Happiness Part III: Can Our Thoughts Create Un-Happiness?

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As adults, we’ve become trained as well as training ourselves, into believing that we are responsible for all that happens in our lives and if we are parents, in our children’s or even spouse’s lives.  That means that we often place the burdens of making everyone happy and taking everyone’s happiness, well-being and other needs onto our own shoulders.

We’ve also learned that “bad things” can happen and often do.  We listen to the news every night which is geared towards only the catastrophic, death, war, politics and we are seeing loved ones, friends and others we cared about, dying.  We have lost that innocence that we possessed as children where the world is magical and besides a scraped knee or a fight with a friend (which usually lasts a whole day or two before playing again with one another), we don’t know that the world can be a hard, cold and harsh place.

If you have been reading my series on being happy, in Part II, I talked briefly about children, our childhoods and generally, most of us were fairly happy.  We found wonder and magic in practically everything that we did.  Of course, there are exceptions to that rule in families that were dysfunctional and children were fearful of every day and what it would bring.  On the whole though, as children, most children are happier than adults for some fairly simple reasons, the least of which is that our brains haven’t been trained or formed enough yet to see that life and this world can be a harsh place to be.

I’m not a neuroscientist nor, do I understand the mechanics of the human psyche or brain.  What I do know is that the way that we think is what affects our moods.  We cannot have an emotion, without having a thought.

Let’s take the example of a husband and wife coming home from work.  Both have put in full days so, they agree that making dinner shouldn’t be left up to one or the other but, should be done together.  There’s equal responsibility happening in this case and dinner is put onto the table.  The husband sits down, looking at what he sees and feels is a delicious looking meal to be eaten with his wife.  His feelings are those of joy and happiness.  The wife, on the other hand, sees the same dinner table, same food yet her feelings are anything but happy or joyful.  As a matter of fact, she has a knot in the pit of her stomach.

They are both facing the same table, same home, same meal, both did the work and both will clean up afterwards.  There’s seemingly no difference, is there?  However, there’s a difference in their feelings.  Why?  What is it that makes two people, facing the exact same situation and circumstances, same responsibilities, feel so differently?  And, no…it’s not because men are from Mars.

The difference is their thoughts.

Husband is thinking thoughts like:

  • “Look at my wife.  I’m so lucky to be able to share this dinner with her tonight.”
  • “Aren’t we lucky to have that slow cooker?  That pork roast looks so delicious.”
  • “After dinner, I’m going to stretch out on the couch and watch the ball game.  I’ve been looking forward to that all day.”
  • “This smells so good and I’m really hungry tonight.  I can’t wait to dive into this dinner.”

Wife is thinking these thoughts:

  • “I should have made just a salad.  Look at the calories in this dinner and the potatoes are carbs galore.  I’ve ruined an entire day’s worth of eating healthy.  There goes my diet.”
  • “I really should put away that slow cooker.  It’s too easy to throw in a roast and add quick side dishes.  I’m getting lazy now with cooking. I’ve been lazy with everything lately.  I’m really a bad person and wife! What is wrong with me?”
  • “After dinner, I’m going to have to get onto that treadmill and work out to burn off some of these calories.  Oh, wait, I can’t.  I told Clara that I’d call her to work out the plans for our bridge get together next week.  Why did I think I should play bridge?”
  • “Now, I’ve lost my appetite.”

Two people with extremes in thinking.  That’s the only difference between the shared experience with one feeling joy and happiness and the other, feeling like they’re having a panic attack.

Happiness is a complex emotion and involves many different mechanisms.  Women cannot think like men necessarily as women have hormones and all sorts of brain wirings (again, I’m not a neurologist or scientist) that men don’t.  Women can be thinking 20 thoughts at once while men are really only focusing on the task at hand for the most part.  That’s not to say that men don’t worry or can’t become obsessive over things too but, it’s to say that the thinking patterns in men and women are different therefore, what a man finds as happiness, a woman may not.  A lot of that will have to do with a difference in thinking patterns and thoughts.  We also can’t include people who have a true mental/emotional disorder or brain chemical imbalance in this but, by and large, most who can’t find happiness, are searching for it when much like The Wizard of Oz, the answer was right there all along, under their noses.  Their thinking patterns.

Change a thought and you change the emotion.

