Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Allowing Happiness

It's my opinion that, ultimately, what we are all striving for happiness. When all is said and done, it's the "purpose" of life (with the caveat that I'm leaving religious beliefs completely out of this). We all have different things that drive us - our various types relationships, our dream home, traveling the world. But if not as an eventual means to happiness, why would we work so hard for these things? Now you might say, "I'm doing this for my kids' education, or I'm doing that to put food on the table, or I do this to help those less fortunate", and that's all true. But ultimately all of those things, if you successfully accomplish them, can make you feel fulfilled.  I'd like to clarify, I'm not saying that doing for others is selfish or inauthentic, please don't get me wrong. I'm simply saying that helping others - whether it be your kids or a complete stranger - is the motivation for many people to get up every day and do what they do, and if they do it to the best of their abilities, they (hopefully) feel good about themselves, as they well should.

With all the effort we put into reaching happiness, however, I've observed that many of us have a difficult time actually allowing happiness to take place. I'll admit, I'm sometimes one of them. I think that for some people, being happy can be a scary thing, especially if you're not used to it. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but there is some understandable reasoning behind it. First of all, many of us who have spent a long time being unhappy for one reason or another - be it life situations or  a genetic condition - are constantly looking for when the other shoe is going to drop, so to speak. It's tough to just enjoy the day to day because we are always trying to prepare for the future when something goes wrong. To us, it's inevitable. I'll use my condition as an example here. When I'm feeling "normal" or hypomanic, life seems generally pretty good (albeit a bit jittery with hypomania). But I know with absolute certainty, because it's the chemical nature of cyclothymia, that this will go away. One day, most likely without warning, I'll wake up feeling depressed, and there's not much I can do about it. In fact, the only thing I can do to make it more palatable is to prepare for it. If I get to used to things as they are, or get too comfortable with being happy, that will make it that much more difficult when the happiness is pulled out from under me. I don't try to think this way, it just happens subconsciously.

In addition, a lot of people don't believe they deserve to be happy. Low confidence and self-esteem, all too common in those with mental health conditions, can often make people feel that they aren't worthy of happiness. They don't believe they are "good enough" to feel good. If they are happy for more than a brief period of time, they feel guilty. This is exacerbated by anything or anyone that seems to support the theory. I can't count the number of people who have told me they've been called lazy or unambitious because their horrible depression and anxiety keeps them in bed during a bad bout. Even though it's untrue, this criticism only re-enforces the belief that they don't deserve happiness.

But here's the thing - we all deserve to be happy. There isn't a limited amount of happiness, either in ones own life or in the universe at large. My being happy (unless it's a direct result of something that hurts you) doesn't mean that you have to be any less happy. If I'm extra happy today, it doesn't inevitably pull from my happiness pool for tomorrow. Even with a cycling condition that's not the case. I'm going to eventually slip into depression whether I'm a little happy or extremely happy, because that's just how it works. But being afraid of happiness can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you're so worried about the future and when the happiness might get threatened, it can cause anxiety and stress, which can not only lead to unhappiness down the road, but can affect your happiness at the moment. Allowing happiness is not as easy as it sounds. I don't believe in "just decide to be happy", especially when brain chemicals come into play, like they do with a mental health condition. It takes a shift in ones beliefs about themselves, acknowledging that we do deserve happiness, and can eventually get there without the bottom falling out. It further takes a huge "leap of faith", believing that even if that bottom does fall out, we will be ok down the road. 

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