HJ: Cultivating lasting happiness in your life requires you to only adjust your perspective and perception of your day to day experiences. There is no force, event or circumstance outside the self which causes you to be unhappy. Whether you are aware of it or not, you choose how you react to events and circumstances in your life and at any moment you wish, you can choose to become un-fazed and grounded in happiness. To be clear, this does not mean denying emotions or artificially imitating happiness. It means learning how to ride the waves of life like a jellyfish adrift at sea — effortlessly moving up and down with the natural rhythm of life — the crests and troughs of our experience. It means learning how to return to that balanced, centered place of happiness at will when you are done exploring and understanding other emotional states that you may temporarily experience, each of them imbued with wisdom that you can observe and begin to understand from your new perspective of non-duality and acceptance.
To live life in lasting happiness is to live life with deep understanding of the self, reality and how the mind operates. When you know the rules of the game, you are free to play as you wish. Those who do not know the rules are destined to be at the behest of forces larger and more powerful than themselves, which they do not understand. Knowing the rules, or rather, universal laws, allows you to work with them in harmony instead of bumping into them haphazardly like someone stumbling around their house in the dark. Simply turn on the light of awareness and liberate yourself from the confusion.
But enough philosophical rambling. The fantastic, very tangible and practical article below by Leon F. Seltzer will give you a deep understanding of how to create lasting happiness in your life. The ball is now officially in your court.
Feeling Good–But Not Necessarily About Ourselves
By Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. | Psychology Today
I think it’s safe to say that whenever we feel good about ourselves, we feel good, period. Of course, we could be sick (i.e., not feel very good), but we could still feel just fine about who we are. Barring any health considerations, our most potent safeguard against life’s ups and downs is developing the most positive sense of self possible. Thus protected against the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” we can almost always feel good–regardless of what’s going on in the day-to-day drama of our lives.
Too many of us unconsciously assume that the best way to foster happiness is to partake in as many experiences as we can that will promote feelings of euphoria. By nature, we’re impelled to avoid anything painful and pursue (and maybe become addicted to) anything pleasurable. Unless our values and priorities have evolved beyond this elemental pleasure principle, we’ll remain more or less “bounded” by this fundamental biological disposition. Natural-born hedonists, we’ll follow any “feel good” path that presents itself, and be seduced by any immediate promise of pleasure. And this basic motivation will exist independent of any reflection as to whether what, momentarily, makes us feel good will actually be good for us in the long run–that is, will actually contribute to our feeling good about ourselves.
What I’d like to expand on here directly complements one of my earliest posts for Psychology Today’s blogsite. Called “From Self-Indulgence to Self-Nurturance,” it emphasized our ultimate self-defeat if we devote ourselves to pleasure pursuits failing to provide anything in the way of self-nurturance. I sought to illustrate how finding ways to get high mightlook like an effective way to “inject” more joy into our lives, but that such pleasure-seeking really had nothing to do with the fundamental nurturance of self pivotal to achieving an enduring state of well-being.
Obviously, acting in a self-indulgent fashion is virtually synonymous with choosing things primarily on the basis of how good they’ll make us feel. Also intimately linked are self-nurturing behaviors and behaviors consciously contrived to foster good feelings about ourself. Whereas in my earlier piece I suggested how to clearly differentiate between self-indulgence and self-nurturance, as well as how to move from one to the other, in this two-part post I’d like to describe how we can increase the likelihood that our choices–regardless of how much they may specifically make us feel good in the moment–will increase the likelihood of our ending up feeling better about ourselves generally. Additionally, I’ll be discussing how to decide against doing those things that won’t (and can’t) promote these more lasting feelings of self-satisfaction–despite how much they might help us feel good in the present.
