When Can I Be Happy?

In a lecture on vulnerability, Brene Brown discusses our tendency to be afraid of experiencing joy in our lives. She said, “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding. I have never come across an emotion or affect [in my research] that is as difficult to feel as joy. Joy is probably the most vulnerable feeling or emotion that we experience. We are afraid to soften into it or lean fully into it because we are waiting… for the other the other shoe to drop” (clip from The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings on Authenticity, Connection and Courage).

In my experience as a clinician, I have seen this within myself and my clients. I truly believe that one of the biggest risks for mental health problems is when we refuse to find happiness in our present realities and relationships. Many of us often spend more time with our own fantasies than we do with the people who we claim to be the most important to us. We start to live our lives with what I like to call the “if/then factor.” We say to ourselves, “If I had more money, then I will be happy” or “If I had a different partner or a different relationship, then I could be happy.” We can do this for years never truly experiencing what it means to be happy or find joy in our lives. We long for the day when we can truly have joy. Then we compare our lives to those around us making assumptions that our “friends” have the happiness we seek. What many of us seem to forget in those moments is that our “friends” are most likely doing the same things to us in return. Many of us can’t see this because of our natural struggle as human beings to see the good in our present circumstances, whilst at the same time requiring little effort for us and others to see good in the lives of those around us.

Whether it’s waiting for the time when we can get married to the perfect person… or when we can have our first child… or when we can get our first house… or find our perfect career… the years start to pass by and the things that really matter to us in the end becomes neglected. The problem is that those things which bring us the most joy are often the things we are afraid of the most. Unfortunately, the relationships that we fear the most are the ones we come home to every day.

My challenge to those seeking joy in their lives is to start today with accepting the lot you have been given and chosen in life. Stay out of fantasy! Put down your cell phone or Ipad for the night and spend time with those you care about the most. Enjoy your time with them without thinking about your worries or fears of what’s to come your way. Don’t fret… I’m sure your worries and concerns will be there tomorrow when you wake up😉…

7 Things Happy People Do Every Day

We are all seeking for something in life. Some people seek after riches and success. Some people seek after love and relationships. Despite the differences in what we seek as human beings, we all have one goal…. Happiness. Everything we do is centered on trying to be happy. I am not telling you anything that you don’t already know. However, after meeting with many clients who essentially say the same thing, “I just want to be happy,” I have observed seven things that happy people have in common and practice every day.

1) They don’t dwell on the negative

There are many things in life that we can see as a hole that needs to be filled, fixed, or covered up, but what if we could learn to be okay with having some holes here and there in our life. If you want to be miserable all the time, just remind yourself of all the problems you do have and all the things you don’t have. We all have problems we wish weren’t there and things we wish we had, but it’s not healthy for us to constantly dwell on them and the negative aspects of our lives. Happy people don’t avoid problems, they just learn to see the glass half full. They learn to practice gratitude for the things that they have in the center of life’s storms. Unhappy people avoid life storms as they would the plague and see them as a personal flaw. Happy people understand that there will always be storms wherever we go in life. They learn to look at the gifts that weaknesses or problems can give them by seeing an opportunity for growth and development as a person and not seeing themselves as a failure or innately flawed and one who belongs in the “exceptions to the rules” pile. Happy people don’t dwell on their problems or long for the things they don’t have. 

2) They understand the value of pain and emotion

Our society teaches us that emotion or pain is weakness. We learn over time that if we experience pain or emotion then it means that something is wrong with us. We do this so well that it is often unconscious. Happy people learn that pain is a part of life, and emotion is a part of being human. They learn to accept the feelings and emotions that they have and manage them in a healthy way through self-acceptence and connection. Unhappy people use addictions, distractions, or isolation as a way to cover up what they are feeling. Unfortunately, it brings more unhappiness and the cycle just repeats itself. Happy people understand the value of pain and emotion. 

3) They understand the importance of human connection

We weren’t meant to handle life’s problems on our own. We are hard-wired as human beings to connect whether we like it or not. Happy people understand the value of connection and leaning on people for strength and support. Leaning on people is not the only essential part of connection though. Giving and serving is just as important in fostering our connection with others. We feel a sense of value when we are trusted by others and are able to step outside of ourselves to think of their needs. Happy people understand the value of human connection by leaning and serving others. 

4) They learn to surrender

Just as human connection is essential to our happiness, so is a connection with a higher power. We not only need to lean on people for strength and support, we also need to lean on God. Regardless of what or who they call this higher power, happy people learn to stop leaning on their own strength to accomplish the things they need to and learn to surrender to God for power and strength to live the life they are seeking. This process can be liberating for us if we can learn to trust that this higher power will have our backs. Many unhappy people fail to do this because they feel that they need to prove something to themselves and others that they are not weak. They want to believe that they can defeat their personal demons with just sheer will power. However, as Hermann Hesse says, “Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.” Happy people don’t feel they need to prove themselves and learn to surrender to a higher power for strength. 

