What most of us want is to simply be happy, but happiness is not an easy chore—money problems, health problems, romantic problems, job problems all get in the way. Stages of the past and present recommend living in the infinite now which is a wonderful idea but when one is challenged by responsibilities to make sure the kids are raised, make sure the car payment is met and so forth find it difficult to be a resident of the present moment. On the other side of this coin, however, there are a vast number of people who are simply unhappy in life…in general. Well, if not unhappy, not as happy as they would like to be. Unhappy people do a lot of unhappy things—they take drugs, they drink too much, smoke too much, rob banks, get road rage, say cruel things and worse or, they simply trudge forward wondering when the heck things are going to change…and get better.
Happiness is actually a complex concept since it has different meanings for different circumstances and people. We say we are happy when we see an old friend or relative whom we care about; when we get something we’ve wanted, when we achieve something like getting a raise or promotion and certainly we have a happy feeling when someone compliments us. One major problem for being happy most of the time is that for most people life is challenge. That is, we have to keep gas in our cars, pay our mortgages and meet all kinds of demands for keeping up in a world of others. In addition, to make things even tougher, it is in most of our natures to forever want more and/or different. For example, we are happy when we buy a new car but soon enough the newness wears off and we’re not as happy with it as much as we thought we would be. One of the biggest problems is that too many people think that when they get married their partners will make them happy…they never do since no one can truly “make” anyone else happy at least not for very long! And finally, our happiness can be diminished merely because we live in a world of uncertainty…I think that often makes us think of the old adage that tells us that every silver lining has it’s cloud…whoops, the old adage is just the opposite of that isn’t it. Well, the idea that every cloud has its silver lining is a great metaphor but we all know, as Shakespeare knew, that all is well only when all ends well. And, not everything has a happy ending but that’s life, right?
Even with all this in mind, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke gave us a scolding for looking at the cloudy side of life, however. He said:
Tell yourself that you’re not poor enough to summon up its riches, since for the
creator there is no poverty or poor or unimportant place.”
I think we all have to agree with the Rilke observation but obviously when we are truly not happy it’s difficult to see the beauty and richness in our lives. And anyway, it’s a whole lot easier is keep dwelling on the unhappiness we’re feeling and making our way through it all until the slump goes away or at least dissipates. I do NOT recommend this, however, since happiness is the better alternative, no doubt about it!
There are times of course when unhappiness is a natural event…when we lose a loved one for example or we lose our jobs. After all, when we stop and think about it, unhappiness typically unfolds for us when “loss” is involved. But, by and large, when loss IS NOT involved, I offer that most unhappiness is a mere symptom of what I term psyche-rumor. And what I mean by this is that what makes most unhappy people so constantly unhappy are mere concepts turned into realities of the mind.
Rumors of the mind (psyche rumors) include believing that you would be far better off, richer and/or more successful if you had been raised differently or because of some other “misfortune” in the past like quitting school before graduation, getting married to the wrong person (or when too young), not staying with the right job, turning down some opportunity and the list continues. Note my point here…all that typically keeps us in an unhappy state of being belongs to something that occurred in our yesterdays and is now gone. For example, many…many people blame their present conditions on their childhoods. In this regard, many people live in “the concept” that had their parents (or guardians) been more loving, more mindful, more responsible and/or responsive they would now be building and having a more successful or satisfactory life. But...even if having a horrible childhood is true and certainly it is for lots of people, it is mere baggage of the mind; baggage that needs to be left on some forgotten shelf of bygones.
But how, some readers may be asking, does one leave such destructive experiences behind; hurt and disappointment can last a lifetime can it not? Well, first of all, those experiences are already “behind” and the actual pain has probably been gone for a long time. Indeed, all that gives them reality now are concepts of the mind…and what I am saying here is that while you might have even gone through some unimaginable hell (few situations are as bad as we imagine them to be) the flames are out except for those that you keep lit in the corridors of your own mind. As long as you keep those fires alive it doesn’t matter who betrayed, rejected or hurt you in any other way, you will continue to be oppressed by those experiences as long as you keep yourself attached to them. After all, when you conceive of yourself as being an extension of some unhappiness in the past, that unhappiness simply never goes away.
So how do you set yourself free from the oppression so you can leave the past behind and move on to having a wonderful, progressive and happier life?
Some people can’t of course without going through some sessions with a competent therapist but, there is another way that I believe can also work at least for a lot of people. You simply have to forgive the people and so the situations that have given you pain in your life. Indeed, try this: Whenever unhappy memories pop into your mind, say to them…I forgive you. Do your best to mean what you say but even if, at first, you don’t mean it say it anyway and soon enough you will: Once you have forgiven anyone or anything it has no more effect much less power over you and by setting it free through forgiveness, you set yourself free. While I cannot tell you how this works, I can tell you that it does.
