Monday, February 20, 2012

Unhappiness Training

Just how strongly are you committed to your unhappiness? Really, just how much time and effort are you willing to put into feeding it, caring for it, building it and maintaining it?

With so many of us striving to be happier, the questions seem ridiculous. "Effort to stay unhappy?", you might say, "That's crazy! I'm putting so much into becoming happier? Do you know how many books I've read? How many courses I've taken? How much of myself I've invested in becoming happy?"

What if the default or natural state for humans was to be happy? What if, in the absence of all other influence, there was nothing left but happiness? Then the only way to become unhappy would be to exert some effort. It would by definition take more work to be unhappy than to be happy. To be happy would be the easier of the two.

Forget for a moment about how to get there or whether or not it's true. Just ask yourself how that would change things for you.

If the natural state of you is to be happy, then there must be some good reasons that you work so hard at being unhappy. As kids, we're trained from a very early age to use unhappiness to get what we want. The child who expresses unhappiness gets more attention than the one who seems content. People tend to cut you more slack if "bad" things have happened to you. We're taught to deny ourselves happiness as a form of motivation. We learn to trade current unhappiness for future happiness.

Our use of unhappiness is pervasive. We use it to teach. We use it to motivate. We use it to get what we want. We use it to keep going. It's no wonder that we often find ourselves mystified by our inability to overcome it.

Perhaps the answer to becoming happier doesn't lie in overcoming those big unhappiness obstacles, but instead, in abandoning the use of unhappiness as a tool for daily living.

It's not unlike the experience of alcoholics trying to overcome drinking. As dramatic as it might be, the time to overcome your desire to drink is not when you've sat down at the bar with double-bourbon in front of you. It's not when you've circled the block for the third time casually glancing at the pub. It's not when you got into the car to head into town. It's when it first occurred to you how nice it would be to have just one drink and you gave that thought a second glance.

Similarly, the time to overcome you unhappiness is not when you're in the pit of depression. It's not when you're hit by a panic attack. It's not when you experience an undercurrent of anxiety. It's when you chide yourself for waking up five minutes late. It's when you make your kid's activity 'bad'. It's when you give even the slightest opportunity to envy or fear or doubt or distaste. It's when you use words like 'yuck' or make a face tasting something.

How about doing an inventory of everything you do that employs some form of unhappiness (uneasiness, distaste, anger, fear, doubt) to facilitate what you want? What if, one by one, you walked through the inventory displacing your unhappy tool with a happy one?

Forget about the big stuff. Just take care of the little stuff and perhaps the big stuff will melt away.

Happy Monday,

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