Happiness. It’s an interesting one. What stands in the way of it? What do we do when we don’t have it?
We have all been in a situation where we are unhappy with some part of our lives. If you haven’t, you’re either in denial, or you’ve got this life thing down pat and you needn’t read any further – Good day to you!
But what are you supposed to do if you’re feeling unhappy, dissatisfied or unfulfilled? Change something, right? Absolutely. The only problem with this, is that we tend to see external factors as holding the keys to our happiness. “I’ll be happy when I have more money/when I have my own home/when I have a better relationship”.
Often when we are unhappy, we cover it with booze or drugs or cigarettes or chocolate. When we are aware that we need to make changes, we think that if we exercise more or get a hobby we might feel better. We think we might be happier if we move, change jobs or if we are with a different partner. What do you think is standing in the way of your happiness? Go on, name it.
Sure, maybe that jerk at work really is making your life hell, but haven’t you noticed that there’s always someone who isn’t acting the way you need them to? Maybe your job is sucking the life out of you, but will changing companies really give you lasting peace? As a mentor of mine says, changing these external things is about as effective as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic in order to avoid the iceberg. It’s all futile. It doesn’t help in the long term because the iceberg is your own creation.
In my first job as a teacher I became so stressed that I got quite sick. I changed schools and worked less. It felt like a relief for a while, but the same stress began to creep back in. No matter what job I did, I felt anxious that I wasn’t doing it well enough. I eventually learnt that this stress was mine. I realised that
I was responsible for it and the only way I was going to change it, was to understand it better. So, I studied it, in therapy and alone – where it started, what thoughts it brought, how it served me and what it cost me. I learnt what beliefs about myself lay below it. I had similar experiences with relationships, friendships and study.
A good therapist can guide you in this exploration, quickly revealing the hidden dynamics and helping you understand yourself, which gives you the opportunity to affect real and lasting change.
Learning to take responsibility for my life, instead of putting all of the blame (and all of the power) on my circumstances allowed me to find happiness in all areas of my life without changing any of my circumstances. As William Arthur Ward said, “Happiness is an inside job”, so learn to create the life that you want from the inside out.
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Laura is a Gestalt counsellor and psychotherapist in Melbourne's inner North.