This is because we have attached a concept to “happy” that is dependent on things going a particular way. And we all know, in life, how often things don’t always go as planned.
We have been tricked into believing that if we’re not happy, something is wrong – either with whatever it is we’re experiencing or with us, directly.
We get the message, over and over again – “be happy!” We even ask ourselves the same question: “What’s wrong with me? I should be happy!” I’ve been thinking about that word lately, “happy”. It always seems to have a story attached to it – something wonderful has “happened”. Or, we feel like we can’t be happy until things in our external environment line up with how we believe they should be. The story is different for everyone, but may sound something like:
Sometimes we just don’t feel happy. That’s 100% normal and natural and is ultimately not the problem. The problem is that we resist experiencing anything else. We aren’t meant to feel happy all the time. But when difficult emotions come up, they tend to trigger more thoughts around, “why aren’t I happy?” This then becomes an invitation to the brain to start listing off possible reasons – “maybe it’s because you need to lose weight; maybe it’s because you know you’re always going to be alone.” Your brain is not trying to torture you; it’s truly trying to be helpful. It is trying to save you from experiencing pain or harm and buys into the belief that we shouldn’t have to experience difficult emotions.
We’re all trying to escape from our mind – we just don’t see it that way. We think we’re unhappy because of “a, b, c” – whether that is “I don’t make enough money”, “My relationship is terrible”, etc. We see situations and conditions and put the “blame” there. When, in actuality, it is the stories your mind is telling you about those conditions and situations that is causing you to struggle and suffer. The things we search out in the external world to “make us happy” are fleeting. They tap into that part of our brain that is focused on survival, that is sending messages that what we have is never enough, demanding “more, more, more!”
When our external circumstances don’t line up with our internal expectations, we experience an uncomfortable inner disturbance. And when we feel uncomfortable, our natural, normal human tendency is to want to DO something to get rid of it. We might distract ourselves, or isolate from others, or try to think ourselves out of it by indulging in worried thinking or making a plan.
As for the methods you’ve used to avoid experiencing difficult things, try not to be hard on yourself. Whether you have used alcohol or exercise, it is simply a pattern that developed because at some point you, innocently, stumbled upon the realization that whatever it was could change how you felt when you were uncomfortable. So, your brain, which is responsible both for your survival as well as maintaining habit and routine, latched onto it as a positive and protective measure. And it fights to maintain it, even if, on a rational level, you have identified it as unhelpful or destructive. We attach so deeply with the belief that this is “me” and it means that there is something “wrong” with you. When, in reality, you have simply fallen into the trap of resisting reality, resisting having the experience you are having. By trying to escape uncomfortable emotions, we spiral deeper into a false reality.
Emotions are messages. If you are feeling sad, anxious, angry, etc., there’s a reason behind it. Our normal and natural tendency is to want to resist the emotions we’re feeling and we often choose to numb, avoid, or distract in any number of ways from it. But, by learning to embrace our full range of human emotions, we remove so much of the suffering in our lives. When we don’t waste our energy wishing away what is, resisting the experience, ignoring or denying, or otherwise avoiding our emotions, they lose their power. By staying with the emotion, we can listen to the message it is bringing to us.
We’re meant to be joyful – excited by life! When we listen to our mind telling us that things are NOT the way we want them to be, it shuts down the possibility for joy and pretty much guarantees that we will suffer. We can feel sad or any other challenging emotion, but dwelling on it, using our energy to try to “figure it out” or wish it away, only keeps us stuck in what we’re feeling. A trap we fall into is thinking that we have to do something to change what we’re feeling. Ironically, it’s when we accept what is happening in the moment, instead of clenching up and resisting, that we make space for it and it passes all on its own.
Emotions are simply an invitation to look deeper – to the thoughts and limiting beliefs that caused them. Each time we react in a habitual way or catch ourselves getting completely swept up in and overwhelmed by our emotions, it is a clear indication that we are caught up in the stories of our mind and believing them to be true.
By practicing the ability to sit with our emotions, we are able to see them more clearly. Allowing yourself to experience uncomfortable emotions shows you that they can’t actually hurt you. You will be able to see more deeply, more clearly, that your emotions are being triggered by your mind, which is simply doing what a mind does. It is attaching meaning where there is none, making assumptions based on past experiences. It is well-meaning in trying to keep you safe, but it is ultimately destructive and limiting.
Consider all the challenges we encounter in our lives! What percentage of time are we reacting to our emotions in this way – 80%, 90%, more? That means that for the vast majority of our lives we are only reacting to life, rather than intentionally, mindfully living it. We go through life constantly trying to get things “our way”. We feel like life has to be a certain way on the outside for us to be okay on the inside. When we no longer need life, and the people we share it with, to line up perfectly with our inner wants and needs, we are liberated.
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Bobbi Beuree, Certified CAN Coach + Facilitator is located in Halifax, NS, and provides virtual, 1:1 coaching services grounded in Mindset Coaching.