It’s this concept that makes a difference.  Children are generally happier because they don’t know enough to be worried, fretful, concerned, upset etc., at least not for long.  An adult has been trained to see the bad first and the good second.  A child will see almost every moment as an opportunity to find something to make them happy while an adult will usually find something in every moment to be concerned about.  That’s trained into us as we grow and our brains mature.  It’s also part of our experiences but, on the whole, adults tend to be far less happy than children because they’ve trained their thinking patterns into those of worry, fear, upset, self-belittling, catastrophes, blocking out most of the positives in life.  Life and other people teach us to think that way as we grow.  Teachers, bosses, peers, co-workers, media and so much more.  Even Facebook can make us feel like we’re losers because everyone else’s lives seem charmed when looking at their personal walls by comparison.  It’s not them who do it to us.  It’s us.  We know that no one’s lives are as perfect, joyful or seemingly wonderful as what is portrayed on Facebook yet, we still take it at face value on a subconscious basis.  Equally, or more one-dimensional, is the news where it’s filled with disasters, death, wars and creates things to fear.

More than anything, we learn as we grow to become “responsible” and we long since have given up on things that used to make us happy.  We can’t find the time any longer for such trivial things.

We have “too much to do and take care of,” we reason within ourselves. “There’s no time for laying back in the grass, relaxing, watching the clouds and I’d break bones if I rolled down a hill now.  Did I put sunscreen on?  I don’t want skin cancer!”

If you doubt what is being said here, take the time for the next day or two to make a list of the thoughts that run through your mind.  Don’t edit them.  Just write them out.  I’m going to be doing the same thing and, we’ll regather to see if we can see patterns, ok?

In the meanwhile, stay tuned for Part IV on being happy.  It’s coming.

 

Happiness Part II: Childhood Making It Easy

Happiness is not an eternal state of bliss or, walking around feeling totally content, singing out loud with a smile plastered on your face 24/7.  It also doesn’t mean that you are never going to feel down, grief, upset, anger or any of the negative emotions one can think of to insert into the equation.  Happiness is complex and yet simple at the same time.  It’s the state in which one feels that for the most part, one has freedom and a sense of control over one’s life even if only for part of your day.

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I remember summer days seeming eternally long and adventuresome as a child.  Every morning that I opened my eyes was a chance for something wonderful to happen, something magical.  I’d leap out of bed with both eagerness and joy to begin my day. I loved to play out in the sun or making blanket forts, climbing my grandparent’s tree or just laying back in the grass, looking up at the clouds, creating pictures in my mind as to what shapes they formed.  I also took pleasure in eating ice-cold popsicles from the freezer, ice cream cones or tumbling down a hill and the feeling of freedom as I rolled and rolled, seemingly endlessly.  Winter snowball fights were filled with laughs and giggles, unless one struck me on the face and hurt, in which case, I’d run into the house, crying until Mommy told me it was alright and back outside I went to play again.  Jumping in puddles, building snow forts, playing in mud and making mud-pies, splashing in water, letting waves at the beach wash up over my legs and back while I constructed sand castles.  Just about everything I did, made me feel happy back then.

Children have the easiest time being happy and feeling happy.  Part of that reason for that is that they don’t yet have the understanding that things can go wrong in life.  The other part of that reasoning is that children don’t yet have many responsibilities nor, the understanding of what it’s like to have to make decisions which can oftentimes, have serious consequences for themselves and, or others.

Have you ever noticed a child, playing with toys or, frolicking in water, carefree and seemingly amused by simple things in life?  The joy and even concentration that the child shows while participating in such activities can make an adult wonder, “what went wrong with me?  Why am I not happy like that with things anymore?”  The answer, of course, is that we grew up and have had to face the reality of both advanced abilities to think as well as responsibilities that have mounted onto our shoulders.  When was the last time that you saw a child, sitting, pensively worrying about how to pay bills, keep a roof over their heads, food on the table or clothes on their backs?  While we may see a younger person ask questions like, “what’s happening with Grandma?  Is she going to be able to play later on?” we rarely see them worry about it much beyond whatever answers we choose to give to them.  Answers like, “no, Grandma is sick…very sick.  She’s going to Heaven and won’t be here with us anymore soon,” will conjure up perhaps, a sad, curious look on the child’s face and maybe some tears but, neither that look nor the crying  will last long.  For the most part, the child will fairly quickly go back to playing or whatever they were doing previous to asking their question.  Once again, they feel either contented in doing what they are doing or, go back to singing and playing, seemingly happily.  They don’t know enough or haven’t yet trained their minds to worry, fear, feel or understand loss, responsibilities or imagine the consequences of their actions or choices much beyond the idea of “if I don’t go to bed or brush my teeth, Mommy/Daddy will be mad at me.”

