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Searching for happiness

Posted last November 4, 2011, 7:07 pm in Health report article

We live in times that are marked with social and economic uncertainty. There is also a growing recognition for many people in middle class North America that their comfortable, high achieving lifestyle doesn’t always result in the happiness that they imagined it would. There often comes a time when we ask ourselves “ is this all there is” .......or “am I happy?”   We may not use the “ how can I be happy words” exactly, but may just experience a building uneasiness that spurs on to want to make changes in our lives , because we want to enjoy it more, or feel better, less tired, anxious or stressed  What if it turned out  that in searching for that ‘elusive’ happiness you’re looking for the wrong thing in all the wrong ways? In his book ‘The Happiness Trap’, Dr. Russ Harris suggests that the very beliefs you have about happiness may be what is actually making you miserable. What  is happiness?   Aristotle said that happiness was the only thing that man wanted for which he could give no reason.  A simple definition of happiness is feeling good - enjoying life and feeling it is wonderful, whereas unhappiness is feeling bad and wishing things were different. Is it normal or even possible to be happy all the time? Mental health statistics would suggest otherwise: The Canadian Mental Health Association reports that 1 out of 5 Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime. The World Health Organization ranks depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide. Almost one out of every two people will go through a period in their life when they consider suicide and one in ten people will actually attempt to kill themselves. Around 20% of the world's children and adolescents, and 30% of adults, are estimated to have mental disorders.   Just think for a minute about what these figures actually mean - that of all the people you know, almost half of them will at some point be so unhappy that they will seriously think about suicide. And one in ten will attempt it! Part of the problem may be that when we strive to be happy all of the time, we will always fail, because emotions by their very nature are fleeting. Feelings come and go, often like waves that wash over us, but they never last, which is a good thing when it comes to the not so pleasant ones. So then why can’t we at least be happy more often?  Why does happiness seem to be difficult for people to find? Perhaps it is because we are constantly focusing on what we are lacking, rather than what we have. We worry about whether people like us, or if we are doing the right thing, or if we did something wrong, or if something terrible is about to happen. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others and feeling we don’t measure up. We may evaluate and or criticize ourselves as not being ‘good enough’, or not having ‘enough’, or even not being ‘happy’ enough. It is really not surprising that we are often left feeling dissatisfied and depressed instead of happy. However whereas feelings like sadness, anxiety and anger are an inevitable part of life, these emotions do not necessarily have to overwhelm us to the point where we feel we no longer are in control.  Although it is impossible to avoid pain in life, we can learn how to weaken its grasp on us,reduce the number of times it occurs and the amount of time it hangs around. It is very possible to learn to handle pain and uncomfortable emotions in a way such that they do not have as great of an impact or influence on our lives. So the ultimate question is how? First is to learn how you tend get stuck in an endless cycle of worry and grief. You need to understand this process first in order to get unstuck and prevent yourself from falling into the trap in the future. The next step is learning how to change your relationship with painful thoughts and feelings so that they will be less devastating, time consuming and soul crushing.  This then clears the way for you to be able to stop and enjoy the moment, here and now, with your family. At this point you can then pursue a totally different type of happiness. Happiness can also mean living a meaningful, productive life. When we take action based on our values, in directions we consider worthy and purposeful, we experience powerful feelings of a life well lived.  This can be a more attainable and lasting type of happiness. Stop chasing momentary happy thoughts and feelings, and instead choose to spend your time and energy creating a rich and meaningful life, that is fulfilling, satisfying and long lasting.


This article was written by Dr. Lisa Eisen, R.Psych #1144 who practices at Tri-City Psychology Services. Lisa spends much of her time helping people to feel better about their work and life and - yes - happier too! Are you struggling with negative emotions that rule your life? If you would like to learn more Tri-City Psychology Services will be starting a group on how to live a more meaningful life in the New Year, call 604 939 9988 for more information