The question nevertheless is can we actually forgive that which has hurt us deeply; that which was so terrible that it changed or molded the course of our lives; that which gave us enduring unhappiness?
The answer is yes and this brings us to the second part of this narrative.
Before we talk about overcoming unhappiness we need to cover one more common aspect of what keeps many people in a general state of unhappiness. It doesn’t matter if a person has had a difficult and painful past or an easy and rewarding past, if that person is the type to be unhappy a lot of the time there will invariably be some (if not a lot) of self-depreciation at work. While we all have fears, faults and frailties and typically shrug them off as simply being human there are some people who tend to construct an unhappy-making mythology about themselves: That is they live in a would have/should have reality and are forever wishing that they had done this instead of that and so forth. Indeed, it is interesting when we think about the first group we discussed and this group since one is most apt to blame others for their woes and the other is most apt to blame themselves. There is no blame of course…bad stuff happens and when it does we need to do our best to learn from it and move on. And, as far as others, I am convinced that the old, familiar Indian adage is true—we can’t judge anyone unless we have walked a mile in their moccasins.
Self-depreciation can involve much more than having made mistakes and poor decisions, however. Many people are not as beautiful as they would like to be, some are fatter and some are skinnier than they would like to be; some people resent their lives and so themselves for being poor and this list of negatives continues into all kinds of self-condemning attitudes keeping the people that have them in unhappy modes as they trudge along their paths. Indeed, Woody Allen gave us a great line saying, “My one regret in life is that I’m not someone else.”
At root level what I am getting at here is that a lot of people are unhappy because they are, in a term, down on themselves. Maybe along their way they were convinced of that absurd social meme that we can all do better than what we do but whatever it is they mirror themselves inadequate in one way or another. As a result they live in regret and that which is in regret is never very happy.
So how does one overcome self-defeating attitudes as these too are necessarily past related…if I’d only have done this instead of that, I’d be so better off now…I have more…be happier and so on. While the circumstances and reasons may be different the cure is the same…forgiveness! If you are living in regret or feel you’ve made mistakes or done things that you are sorry for…go to your mirror and say to the image that you are looking at, I forgive you…you are loving and lovable and I forgive you.
If you can muster the courage to do this for even a couple of times a day for a week or so you will begin seeing a big difference in your life.
The problem with all this of course is that a lot of people do not believe that by merely saying “I forgive this or that” will actually create forgiveness in my heart and mind. And yes, I suppose I would be a lot happier if I could forgive those things that give me so much pain but I just don’t think saying it will make this happen.
I tell you that our words are far more powerful than most people believe them to be. This is precisely why it is so harmful to say to a child that he or she is clumsy, stupid, bad or inadequate in anyway. If that child is told these things often enough the child’s brain will begin to believe the declarations and give them reality. Indeed, it has been said that some children told that they are “slow” by parents and/or other significant others have even developed slow heart beats or sluggish kidneys and livers. There is just no doubt about it words can be helpful or harmful and this includes what we tell ourselves. If we tell ourselves, for example, that we are loving and forgiving, even if this is not true, our brains will observe the message and if told this enough will create the chemicals that will make the desired changes.
This is not some metaphysical concept that I am offering but something that even some scientists are supporting. Doctor Paul Pearsall, for example tells us this:
We can tell our brains not only what, but how to think.”
What I am getting at is that we can change (or replace) the brains information. Instead of filling it with our hate and resentment we can fill it with our love and forgiveness. And so, we do not have to be dominated by our pasts, we can, in effect, simply tell our sour old memories to go away and replace them with positive thoughts. Those positive thoughts will soon enough turn into positive attitudes and positive attitudes eventuate into positive actions. Positive action keeps us in a happy state of being.
How do you tell if a person (yourself or someone else) is unhappy? The symptoms are being quick-to-anger…resentfulness…blaming others…being overly critical and finally hatefulness. While none of us are happy all the time—life after all can be a bitter/sweet experience—we are not unhappy most of the time. A major reason for this is that we are able to forgive and move on. So please, if you are filled with regret or anger simply tell yourself that you forgive the cause and see what happens….soon enough all the anger, blaming, resentment criticizing and hatefulness will simply go away.
And finally, there is a most incredible way of surviving unhappiness by becoming happy. It is told us by the Dalai Lama. He says:
to make ourselves happy...show compassion."
I think he summarizes in two sentences what I have attempted to say in this entire article. Nevertheless, give it all some contemplation, you’ll be glad that you did.