Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. – James Baldwin
In my previous uplifting post (ha ha), I talked about the fallacy of continuous happiness. Now, I know that probably no one really believes they can be happy ALL the time – we’re all pretty realistic people, right? But we do often get trapped into thinking that we should be happier more often than we currently are. And that bothers us, and when things bother us, what do we do?
We either (a) run from the problem – including denying the problem, or (b) try to fix it.
One way to run from the problem, that was covered earlier is tuning out. Getting busy with something else, losing ourselves in some other pursuit. And of course, this is not necessarily a bad thing, at least not in the short term and as long as it doesn’t involve criminal activity or something really harmful. But I didn’t really need to tell you that part, did I? J
I tune out bad things all the time. I’ve included one of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes comics as an example. Sometimes when people do things that don’t seem to follow what I think they should (the nerve!!) I go into a cleaning frenzy, or grab a book, or work out, or hop on Facebook, or write a blog post. Most of these things are fine to do, at least in moderation, but if I don’t deal with what’s bugging me, it’s unlikely to change. It’s a short-term fix, and I know it. But at least my kitchen is clean…
Another way to deal with problems is by trying to fix them. Most of the time, you’d think this is a pretty good idea, and I agree. But some problems can’t be fixed by you, or at least not at that particular moment, because they’re someone else’s problems, not yours. What happens when you try to change other people, and they don’t particularly want to change, or don’t have the capability right now? I’ll give you one guess.
And other problems are your problems, which is actually a good thing, because it means you can do something about them. One that I’ve struggled with is this whole concept of happiness. I told you I’m a happy person most of the time, and that’s true. But what about the times I’m not? What about when I wake up and think “Uh-uh, no way, not feelin’ it today.” Days when I’m actually sort of dreading what’s ahead? And then the mind chatter begins – you shouldn’t feel like that. Your life is great! Think of that show you saw last night where the guy was trying to lose 200 lbs and he had to break up with his fiancée and he was homeless and living in his car and then his son died? You have NO problems! YOU SHOULD BE HAPPY! If you’re not happy, you’re ungrateful!
My mind is right! I should be happy. I should be grateful. I should be carpe-ing the diem. But, in that moment, I’m not. And so the game begins. The mental tug-of-war between how I feel and how I think I should feel. The berating myself (how are you going to help anyone else if you can’t even help yourself), etc.
I know I’m not alone in this. Russ Harris, who is one of my very favorite authors in the ACT realm, has a great book called The Happiness Trap. I’m stealing liberally from him and also from Steve Hayes, who has another book I like called Get Out Of Your Mind And Into Your Life. These guys openly and readily admit that their minds beat them up all the time – and they are ACT gurus!
One time I stopped and listened to all the crud my mind was spewing about a particular topic and I thought, Wow, I would never be friends with someone who talked to me like that. Hmm. Interesting.
I’ll talk more about what we can do when our minds are blathering away in an unhelpful fashion in the next post. Ah, the suspense! But this post is getting too long…so until next time, what is your mind going on about right now? Noticing it is step one.