Thursday, January 13, 2011
I'll Take "Happy" for $1000, Alex
Last year (but not too long ago), I read this post on DailyOm about analyzing our happiness. In part the post says:
"Those of us on the path of personal and spiritual growth have a tendency to analyze our unhappiness in order to find the causes and make improvements. But it is just as important, if not more so, to analyze our happiness.
"Recognition is the first step in creating change, therefore recognizing what it feels like to be happy is the first step toward sustaining happiness in our lives. We can examine how joy feels in our bodies and what thoughts run through our minds in times of bliss. Without diminishing its power, we can retrace our steps to discover what may have put us in this frame of mind, and then we can take note of the choices we've made while there."
After reading this, I wondered, "Do we need to analyze our unhappiness at all? Why not just concentrate on all the things that make us feel good and leave it at that?"
So I took the question to my blogger therapist friends.
First Joseph Burgo, PhD:
"I agree that it's important to take a look at our own happiness and what triggers it; I especially agreed with the point made about choices." He goes on to say, "I encourage a kind of neutrality in that way -- what you feel is what you feel, and all of your feelings have value and meaning. I think striving to have certain feelings is what leads to wordy thinking where we try to talk ourselves into those feelings; it also promotes a dishonest relationship with yourself because you've decided in advance that some emotions have more value than others."
Then I posed the same question to Virginia S. Wood, Psy D. Here's what she said:
"We always ask, from the very first session, what the person has tried in the past and how that's worked for them. And whenever a person reports the slightest, most fleeting improvement, we want to know, 'What happened?' And we take that tiny spark and help them fan it into flame." She adds later in the email with regard to a specific patient, "We analyzed her happiness, even though at the moment she was quite low on the misery-happiness scale, relatively speaking, and learned something new that she could not only amplify in the moment but can also use later." And, "Unfortunately, I would have to say that the majority of psychotherapists, as in mainstream medicine, focus on fixing what's wrong. But there's a sizable minority of us out there who see whole persons, and focus on their strengths as well as their troubles."
I have reached my own conclusions from my "investigation":
1. All of my emotions have equal weight. To cry is as important as to laugh.
2. It is helpful to examine our happiness and try to re-create it.
3. I shouldn't over-think when it comes to my emotions.
4. My happiness and unhappiness come together to make me a complete person.
I know that sometimes I get what I would call "a good feeling". When that happens, I take a moment to think about what is making me feel positive. Usually it's something I've written or a photograph I've taken, or maybe something I've done for someone else. Sometimes I get a guilty feeling or "bad feeling" and I think about what caused the negative emotion. It could be something I've said that was inappropriate (I do this way more than I'd like to) or maybe a regret I have. And I know that in both cases, there is a little voice in my head that either directs me to "do it again because I like that feeling" or "don't do it again because I don't want to feel that way."
Thanks to my experts for helping me think about this post. It really gave me pause, seemingly a no-brainer at first, but on closer inspection, not quite so simple.