As adults, we’ve learned that every choice and decision that we make, has a consequence attached.  Furthermore, we’ve learned that we have responsibilities towards not only ourselves but, to others in this world as well.  One way or another, we are no longer the centre of our universe and there’s no one else who is going to shoulder those choices, responsibilities etc., for us.  That’s where fear comes into play especially, when we doubt ourselves.  We also fear that others will dislike or even hate us if we don’t live up to either their expectations or our own.

A child will feel loved for the most part.  He/she will have faith that someone, somewhere, somehow, loves them for who they are, as they are.  Whether that be Mommy and Daddy or Mommy and Mommy or Daddy and Daddy, a child usually feels loved.  Feeling loved is an important part of feeling happy.  Whether Grandma goes to Heaven or not, is of not much importance as long as Mommy and Daddy love him/her and will be there for him/her.  That’s what’s lacking in most adults.  We don’t feel certain of love nor, our worthiness of being loved.  We tend to doubt it within ourselves to some level or another and that’s where we get into trouble.  We start depending upon other people to mirror back to us what they are feeling towards us in order to know one way or another.  We stop simply feeling worthy of being loved and start relying upon others to let us know if we are worthy of love or not.

In Part I, I mention that relying upon other people or possessions to make us feel happy, is a potential disaster, waiting to happen because at any given time, it can all be taken away from us or, simply disappear and leave us without that safety net or reassurance.  Everything can become an unhealthy dependency.  That’s not to say that we shouldn’t love other people or be able to rely upon them.  Not at all.  What it is saying is that when we base our happiness solely upon other people and our possessions, we are setting ourselves up for a great likelihood of some or all of that being removed from our lives and therefore, we can be left feeling uncertain, helpless, hopeless, far less than worthy as well as unhappy.  In this type of scenario, where we base all of our happiness on other people and, or possessions, we are handing over our own power of being happy to others or things.  We are giving it away but, we need to hold some of that within ourselves and for our own wellbeing.  Happiness comes from within, not others or things.

Back to our child scenario.  As children, we have to depend upon others for our wellbeing.  We cannot cook, do our laundry or tell ourselves what’s dangerous for us to be doing or not doing.  We do have to rely upon others for those types of things as we don’t know enough to be able to function on our own.  Our teddy bears or dolls or blankets that we carry around have become “security” items as well for us and soothe us.  We rely upon possessions for our happiness as well.  There is no choice in the matter but, we don’t know the difference yet.  We don’t know that these things can be taken away from us or us, from them.  We rely upon faith and lack of knowledge that they can leave or be taken away.  Childhood is a magical time where though we have fears, cry, become frustrated, irritated, angry etc., for the most part, we are happy.

How do we find happiness again as adults?  Can it exist?  Is it possible?

Part III coming up soon.

 

 

 

Why Happiness Does Not Come From Other People Or Possessions Part I

If there’s anything that I’ve learned, it’s that happiness does not come in the form of other human beings or possessions.  Both can leave or be taken away in a moment’s notice.

~J.Wilson-Hull~

For years, I had a huge family, friends and while not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, often having to scrounge to pay off bills, I had what I needed for the most part.  I thought I was happy.  Of course, everyone grumbles about something or other, no matter how much we have in our lives but, in all reality, I was secure in my little world.

As the years went on, those in my life whom I had relied upon most, began dying, one by one.  Some passed on at ripe old ages and were expected but, a good majority of them, left this planet at younger ages than one would hope, want or expect.  That included 2, possibly 3, suicides that left those of us left behind in shock, grief and feeling guilt and regret, complicating the grieving process more.  There was scarcely time to recoup from one death before another would hit until eventually, almost everyone I had that made up my secure little world, had gone, vanished to some other realm or perhaps, nothing.

Those who were left, started to become disconnected from one another for the most part.  Sadly, it seemed that if we weren’t attending to our own mourning processes, we simply had nothing left in common with the few who remained.  In other words, the “glue” that had held us all together, had dissolved and left us with pieces that could not be put back together again in the way that we had been accustomed.

It’s ironic how people will find things out about others that we didn’t know once the glitter and lights have been stripped away.  It’s even more baffling as to what we find out about ourselves when we are left with nothing but ourselves to face.  We realize how much of a distraction other people and possessions had created for us not to have to face ourselves, our vulnerabilities and our innermost thoughts, feelings, flaws, warts and all.

