“Seek to do good and you will find that happiness will run after you.” – James Clarke
I know, what a horrible title! Here I am, supposed to be doling out smidges of happiness, encouraging and inspiring you, blah blah blah…and now…this? If it weren’t free to read this here blog, you might want your money back. I understand.
I have to admit, the first time I started learning about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT; remember, I told you I’d have more to say about this) I was more than a little disheartened to find out that the goal was not to make my clients HAPPY. Come on, I thought. How am I going to motivate myself or anyone else by letting them in on THIS little secret? After all, isn’t that what we all want?
We want ourselves to be happy. We want our loved ones to be happy. Everyone on TV and in the movies seems to be happy, or else their story is so dire that we feel happier by comparison whilst viewing their plights. Hey, isn’t our whole entire country founded on “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”? Happiness must be a pretty big deal.
Here’s the clincher: YOU CAN’T BE HAPPY ALL THE TIME. Some days, you can’t even be happy MOST of the time. Ugh. What a downer. And I’m a therapist!
I’ll say it again, you can’t be happy all your life. People who say they are happy all the time, well…how do I put this delicately? They’re lying. Or delusional. I’m often accused of being happy all the time. Not true, though I will freely admit that I’m in general a happy person. And I’m happy about that. 😉
You can’t be happy all the time. Nor should you be, really. Think about it: if you were happy all the time, you’d have to be completely unaware of the world around you. There is so much that is good in the world; very true. At the same time, there is also ugliness, pain, and crappy annoyances. “Turning every frown upside down” just isn’t realistic, and this is coming from a relentless poster of inspirational sayings. So to live in this world well and fully, we have to truly see the world, and sometimes what we see is going to make us feel the opposite of happy. It sounds like that is a bad thing, but it really isn’t.
Buying into the lie that unless you are happy all or most of the time, there’s something wrong with you is a very dangerous path. It leads you to do all sorts of things to “feel better”, most of which are fine or at least minimally harmful in the short term/in moderation, but are quite frankly a hot mess in the long term.
What do I mean? Well, tuning out for one. How many times have you been sad/annoyed/frustrated/vaguely discontent/angry and turned to something to help you escape? It could be surfing the Web, checking out Facebook, watching TV, mindless gorging, even reading a book. Anything to check out of your life and into something else, just for a little while.
Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re doing it, this disconnecting from the here and now. We were out to dinner one night recently, and I looked over to see a family near us – every member of the family was on his/her phone. They weren’t saying a word to one another. I’m not lecturing; I’m noticing. We all have a tendency to fall into the immediate gratification trap. Not a problem here and there. Actually, if you are really upset, sometimes distraction is the best thing to do, while you let things percolate in your brain a bit. However, over the long haul, if you medicate every un-fun feeling by attempting to turn away from it, it doesn’t work.
Thus endeth Part One – more to come. For now, do me a favor: if you are currently trying to tell yourself that you should be happy all the time, and beating yourself up when you’re not, allow yourself to at least question that statement. Ironically, when you stop running after happiness, it sneaks up on you. And, as the quote I opened with suggests, there’s more to living the life you want than your happiness…hmmm…