But first a caveat. Whether it’s a substance, activity, or relationship, anything that we repeatedly turn to for pleasure (or to alleviate pain), we’ll risk becoming addicted to. In such instances, it’s doubtful that any of my suggestions for change will be very useful. And that’s because whatever we consistently use to alter our mood or consciousness probably isn’t much in accordance with our better judgment anyway. Moreover, since all addictive behavior is essentially compelled behavior, once we’ve become dependent on something to feel better, on our own we’re not likely to be able to free ourselves from it–certainly not when it’s come to seem like a lifeline. If this is the case, it may be crucial to obtain outside help to overcome behaviors (or habits) that–even though we’re able to recognize them as bad for us–still hold us tightly in their grip.
Generally speaking, we can distinguish between actions that make us feel good–vs. those enabling us to actually feel good about ourselves–by considering their aftereffects. For typically, whatever we employ as a shortcut for feeling “up” brings us back down in accelerated fashion as well. When the initial high has worn off, we’re right back where we started–if not a little bit below our personal baseline. Our feeling good has had almost everything to do with something outside us (whether it be the new outfit, the joint, the “bender,” the food binge, our latest “conquest,” the sexual escapade, or the quasi-hypnotic outing at Bloomingdale’s, the racetrack or casino).
Consequently, when our “drug of choice” has worn off, we’re no happier than when we started. The permanent form of whatever “fix” we received from without continues to elude us from within. The true “object of our desire” is to have a self-affirming, unconditionally loving relationship with our self–the one relationship that’s absolutely vital to an enduring state of well-being. And although this relationship to self may not yet exist for us, it is (whether we’re aware of it or not ) precisely what we all long for.
So if we’re in an unhealthy relationship because we can’t stand being alone (or are driven by a sexualaddiction), we’ll regularly be forced to face the fact that the relationship doesn’t really serve us very well. Or if we’re dependent on alcohol, marijuana,cocaine, amphetamines, or any other drug that alters our mind or mood (and such a “drug” may also include food, prescribed medication, or tobacco), it’s safe to assume that our reliance on it keeps us from applying ourselves to–and ultimately achieving–the growth and change we require to feel really good about ourselves. And, of course, this is the same with any activity that we’ve come to depend on to comfort us or alleviate our distress–fromcompulsive shopping, gambling and working, to video games andpornography.
Focusing Less on Feeling Good–and More on Feeling Good About Ourselves
Once we recognize what allows us to feel good only temporarily, we can start searching for more satisfying alternatives. This could take the simple form of changing ourdiet from mainly junk (or “comfort”) foods, to one that’s more heart-healthy. Or giving up a daily routine of smoking a joint, or imbibing some beer or wine, to instead devoting ourselves to developing a personal interest, talent or skill–or perhaps even re-thinking our career path. Or we might forego a video game habit and redirect our energy toward cultivating a friendship that won’t simply fill an inner void but truly invigorate or inspire us. Or, best of all–if we’re really going to accomplish the kind of personal work that ultimately will transform our sense of self–we might set about tackling a difficult problem, one which we may have put off indefinitely for fear of failure.
Generally, the path toward feeling really good about ourselves requires much more reflection, self-restraint and -discipline than we may have demonstrated till now. And developing these qualities begins with an almost spiritual commitment to self that previously may have eluded us–the commitment to becoming the best, most complete and “realized” person we can be. Here our fundamental concern is with liking ourselves more, being prouder of who we are, more self-accepting, -respecting, and -nurturing–and, of course, more empathic, compassionate and understanding toward others as well. Becoming happier (as is regularly noted by experts in the field) involves going beyond mere personal gratification to seeing ourselves as but a tiny part of the larger universe, and so motivated to make a contribution not just to our own lives but to the lives of others, too.
Finally, learning to feel really good about ourselves is a major part of what personal growth and evolution is all about. And our progress in this venture requires us to become more adult in our thinking. Which is hardly to say more serious and somber. For, however paradoxically, the kind of development I have in mind can have all sorts of joyous (even childlike) elements to it. The delight of discovery and self-discovery, of being more spontaneous, adventuresome, and self-challenging can be a lot more satisfying–and even exciting–than the most thrilling diversion we might come up with (think rock concerts, roller-coasters, or various types of revelry).