More key is the fact that we are forced to face our deepest fears because we are no longer having much else to concentrate on except for ourselves.  We often use others and their needs as an excuse for not looking into ourselves and dealing with the troubling aspects that we might have or might not have known existed within us, let alone dealing with them.  That’s when harsh, cold reality sets in.

What’s added to that is that while we were once focused on so many people or possessions that we didn’t take the time to face ourselves, we also didn’t see other people for who they were or perhaps, that side of them came out afterwards?  It’s kind of like the age old question of which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Only hindsight might tell us but even then, it may be masked because others were doing what you were doing, focusing on others and possessions.

A few things have become clearer to me as I am slowly waking up to reality.

People take care of Number One…Themselves so, you need to take care of you first too.

As selfish as that may sound, the concept is much like the idea of putting on your own oxygen mask first before helping someone else put on theirs.  The idea behind that is that if you can’t function, it’s impossible for you to help anyone else.  If you’re constantly running around, trying to help/fix everyone else’s problems, you’re going to wear out and will eventually burn out.  If others have learned that simple concept of taking care of self first, you may find that you’re left behind the 8 ball with no help when you are at your lowest.  Take care of you first, then you can help others but, be careful in  how much help you give others.

Just as we can become dependent upon others for their help and security, others can become dependent upon us.  We all must learn to stand on our own two feet too. 

It’s always nice to have someone or several someones that we can rely upon when we truly need help.  Not many of us are so totally independent that we’re not in need of other people.  However, we also must remember that by relying upon others all of the time for our help or, in causing them to become reliant upon us for their lives, we run the risk of losing that help for one reason or another.  Death is not the only cause.  Moves, fights, illnesses, estrangements, retirements etc., can also be ways in which we lose other’s help and their security.  It’s paramount that we all learn that we have power within ourselves and when we can’t do something for ourselves, there are other people in this world who can help us as well.  There’s no shame in asking for help but, when we become reliant upon certain other people for our wellbeing and lives, we are letting ourselves down.  We may find ourselves incapable of moving forward on our own should those people leave our lives for any reason.  That includes family and friends alike as no one is a sure thing in our lives and, no one is 100% reliable or infallible.

Our happiness and security doesn’t come from others or possessions but rather, it comes from within ourselves.  

Some may have learned this far earlier than I have recognized this fact.  Kudos to those who have done so already.  I have been learning this slowly over time and with losses of both people and possessions that I had built upon as my “happiness”.

Upon the deaths and estrangements once the “glue” was gone in other people, I have learned that reliance upon anyone other than ourselves and our own means for our happiness is bound to be a failing endeavour at some point or another.  People and possessions are not permanent fixtures in our lives, even if it may seem as though they are at the current moment.  People “break” as do possessions and oftentimes, they can’t be fixed nor, replaced.  Relying upon them for our happiness is like relying upon thin ice to hold us up on its surface.  We have to learn that happiness is within us and, other people as well as possessions are simply aids to that happiness not the crux of it.

There’s a good introduction to the topic but, there’s a lot more that I’ve learned along my travels through life that I will share in Part II.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

New Years Magic?

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Every year, we wait until the clock strikes midnight on New Years Eve to usher in a new year, filled with hope for better things to come. Really, it’s simply another day, turning into another day. The numbers are different and we have to get used to writing a new number (for the first 6 months of the new year LOL) but, it’s still one day, turning into another and time to change a calendar to a new one.

So, what is so “magical” about New Years? January 1 is simply one second beyond December 31st. Does that second make all of the difference? Is that one second “magical”? I’m not sure but, I do know that in those few moments, leading up to the new year…those last few seconds we wait to get rid of one year and into another…we all have HOPE and send each other good wishes, the best of intentions and wonderful energy flows with celebration. Now…THAT has to bring some sort of “magic”!

As we go into another year, 2016 to be exact on our calendars, wish each other happiness, good health, love, friendship, joy, peace and good times. Then, keep on sending it to them every day, all year long.  That is the true “magic” of going into a New Year.

Happy New Year everyone.  Sending ALL of you reading this, a very, blessed, joyous, wonderful 2016.  Remember to send good intentions back to me too.

From My Little Corner of Life to Yours.  Happy, Healthy 2016

Can The Homeless Teach Us How To Be Happy?

