Sara Paules, MA, LPC
One of the most common complaints I hear from clients, friends, family and even IG followers is: “I’m just not happy” as if this is a problem to be solved. The problem with this statement is that we play into the idea that we must be happy. In fact, our culture even insists that happiness should be our default state.
Think about it… How many times have you heard a well-meaning friend ask or say something along the lines of: “Why aren’t you smiling?”, “Just cheer up” or even “Why aren’t you happy?” These subtle messages are clear: Everyone else is happy and I’m not so there must be something wrong with me.
The truth is though that nearly one in five adults will struggle with depression and one in ten adults will attempt suicide in a lifetime. You can truly see how hard it is to be happy when you start to add in difficult life circumstances like divorce, death, sexual difficulties, work stress, life transitions, domestic violence, racism, bullying, and loneliness.
The idea that everyone else around us is happy and there’s something wrong with us if we aren’t happy is a myth that will only get us caught in a trap of feeling worse about ourselves. By trying to get rid of negative emotions or feelings, we just confirm the negative belief that there is something defective or wrong with us for feeling the way we feel. Nearly every experience and everything we value in life will bring both positive and negative feelings. There is no such thing as the perfect job, partner, birthday or parents… By not accepting this fact, we can end up in constant disappointment, or stuck in our growth.
What can we do to combat the happiness trap? Here are 3 rules that can help you recover from the happiness trap.
This is only a short list of ways you can start to combat the false idea that we should be happy at all times and that we are defective if we aren’t. The happiness trap comes from the teachings of my personal favorite approach to therapy, Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT). To learn more about ACT, head here.
Sara Paules, MA, LPC
As we reach the final lax days of summer and head straight into the hustle of fall, I’m reminded of the ways in which transitions can take hold of our lives.
Transitions can bring about a sense of uncertainty which, for most of us, can feel uncomfortable and sometimes even scary. At times we may even resist change by creating rigid boundaries, staying up late at night worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet, or fixating on the worst possible scenario.
Up until a few years ago, I was a professional worrier. Things went on this way for years until I went to a workshop for therapists on clinical interventions for anxiety where a presenter shared that 85% of what we worry about never actually happens. Now, for whatever reason, this statistic really stopped me in my tracks. “What do you mean nearly all of what I worry about never actually happens?” I was clinging on hard to my anxiety like an alcoholic to a bottle of booze.
That’s when I realized I had a problem and I needed to challenge myself. Looking back, I can see now that at my core, my fear of change was really just a fear of failure. “What if things change and I can’t handle it or I fail?”
But when I remembered the 85% statistic, I realized that I didn’t really need to worry about whether or not my coworker gave me a dirty look, if I made the right decision in pursuing my Masters or my profession as a therapist, or about getting into an accident with my immediate family living between 200-300 miles away.
I also realized that when it comes to worrying about change, that I had a clear choice to make:
(1) Living in fear and anxiety while spending time worrying about the worst case scenarios or,
(2) Accepting the imperfections and the uncertainties in life.
And while choice #1 can be scary and uncertain, I learned that it can also hold us back from growth and new opportunities. Something that I also had to learn: imperfection doesn't mean that you are a failure. It means you’ve made it through something and have grown as a person because of change, not despite it.
Every new transition faced will be another opportunity to learn more about and challenge yourself to accept your whole, imperfect being for all that it is. Not everyone’s path to getting here will look the same. That;s because we are all different. But because I’ve learned to accept myself as I imperfectly am, I have to say that I’m proud of my ability to face new changes & transitions without spiraling into thoughts about failure (or at least, I catch myself doing it and I can change directions a lot sooner).