felt like you could “take on the world”, what did you do for fun? Of course legal issues and age may make past sources of enjoyment impossible now, but try to stay within the realm of actual possibility here. When you think of some of your “best times”, what were you doing? When you think of what you truly like in life, food, people, hobbies - using your authentic self, being honest - what is missing, if anything, right now? There is no right or wrong answer to this. You will know as you figure out who you are and what makes you happy, what you actually LIKE to do. The chain reaction follows: whatever you find that you LIKE to do, you will naturally be GOOD at doing. This is why, while in school, we are encouraged to try different classes to find what we are good at. We may also find that we are really good at something that we could be making more money doing and at the same time actually ENJOYING our job!!!
The benefits of being who we truly are and focusing on the positive rather than the negative are endless!!!
Beginnings Part II
So, now its time to make your own new beginnings. Whatever problems you have, you are not alone. There are more people like you than not who are struggling just like you. We tend to feel alienated as if no one else has ever suffered what we have. Technically, that may be true. However, as a whole we are all in the same boat so to speak. No matter what self definition or society classification we fall under (rich, poor, smart, stupid, pretty, ugly, acceptable, unacceptable) - if we want to be happy and we are not at the present, we must change. We must change our coping stance from negative to positive. We must change our self image from negative to positive. We must choose associations that are positive. We must do things we enjoy. Above all else, we must reverse our thinking pattern. We cannot continue to believe that we are where and who we are because of the negative influences in our life. We must believe that all the wonderful, joyful and happy parts of our life have a greater and better influence on us.
We are our own best resource for making ourselves happy. No one else knows us as well or cares as much about our future as we do. Along with that, we are the only ones in control of what happens to us. We have all the tools we need to shape our life into what we want and need it to be. There are not many sane people who, given the choice, would choose to be lonely, underpaid, ridiculed, bored and down right depressed. Well, we are given the choice. As a matter of fact we make the rules about what the choices are! Money and beauty will not drop from the sky into our laps, but we can make choices that change our income and appearance. We can discover what we love to do and are thus good at doing in order to make more money. We can decide to care enough about our body to take care of it and by becoming healthier, look better. And more importantly, we can decide to like ourselves so that, in turn others like us too. They are all connected ~ and actually much easier and so much more enjoyable than we thought.
I heard a song the other day in which there was a line that I think sums everything up so well: “Its not having what you want, Its liking what you’ve got”. I think it could better be expressed: Its not having what you think you want, Its loving what you are.