Getting back to my car the other day, proved to be a rather daunting task with pouring rain and no umbrella.  At a certain point, you figure you can’t get any wetter than you already are so, running becomes rather redundant.

Taking my time at this point, I watched as people hurried around, umbrellas covering faces and hair, looking downwards and from what faces that I could see, somewhat miserable by the inconvenience of having to walk through water coming from the skies.

I had just spent the past four hours in a hospital, waiting for pre-scheduled medical tests that had been delayed due to emergency cases which had to be taken first.  At this point, my head was pounding, I was soaking wet from head to toe, my mascara had run to the point of looking like Alice Cooper and I was shivering, feeling as miserable as those who passed me by, looked.

It seemed as though a lot of people were miffed at trying to hold onto their umbrellas, a take-out coffee and their cell phones at the same time.  Afterall, how dare the rain ruin their coffee-cell time.

As I passed by an old church that has seen over one hundred years of rain, snow, wind, hail and sleet, I couldn’t help but notice a group of homeless men, gathered beneath a small overhang that sheltered the main entrance.  It struck me that the very same group of men had been there, in the same place hours ago as I walked past them while heading in the opposite direction, my mind occupied by hurrying to get to my appointment to wait, wait and do more waiting.

Photo by Keith Harris
A Chicago based documentary and street photographer, working on a photo-essay entitled “On the Street.” This essay is a series of images that document the people that call the streets of Chicago home.
http://www.the37thframe.org/2009/06/photo-critique-keith-harris/

Standing in the rain, waiting at a light to cross, I watched as these men went on laughing with each other.  I could barely hear their words but, what struck me most was the fact that these men were as wet as I was and had nowhere to go nor, were they even attempting to get out of the rather uncomfortable and unsavoury weather conditions.  Instead, they appeared to be making the best of the situation with each other as company.

Does misery love company?  Does company make misery any easier to handle?  What was making the difference between the laughter of these men who had nothing and the business people walking with warm coffees, cell phones, blue tooths and car keys in their hands, ready to get into a dry, warm car and likely head to a warm, dry home somewhere?

I stood for a couple of moments, discreetly watching these men as their voices carried through the air.  It appeared as though they were recounting stories of other days that they had lived and doing so, with great fondness.  Each one of them taking joy and laughter out of the other’s accounts, seemingly totally oblivious to their physical state.  It was as though their tales and laughter had carried them away from their current moment, helping them to forget that they were homeless, wet and likely as chilled as I was feeling at that point in time.  The difference being, they had been out there for hours in the elements whereas, I had only been out in them for a few minutes.

As I entered my warm, dry home, stripping my wet coat off, kicking off my soggy shoes and heading for the bathroom to grab a clean, fresh towel, I couldn’t help but think of these men who were likely still in the same spot I had seen them while both going and coming back in my travels.  Here I was drying off, changing into warm, comfortable clothing and about to figure out what to make for dinner.  I wondered if these men would even have a dinner that night or any other evening for that matter.  I knew that I would never know.

As I laid in bed that night, comfy, dry, warm, stomach full and satisfied, I thought again about these men, knowing that there were many more like them around this planet who were and are in the same or similar states.  They have nothing while so many of us have everything that we need and more and yet, they appeared happier than a lot of those whom I had passed or had passed me by that day.

What makes that difference?

Why is it that a lot of us who have seemingly everything, can’t find a way to be happy while others, who have nothing and live miserable lives by comparison, can still find happiness?

Is it that they don’t know what it’s like to live any differently so they don’t know what they’re missing?  Or, is it that they’ve found something that all of the material possessions and comforts in the world cannot bring us?

Could a lack of materialism and comfort cause us to find a spiritual source of contentment that we lose when we have so much to distract us from spirit?  Are we causing ourselves to be unhappy by losing sight of what’s really important as we strive to have more and more material acquisitions, bigger houses, better cars, climb the corporate ladders, strive for more lavish vacations, become swallowed up by technology and forgetting the value of simple laughter and friendship?

Are we slowly losing the art of being human?

Have we gone so far from our spiritual selves that we are moving further away from the ability to find happiness?

I drifted off to sleep that night with those questions running through my mind and I am still thinking but, that’s another blog entry for another day as I also continue to ask myself whether we should be questioning the saying, “there but, for the Grace of God go I” for it may be that we need to ask ourselves, “there, with the Grace of God, go they for they can teach us what we have lost”.