The Pursuit of Happiness

How many times are we told to do what makes us happy or to seek out happiness in our lives, as if it’s an end goal?

Everywhere I look, magazines, commercials, shows, movies, books, media of all kinds and the culture in general all encourage us to seek our own happiness.  It’s even built into the very foundation of our country within the Declaration of Independence, “life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness.” We live in a time and place, where for many of us, it’s incredibly easy to pursue happiness. We can have anything we want delivered to our home within 2 days, if not 1, thanks to Amazon.  Smart phones allow us access to incredible amounts of information and technology with the swipe of our finger. We can easily travel anywhere we want in the world.  How much of what we own was bought pursuing happiness?  And yet statistics show we are more depressed and unhappy than we’ve ever been before.  Our life expectancy has dropped for the first time in decades. Substance abuse and addiction is rampant and killing more people every day.

If the pursuit of happiness is really what it’s all about why are we so unhappy?

How To Be Perfectly Unhappy – The Oatmeal

As a therapist I deal in emotions all the time.  I work to help my clients identify, understand and feel their emotions. This is challenging work because emotions can be very uncomfortable.  We often seek to distract ourselves from our emotions, particularly the negative ones because the intensity of them can be scary.  I often hear clients express a belief that if they go into their emotions and really let themselves feel the pain, sorrow or fear, it’ll never stop. But the truth I always encourage my clients with, to help them take the step forward into their emotions, is that emotions change and they will not last forever. Just because you feel intense sadness, pain or fear in this moment does not mean you will feel it forever.

Eventually you will move through it and feel something else, maybe something like joy, peace, contentment, interest, curiosity, satisfaction…

This is the problem with the pursuit of happiness; happiness is an emotion and emotions don’t last, emotions change from moment to moment, day to day.

When we base our life’s goal on the pursuit of happiness we set ourselves up for failure and a constant seeking for more; which can create a perfect breeding ground for depression, hopelessness and even substance abuse. “This relationship that once made me feel so happy has now gotten hard so maybe it’s no longer “right” for me because I should be happy.”  “I don’t feel happy in my job anymore so I’m going to quit, again.” “I bought this top last week because it made me happy but now I’m shopping again because that feeling faded even though I’m swimming in credit card debt.”

When happiness is all we pursue, we miss out on so many other rich opportunities in our lives to feel and experience.  How to Be Perfectly Unhappy by Oatmeal is a wonderful little comic strip that describes how our definition of “happy isn’t very good, it’s a monochromatic word used to describe a rich, painful spectrum of human feeling.”  We are meant for more than just happiness, our lives are meant to be full of dynamic, deep, meaningful experiences and emotions.  We are meant to find purpose in our lives and live out that purpose.

Living out our purpose doesn’t always make us happy.  It gives us so much more. Come back next week where we’ll explore the power of purpose.

WHAT Did You Just Say? Communication Differences of Men and Women

off-the-mark-on-men-vs_-women“He should just KNOW what I want if he loves me,” she exclaims.

“I TRY to solve her problems, but she gets mad when she’s upset and I give her advice,” he declares.

And both of them think they are right. And both of them have a right to see it that way.

And both of them would be wise to learn to see it from another point of view.

Individuality notwithstanding, the stereotypes are somewhat borne out by research: men are generally problem solvers and women generally want intuitive, compassionate responses. To put it another way, when we approach our partner with a problem, we Continue reading

Our Own Worst Enemy – Self-talk

We are our own worst enemy.  Do you believe that?  After years of studying human development, psychology, working as a therapist & doing my own personal work I’ve come to believe this as truth.  We tend to save our worst, most hateful words for ourselves, not our enemies and then we wonder why we are stressed, anxious, depressed & isolated.

Think about it…whose voice do you hear in your ear when you make a mistake at work, “screwing up again”?  Who is it that beats you up when you don’t like what you see in the mirror “you’ve got to lose weight & stop being lazy”?  What do you say to yourself when you’re not able to live up to the impossible standards you’ve set for yourself “I really should get it together”?  The words we use within our own minds, our self-talk, matters a great deal more than we give it credit.  Our words have meaning. Continue reading

Kill Switches of Happiness – Adjusting Expectations

Are your expectations hitting the kill switch to your happiness?

Throughout the years of working with couples and individuals struggling with interpersonal relationships, addictions, anxiety, depression, or simply adjusting to their ever changing lives I have witnessed the turmoil caused by unmet expectations placed upon themselves and others.  People tend to be strongly connected to their expectations, regardless if the expectation is positive or negative. In addition, many individuals will often times gravitate more consistently towards negative or positive expectations.

