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.

Reality Check: A Way to Test Your Anxious Thoughts

Anxious Thoughts“How we see it is how it will be.” (Anonymous)
We most often suffer more from what we FEAR than what actually HAPPENS, so it’s important for you to learn how to evaluate what you are thinking. Things always look less fearful when we face them head on vs. running or distracting ourselves into TV, alcohol, food, or work.
Spend some time in your journal with your anxious thoughts, asking yourself these questions:* Continue reading

Inner Peace: A Natural Face Lift

“Soften your eyes. Relax your face,” I instruct my clients when we are working on deep relaxation in session. And the change is immediate and visible as the lines of tension fall away and a peaceful expression steals over them. When conducting this exercise with a roomful of people, the whole mood of the group changes. You can almost see everyone’s blood pressure go down! For you see, no matter how skillful the face lift, how costly the wrinkle cream, nothing can erase the look of stress, anger, sadness or chronic anxiety from a face when the soul inside is tense and troubled.  Inner peace is like a natural face lift. Continue reading

Andrew Solomon: Depression, The Secret We Share

“The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, and it was vitality that seemed to seep away from me in that moment.”

This is a moving and brilliant conversation about depression and it’s effects on the human spirit.  It’s is an illness, like any other, that impacts all areas of one’s life and ability to function.  It’s not merely just sadness or a bad day but an unrelenting dark cloud that drains away one’s ability to engage fully in their life.  Let’s work together to remove the stigma that prevents so many from asking for help!

[ted id=1894]

“The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality”

If you think you or someone you know may be struggling with depression, please know you are not alone and we want to help!  Check out our Depression Test to see if you or your loved one may be struggling with symptoms of depression.

Gru, Minions & Anxiety

The above video clip is one that far too many of us can relate to. You know that feeling when you’d rather blow torch a phone than make a phone call… Or you’d rather go shopping for hours on end than face the fact that your in-laws are coming in town.  Maybe it is fear of allowing your little one to spend the night with a friend that causes you to become that parent who will lie and say “little Johnny is too scared to spend the night,” all while little Johnny is in the background begging you to let him go.

There is a certain level of anxiety that is actually healthy and normal.  Anxiety that prompts you to prepare a speech before standing in front of a crowd is likely to prevent you from total embarrassment. Anxiety about a job interview, which prompts you to dress in more than a t-shirt and shorts is more likely to propel you toward employment.  However, when our anxiety becomes so intense that we are unable to give the speech, or we bomb every interview we attend (or better yet, bail before we even get to the interview) then there is likely a more significant problem at play.

In order to adequately talk about anxiety we have to differentiate anxiety and fear because often, these words are used interchangeably, but the reality is – they aren’t interchangeable.

Fear is the feeling that you get in the middle of a crisis, when you are faced with something real and tangible.

Anxiety is the feeling that arises when we begin to think of and fear things that may or may not ever happen. 

Anxiety is an elusive emotion that can quickly go from a normal level to spiraling out of control, as seen in our video clip.  Most of us experience a little anxiety when calling someone for a first date, but in the clip Gru’s anxiety went to such an extreme that he not only melted a phone, but it resulted in thousands of dollars’ worth of fire and water damage, and worse, hurt the feelings of some of his minion friends.  Unfortunately, our own anxiety when left unaddressed has the capacity to do the same.

Anxiety disorders are the most common disorders in the U.S. with an estimated 41 million people struggling.  In addition to being incredibly common on their own, anxiety disorders are also seen as underlying issues which often trigger bigger problems such as addiction, alcoholism, eating disorders, and major depression.  Anxiety disorders are, however, very treatable.

If you struggle with anxiety, here are a few tips to help you get on the right track.  The first step is to get to a place where you feel safe both physically and emotionally.  Here are some ideas:

  • Take slow deep breaths – counting to 5 as you breathe in and again as you breathe out
  • Go for a short walk – even if just to the next room or down the hall at work, often changing your physical location can be very helpful
  • Practice self-care – a bike ride, a walk in the park, a hot shower, read a book, enjoy a cup of coffee, go shopping, enjoy a cookie, call a friend, get a pedicure, or play a video game.

** It is important to note here that self-care will look different for everyone and you have to find what is safe for you.  If you struggle with an eating disorder then a cookie is not a form of self-care, or if you struggle with shopping / overspending, then a trip to the mall is not a healthy or safe form of self-care.

Once you have gotten into a safe space, then it is vitally important that you track down the root of your anxiety. What triggered you?  What can you do to handle that differently in the future, or to avoid a triggering situation?  Identifying the root causes and how to deal with them can be very challenging!  Often finding a close friend, or a therapist, to help you through this process is a necessity to true recovery.

Anxiety is the most common mental health diagnosis in the country, but only 1/3 of those struggling get treatment – the sad fact about this… Anxiety is a very treatable struggle.  You don’t have to struggle forever, and you certainly don’t have to do it alone.

If you think you or someone you love may struggle with anxiety, check out our Anxiety Test for a look at some very common symptoms.

Jennifer Smith, M.A., LPC-Intern
Supervised by: Tiffany Ashenfelter, M.A., LPC-S

Living A Masquerade – Hiding Your True Self

Scarecrows

Michael & I dressed as scarecrows last year

Here is a blog I wrote for Polish: Refining the Details, a summary of my presentation on living a Masquerade…

Growing up I always loved Halloween, I loved scary movies, haunted houses, trick or treating and especially dressing up. I would agonize over my costume every year wanting to have a great one. I still love Halloween and dressing up to go to a costume or masquerade party. There is something very liberating about hiding your true self & pretending to be someone else, rather than who you or who others believe you “should be”.
One mask-maker in California, Carla Almanza-de Quant says “Once you put on a mask you’re cheerful, you’re playful, you’re a more wonderful you,” she says “You become a fantasy character and you interact with others in a more outgoing way.”

What does that look like on a daily basis? What’s the mask or masks you wear when you are hiding your true self from others? Continue reading