Audio: Making Happiness
Transcript: Making Happiness
Here’s the basic dilemma of being human. We all want to feel happier and less distressed, but as long as we keep on doing the same things we’ve been doing, we won’t become happier and our distress will continue. We’ll be tempted to focus on changing our circumstances and trying to avoid distressing feelings, because these make us feel better, briefly. But we’re cheating ourselves because they ultimately leave us feeling worse.
We need to realize that the real causes of our distress and unhappiness are intrusive feelings and our misguided attempts to avoid them. Situations in our lives that are somehow similar to early traumatic situations will trigger these distressing feelings in us. But we’ll believe that our distress is about our current situation because our brains aren’t built to distinguish between intrusive feelings and feelings about what’s actually going on now. So a crucial key to our happiness is coming to realize that, “Hey, this feeling isn’t really about now, something else is going on here”. Recognizing that a feeling is intrusive won’t stop the feeling, but it is tremendously helpful in keeping our feelings tolerable. If we don’t realize that the feelings are intrusive, we’ll tend to fan the flames, mistreating and tormenting ourselves in misguided attempts to get relief. We’ll also avoid the feelings in other ways, but each of these ways will fail to provide enduring relief from our distress, and will actually take us further away from real happiness. And to top it all off, the ways we avoid our feelings also contributes to distress for others, particularly our partners and our children.
Here we arrive at the ongoing choice that we get to make throughout our lives. We can choose to continue in our habitual patterns of avoidance, or we can recognize that what we’ve been doing is avoiding toothless phantoms, and instead reclaim our lives. We say we want to be happy, to be vibrantly alive, more fully ourselves, and to follow our deepest desires, but when we do, intrusive feelings will rise up to meet us. We will feel scared, hurt, humiliated. It takes tremendous courage to live from one’s heart, to choose this instead of being run by our avoidance of fear, shame, and pain. In the face of intrusive feelings it is very human to abandon our hearts and seek illusions of security, comfort, and to tend to our egos. Not to be overly dramatic about it, but ultimately, this ongoing choice is all that matters. The rest is the details of our lives; this is about what sets our life’s course.