What is a negative expectation? Expecting the worst or expecting too little from an individual or situation.    The development of this thought process is often times constructed as a protective shield. For example some protective negative expectations are:

  • They will probably leave mepessimist.optimist.realist
  • This diet won’t work for me
  • I bet the cancer has gotten worse
  • My child will never be able to excel

These thoughts are often times justified with, “if I expect the worst I will be prepared and if the worst doesn’t happen I will be pleasantly surprised.” On the surface this appears to be a solid plan of attack. However, while expecting the worst to happen in the future we live in present despair of what may or may not happen, which may cause:

  1. Isolation and limited support – this negative outlook can often times push people away (aka Debbie Downer).
  2. Chronic irritability – moodiness is a natural emotional response of constant negative thinking.
  3. Limits potential and possibilities – people may not try or give up hope if they continually assume they cannot achieve or overcome an obstacle.

What is a positive expectation? Expecting perfection or too much from an individual or situation. This thought process is also often times developed as a measure of protection. Unfortunately behind this protective shield is a mountain of significant avoidance. For example some protective positive expectations are:

  • I have the perfect child that could never disappoint me
  • You are going to be great, with so many treatment options cancer is not a big deal these days.
  • Because my spouse truly loves me, they will understand and meet my needs (i.e. child rearing, frequency of intimacy, household chores, gifts, etc.)
  • Since I’m making such a big financial investment in this weight loss program I won’t cheat or struggle with staying on track.

In comparison to negative expectations, positive expectations also limit our ability to accurately experience the present moment. Expecting too much or perfection can lead us to avoid, or be ill-equipped to manage problems that may arise. While positive expectations are generally meant to be encouraging and supportive, they frequently cause the following reactions:

  1. Immense pressure on ourselves and others – The amount of pressure people can experience in response to positive expectations can be so intense that they are unable to enjoy their accomplishments due to residual amounts of pressure.
  2. Dismiss or overlook the realities in life, avoiding problems – Stunting healthy personal and interpersonal development that may come from addressing the realities of life.
  3. Frustration and unhappiness – Exaggerated expectations will eventually lead to disappointment, simply because not everything in life is going to be perfect or go as planned.

What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.” Abraham Maslow

The next time your happiness has been killed, or you just notice you are in a constant rut, stop and ask yourself, “What expectation in this moment is causing this tension?” Fight to not immediately defend or judge your expectation. Once you are aware of your identified expectation put it up against the following test:

  1. Is the expectation true?
  2. Is the expectation helpful?
  3. Is the expectation realistic?

What are the positive and negative expectations that are killing your happiness in the moment? If you or someone you know needs help filtering through personal or relational expectations contact me at Michael@ashenfeltercounseling.com. Stay tuned for 4 Expectations that are Ruining My Marriage and Career Success & Marriage Failure.

Boundaries for Leaders

Check out our recent guest post for Empowered by Pierce.

Boundaries

Boundaries create sense of self and safety

We live in a world full of boundaries: like fences, the lines in a parking lot, our office space etc…But what does it look like personally and professionally?

To put it as simply as possible, boundaries are a dividing line between what is you and what is someone else. 

There are 4 main areas in which we create boundaries for ourselves:

  1. Physical – think personal space
  2. Emotional – managing your emotions and how you respond to the emotions of others
  3. Mental – having the freedom to manage your own thoughts and opinions
  4. Spiritual – how you manage and maintain your spiritual life

While often times we think that boundaries keep people out, or are selfish, the reverse is actually true. When we have established healthy boundaries with those in our life we actually gain a greater sense of safety and freedom. Without them, anger and resentment build up and actually hurt our relationships.

So how do we set boundaries? Read more…

 

 

 

The Problem with Normal

What is normal?  What does it mean to be normal?

Merriam-Webster defines it as – not deviating from a norm, rule, or principle; conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern

Not deviating from a norm, conforming to a type…

How many ways do we see culture trying to shoe horn us all into preconceived patterns and norms that it deems appropriate?  In how we dress?  In how we talk?  In how we engage in the world around us?  In the clothes, cars and houses we buy?

The problem with trying to be normal is that it’s a mythEach one of us is unique, one of a kind!  There is no other person in the world, that has been or will ever be that is exactly like us.  Even if we work to conform to what the world says is acceptable we will still remain our unique selves.

Fighting our uniqueness is exhausting and unhelpful. You are who you are! The quickest way to peace and contentment is find a way to be ok with the person in the mirror.

Sounds great, huh? How do we do that?

  • Rather than focus on what everyone else is good at, focus on what you are good at
  • Identify your individual and unique gifts & talents
  • Acknowledge your areas of weakness and remind yourself that it’s part of being human, we all have them
  •  Don’t look to material things to fill the hole, it’s all temporary
  • Engage your whole self – mind, body and spirit
  • Get out and serve others, it can provide some well deserved perspective