5) They have a purpose in life

Happy people don’t live from day to day just seeing life as a bunch of responsibilities or problems that they need to take care of. They find a purpose and meaning in life. They see their priorities as areas of personal fulfillment. Work is not just work or parenthood is not just parenthood for happy people. They feel that they have something special to offer others in their career or as a parent. It gives them a sense of purpose and fulfillment. They see their personal value in their responsibilities. They also regularly engage in activities that further develop their sense of value. This might be activities or personal hobbies that can further their sense of creativity and learning such as cooking, arts and crafts, or education. Happy people live their lives with purpose and meaning. 

6) They embrace vulnerability and change every day

Facing our problems and embracing vulnerability can be difficult and quite exhausting. It can be easier to stay stagnant in life and spend our days in our comfort zones. We feel safe here. However, living life without consistent growth and change will make us miserable. Happy people understand that personal growth and change can only happen by embracing vulnerability with themselves and others and taking accountability for their actions. They don’t stay in their comfort zones. They face their problems with courage and faith. They recognize the misery that comes in being stagnant on a daily basis. They know when to work, and they know when to play. Happy people make a decision to change every day through vulnerability and accountability. 

7) They forgive themselves and others

No matter how hard we try to live a perfect life we will always fall short. We end up making mistakes that hurt ourselves and others. We might not always be forgiven by the people we hurt…. but we can forgive ourselves, and we can forgive the people that hurt us. Happy people are able to have compassion on themselves for the mistakes that they make. They are also able to let go of the mistakes made by other people. They recognize that they sometimes have to bring up the past in order to learn to let it go and live in the present. Forgiveness to oneself and others is essential to moving on from past shame, hurts, and pains. Unhappy people carry the shame of their mistakes and the pains caused by others on their shoulders. They mistakenly think that they can leave the past in the past and not have to address those pains or feelings of shame. As they attempt to cover up their pains, the pains will follow them. It follows them into every relationship and gets repeated over and over again until they are ready to face what they are carrying. Happy people are able to face the shame of their mistakes and pains caused by other people. As they face these feelings, they forgive themselves and others and unloose the burdens of the past they have carried with them. Happy people forgive themselves and others by resolving the mistakes and pains of the past. 

The Secret Ingredient to a Happy Relationship

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

You could probably “google” the title of this blog and get hundreds of different responses. Despite this, I would like to share what I think is the secret ingredient most couples and family members lack when they experience relational distress. I believe it is human intuition that when our character or role in a relationship is threatened we immediately want to put up a defense to protect it. One of the reasons we do this is to avoid feeling shame about ourselves or the role we play in our relationship distress. Most of us naturally want to feel important as well as feel we are making a positive difference with the people around us. The way we react to disapproval or criticism is similar to how our bodies react to a cold virus. When our bodies recognize that something foreign has invaded it and is threatening the system, it gives off antibodies to fight and defend itself. Unfortunately, in relationships, these natural efforts to defend ourselves from others’ disapproval usually causes more harm than good. Often times, we feel the “need” to help our loved ones hear our side of the story because if they don’t (we say to ourselves) they will think the worst of us. Then as soon as we express what “really” happened, we expect our loved ones to succumb to the “truth” of it and admit that their views of the incident are in error. Unfortunately, as you might have guessed, our episodes most often don’t unfold in this manner. What often happens is two people feeling unheard and misunderstood and leave feeling more frustrated than ever. However there is a key piece of knowledge here that many people have a hard time contemplating. It is that TRUTH IS POINTLESS IN RELATIONSHIPS! Trying to convince each other to hear the “real” story often ends up in a conversational debate about who is right and who is wrong. Now don’t get me wrong. I think there are certain things in the relationship that need to be regarded as “wrong” and “right.” However, for the most part, healthy relationships are often founded on a mutual understanding of each other’s unique perspectives. This leads me to the SECRET INGREDIENT……..VALIDATION. Validation is the ability to step inside our partners world and to see the world as they see it. When we have done this we given them permission to feel whatever they are feeling and acknowledge their difficulty and pain in the events that have occurred. When couples and families are able to validate one another’s story and feelings, positive interactions can start to succeed the negative ones and lead us on the road to relationship satisfaction. I think that often times we fear that if we validate and understand our partner’s feelings that we are afraid that our own feelings won’t be heard or understand. However, that is often not the case. When we are able to listen to our partners on an emotional and authentic level and our partners are able to express themselves on a vulnerable and authentic level, our partners are much more likely to step inside our world and listen to our reality.