What creates our happiness? What causes our suffering?
By Barbara Pierce
I don’t think it is circumstances or other people. I strongly believe that we create our own happiness and we cause ourselves to suffer — most of the time anyway.
I’d like to remind you of some of the ways we can make life better for ourselves. Making these changes will pay off in all aspects of your life. It will boost your mood, build resilience, and add to your peace and feelings of well-being as well as limit those times of suffering and agony.
I’ve put together these suggestions from what I’ve learned from many years as a psychotherapist. In that role, I helped people make their lives work better as well as found what I’ve found works for me.
— It’s how you see things that matter. You know this: No matter what happens, it’s really your attitude that matters.
Life doesn’t always go the way you want it to. Whether it’s a minor inconvenience like unexpected traffic or a major setback in your career, relationships or health, one thing is certain: You can cry and whine about it, or not.
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain,” is a quote I have on my wall because I try to live my life that way.
It comes down to the meaning we choose to give the events and circumstances we find ourselves in.
Caught in the rain? You can gripe about what your hair will look like, or enjoy the sensations of the rain. Stuck in traffic? You can grumble and curse, or sing along to your favorite songs.
When you have a major setback in your life, accept it. It happened, you don’t like it, but you will be OK with it. Then think: “What steps do I need to take to change this situation?” Take those steps and then step back. If there’s nothing you can do, just be OK with it.
Matter of perception
I especially like this parable: A man who was traveling came upon a farmer working in his field. “Is that your village down there?” he asked. “What are the people there like?”
The farmer responded: “What were the people like in the last village you lived in?”
“They were rude, unfriendly, and dishonest. That’s why I left. I’m looking for a new place to settle down.”
“I’m afraid you’ll find that the people in my village are the same,” the farmer replied. “This is no place for you.”
Later another man came up to the same farmer and asked him what the people in his village were like as he was looking for a new home.
Again, the farmer asked: “What were the people like where you lived?”
“Oh, they were wonderful,” he replied. “Such kind, friendly, and generous people.”
The farmer said, “You’ll find the people in my village just as wonderful. You’ll be welcome to stay.”
Watch your “all-or-nothing” thinking. Of all the things that caused my clients the most suffering and unhappiness, this was it. All or nothing thinking is when you see things in black or white. For example, the woman who, after her husband left her, said: “I’ll never love anyone ever again.” Or the man who didn’t do well in a job interview: “I just can’t do interviews at all. I’ll never get a job.”
All-or-nothing thinking refers to thinking in extremes. You are either a success or a failure. Your performance was totally good or totally bad. If you are not perfect, then you are a failure.
Life is rarely black or white. This way of thinking does not account for shades of gray, and can be responsible for a great deal of negative evaluations of yourself and others.
— Make social connection a priority, especially face-to-face: We are social creatures with emotional needs for relationships and connections to each other. Our brains crave companionship.
Ask a zoo keeper to develop a space for Homo sapiens, and he would list at the top: “Obligatorily gregarious — do not house in isolation.”
Phone calls and social networks have their place, but nothing can beat the mind-boosting power of quality face-to-face time with other people.
— Find purpose and meaning in life: Find something that really interests you and pursue it ferociously. Activities with purpose put sizzle into our lives, energize us, challenge us and make us feel productive. Your purpose will be found in things that you are good at and that you care deeply about.
Take a step back and look at each of these suggestions. Which do you need to add to your life?