Have you ever thought to yourself “I am going to be happy.” Then, poof!! You were magically happy? No? Didn’t think so. Happiness, like other emotions, is not something you obtain, but rather something you inhabit. Inhabit is defined as: living in or occupying. When you’re raging pissed and throwing a monkey wrench at the neighbor’s children, you are not self-conscious about your state of anger. You are not thinking to yourself, “I am finally angry!! Or, am I finally angry? Am I doing this right?” No. You are out for blood. You inhabit and live the anger. You are the anger. And then it’s gone. Another good example is of a confident man. A confident man doesn’t wonder if he’s confident. He just is. It is the same with happiness, a happy man does not wonder if he’s happy. He simply is.
What this implies is that finding happiness is not achieved, but rather it is the side effect of a particular set of ongoing life experiences. This gets mixed up a lot, and I mean a lot, especially since happiness is marketed so much these days as a goal in and of itself.
Here is something to think about. A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds that people who accept their difficult emotions are better off in the long run than those who try to force their way into a better mood. Many psychologists and meditation teachers endorse a practice called radical acceptance. It is a pretty radical idea….. get it?? The basic idea is that when something bad happens—say, a dear friend moves away—you have two options. You can either deny or fight that reality, or you can accept it, deal with the loss, and move on. Or, to put it a different way: Pain is inevitable, but suffering, like the kind caused by denial, is optional.
With all of that being said, I have many friends who have this really awful habit of overly associating positivity with happiness. Chances are you know someone who always appears to be insanely happy regardless of the circumstances or situation. I know that for me, they are actually some of the most dysfunctional people I know, and that’s saying something because I am one of the most dysfunctional and messed up people I know. Denying negative emotions leads to deeper and more prolonged negative emotions and emotional dysfunction.
The trick in dealing with negative emotions is to, first: express them in a socially acceptable and healthy manner (blabbing on and on at a company happy hour about your issues may not be the place) and second: express them in a way which aligns with your values.
Here is a simple example of aligning values. A value of mine is to pursue non-violence (even though my siblings may disagree). Therefore, when I get mad at somebody, I express that anger, but I also make a point to not punch them in the face. Crazy right?! I know. (But I absolutely will throw a monkey wrench at the neighbor’s kids. Try me.)
There are a lot of people out there who subscribe to an “always be positive” ideology. This is partly due to the way happiness is marketed. It is seen as a byproduct of an event or product. These people should be avoided just as much as someone who thinks the world is an endless pile of crap. Both parties have horrible coping mechanisms and will eventually drag you down to their level.
So, what does all of this mean? Simply stated, things happen. Things go wrong. People upset us. Mistakes are made, and negative emotions arise. And that’s fine. In many ways, being able to experience, process, overcome and resolve these negative emotions and experiences helps us understand happiness and maintain our happiness.
All of this comes to the final point.
STOP trying so hard to be happy and start trying to be your ideal self!!
Completing a marathon makes us happier than eating a chocolate cake (I say this not from experience but from the words of people I know). Raising a child makes us happier than beating a video game. Starting a small business with friends and struggling to make money makes us happier than buying a new computer.
Here is the funny thing, all three of the activities above are exceedingly unpleasant. They require setting high expectations, they have a high potential for failure. Yet, they are some of the most meaningful moments and activities of our lives. They involve pain, struggle, even anger and despair, yet once we’ve done them we look back and get misty-eyed about them.
These kinds of activities allow us to become our ideal selves. We need to be perpetually pursuing the fulfillment of our ideal selves, which grants us happiness; regardless of superficial pleasures or pain, regardless of positive or negative emotions. This is why some people are happy in war and others are sad at weddings.
What did we learn today?? Stop trying to BE happy and start working towards being our ideal selves. What that is depends on you just like your happiness does. Take some time and write out what your ideal self is and start setting goals to improve. You will be amazed at what you can do and how much happier you will be.
Make it a Great Day.