We all want to be happy.
We all want to be happier.
We all want:
- The next promotion
- The next salary increase
- A better car
- This latest gadget
- The best holiday
We live in an internet age.
An age where we advertise the best version of us via Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat etc.
In attempting to create this illusion are we in danger of chasing down the one thing to elude us – happiness?
If we are doing everything we can to achieve happiness are we actually sabotaging our own efforts?
The Truth is Out There
Fox Mulder will be a familiar name to some of you, depending on your age and what TV you enjoyed in the 90’s.
I loved the X – Files and the following episode could not come quickly enough.
I loved reading about aliens and anything related to cryptozoology as a kid.
In an age before box sets and binge watching online the show was a huge hit.
One scene always stayed with me and it is a technique I have used since.
Someone asks Mulder why he never seems shocked or surprised at discovering a dead body.
‘I prepare myself for the inevitable. I know there is likely to be a dead body on the other side of the door. I prepare my mind and visualise what it will look like. When it happens, I have already seen it.’
I have probably butchered the above but this is my memory of a scene from over 20 years ago.
I guess what he actually said is unimportant, it is the essence of what he said that matters – so, I’m taking the essence.
Mulder embraced the negative and used it to deal with as tough a situation as we can imagine.
Are you truly happy?
Right now you are debating this question and are likely running through a pro and con list of your life.
Many of you will have answered you are not truly happy.
Before I posed this question how many of you were actually rating your happiness?
Before the question was posed you were happy.
As soon as someone asks you about your happiness your brain starts to focus on the issues that are making you unhappy.
We are in a constant flux of trying to attain happiness whilst also attempting to rid ourselves of negativity.
Perhaps we need a different way.
A way which does not attempt to balance out the two fluxing emotions.
I want you to consider embracing the negative..
I know, I know. This is a weird one, right?
If you are trying to achieve happiness why would you embrace the negative things in your life?
Alan Watts was a British philosopher who popularised the ‘backwards law.’
In simple terms he believed the harder you try to achieve something the less likely you are to succeed.
‘When you try to stay on the surface of the water, you sink; but when you try to sink, you float.’
Self help books, motivational speakers and blogs (yes, the irony is not lost on me) ask you to focus on the best version of you.
If you have to constantly push yourself. If you have to remind yourself to be positive.
If Happiness is a daily chore focusing on being the best version of you is likely making you miserable.
Much of the self-help out there can be counter productive – even if the motive is coming from good intentions.
Embracing the negative gives us permission to accept our flaws.
We do not have to beat ourselves up about not having the perfect life.
It allows us to gain perspective and moves us away from sabotaging the endless pursuit of happiness.
Talking to Yourself
When you notice negative feelings and thoughts it is natural to want to banish them.
Another way of dealing with these thoughts and feelings is to acknowledge how you feel.
Let the feeling sit with you a while and allow them to move on.
You don’t have to react them.
In your mind you may even want to say something like:
‘Oh, that’s interesting. I’m feeling frustrated. How is this feeling serving me right now?’
In doing so you are starting to understand the story of your thoughts.
You are embracing them and allowing them to speak to you.
In doing so you are stepping away from an immediate reaction and increasing your self-awareness.
Stoics (its teachings suggested humans should find acceptance in what we have been given in life), believe it is better to face feelings than avoid them.
Imagine yourself in the worst situation imaginable.
Would you survive an ordeal of seeing a dead body, like Mulder did?
Even if it may be an unpleasant experience your would get through it.
You would find a way.
In Mulder’s case it was preparing himself for what he was about to see. He had visualised what the body was likely to look like. When it actually happened it was not as much as a shock. Embracing negative thought helped him to deal with the problem.
We don’t have to be dealing with the threat of a dead body.
What we can take from this is the idea of mentally preparing for the negative.
We can visualise what might happen and in doing so we are more prepared.
When negativity hits us we have already experienced it (in our minds eye) and it becomes more manageable.
If we have the capacity to deal with a situation like this we can improve our resilience.
Stoics believed how we choose to frame the world we live in is vital to wellbeing.
We can’t control the events around us, but we can choose how we react to them
A Different Track
Anthony de Mello was an Indian Jesuit priest and psychotherapist.
He took this idea a step further and broke it down into four different elements:
- Identify the feelings
- Understand they are in you but they are not external to your environment
- Do not see them as an essential part of who you are – these things come and go
- Understand that when you change, everything changes
It is easier said than done.
The key is to practise and look for opportunities to acknowledge how you feel.
Let them sit with you for several moments and then allow them to drift away.
The times where this will be hardest will be when we perceive and feel negative emotions.
You can embrace the negative and prepare yourself for whatever may be out there as Mulder did.
The more we push back against negative emotions the more we are likely to feel pain.
Although it sounds counterintuitive, accepting them means we are less likely to suffer.
I encourage you to look for opportunities to embrace negativity this week.
Note down how you were feeling and what thoughts passed through you mind.
Were you able to let the feelings sit with you and allow them to move on, or did you react to them in some other way?
Embracing negative thought is possible.
You don’t have to be always hunting for happiness.
Take a trip down a different track.
Allow negativity to be your friend and ally.
Believe and take action.