Most of what I’ll address links intimately to the core concept of self-esteem. And my key recommendation on how to give up pursuing transient feelings of euphoria and instead seek out those things that culminate in far-more-lasting positive feelings about self is one that will also boost our self-esteem. And it will promote a self-love that is totally separate from any mere narcissistic gratification.
Here, simply put, is my “recipe.” And let me add that while it’s easy enough for me to articulate, it may be (certainly at times, will be) anything but easy to implement–or rather, commit yourself to implementing. For this formula might fly in the face of unconscious but firmly entrenched defenses you’ve adopted over the years to protect yourself from emotional distress.
The behavioral principle I’m advocating is this. Before taking action of any kind, ask yourself whether it’s likely to make you feel better about yourself–or worse. Your sole criterion for determining whether to go ahead with any particular behavior is deciding whether doing so is in line with the more positive self-regard you’re striving to cultivate. So, independent of how pleasant or gratifying the behavior under consideration might be, if you evaluate it as not likely to contribute to your feeling good about yourself, you’re obliged to rule against it.
This could mean saying “no” to any number of behaviors that are enjoyable but can offer only immediate satisfaction (while leading to regrets later on). Or it could mean saying “no” to the kinds of unfair or exploitive requests you’ve agreed to in the past because (if you’ve been a people-pleaser) you felt you didn’t dare decline. Or it might involve saying “yes” to taking on challenges that earlier your anxiety, or nagging fears of rejection or failure, compelled you to refuse–even though taking on such challenges might have been invaluable in helping you to get beyond irrational constraints or self-limiting beliefs.
When you rise above your reluctance to doing something that’s good for you–despite initially not being inclined to do it, or feeling afraid to do it–what you’ll notice is that with each positively evaluated action you take, you’ll feel better about yourself. Any time you succeed in doing something you judge to be beneficial–or any time you triumph over your resistance to confront an issue or conflict (rather than take the line of least resistance and avoid it)–you’ll be able to bask in your new-found courage, your willingness to take necessary risks, and your getting the better of ancient fears about inadequacy, disapproval, repudiation, or defeat.
Frequently, we resort to things that make us feel good as a way of escaping what feels threatening. The way we “cope” with challenges is by dedicating our time and energy not to cope with them. We procrastinate, twiddle our thumbs, or otherwise distract ourselves from the job at hand, for (however out-of-awareness) it’s daunting to us.
If we’re finally to transcend these internal barriers and elevate how we see ourselves, we simply must determine to choose our behaviors on the basis of how–not immediately but ultimately–they’re likely to make us feel. And, frankly, to be honest with ourselves this way takes considerable discipline and fortitude. But it offers considerable rewards as well. Whenever we can disallow ourselves the option of taking the easy way out and do what–deep down–we recognize as best for us, we can experience a trust, appreciation, and liking for ourselves that far exceed whatever “highs” we might derive from focusing primarily on feeling good right now.
So, for instance, if we get ourselves to contact someone-say, to maximize the chance that a project we’re working on will be successful–then (even though we may have experienced tremendous resistance about making such a call) we’re likely to feel better about ourselves afterwards. And it’s crucial to note that this should be true–deserves to be true–regardless of how the other person responds to us. We’ve managed to get ourselves to do what we decided we needed to, and the inherent praiseworthiness of our effort (i.e., making the difficult call) really doesn’t have to be affected by the other person’s reaction. Because we decided beforehand that making the call was necessary, we can self-affirmatively tell ourselves that the very act of making it represents a personal triumph. That is,independent of the result (which may well be beyond our control), we’ve earned the right to see our behavior, our taking the initiative, as successful.
Getting into the habit of choosing to do whatever helps us grow and expand–as well as deciding against behaviors that ultimately keep us stuck–virtually guarantees that we’ll be on the right path to feeling better and better about ourselves. It will assure that over time we’ll be able to say farewell to old fears–those nervous anxieties and apprehensions that may have governed too many of our actions in the past. And taking leave of these ultimately self-defeating behaviors will enable us, finally, to feel consistently good about ourselves. It will enable a sense of well-being that, after all, is–or should be–our birthright.