Achieving Happiness Column
By Tom Muha, Ph.D.
Lost in Unhappiness?
you have difficulty figuring out what you want in order to increase your level
of happiness? Do you feel like you’re in a fog when you try to envision what a
great future will look like?
people struggle to see positive outcomes for themselves, and suffer mightily as
a result. If you can’t dream of a satisfying future, you are doomed to dwelling
on the problems of the past and present.
on problems leaves you vulnerable to overindulging in the fleeting pleasures of
the present as you try to offset the pain that accompanies your anxieties. Only
you discover this path produces more problems than you had before, driving you
deeper into your unhappiness.
people focus on issues that keep them stuck in their rut rather than visions
that inspire them because they are too focused on what other’s tell them will
make them happy.
parents start telling us at an early age what we should be doing, but that’s at
least as much to make them happy as it is their offspring. We either buy into
what they’re telling us and become conformists or we rebel against their
admonitions and become oppositional.
defying parents isn’t thinking for yourself, it’s merely reacting to them by
doing the exact opposite.
adults we’re assaulted by a barrage of advertizing designed to make us believe
that happiness comes from purchasing products. Advertisers play on our
primordial fears that we won’t have enough or be good enough - unless we do
what they tell us to do.
to think of it, has anyone ever told you to think for yourself? Has anyone ever
encouraged you to pay attention to your own emotions so you can discover for
yourself what will make you feel good?
probably not. We’re told that’s being self-centered. But it isn’t true.
new scientific findings from the field of positive psychology reveal that
people are basically happy when they know what they value most in life and use
their good character strengths to make those values real in their lives.
how do you decide what will make you genuinely happy? First, you need to get
past the typical questions you’ve been asking about how to be more successful,
have more money, or get a quick fix of hedonistic pleasure.
an exercise designed to help you do just that. You will need a quiet,
comfortable place, something with which to write, and a timer. Make a note
about how you’re feeling as you begin the exercise, and then set the timer for
the four minutes allocated you are to speed write a list of everything you can
think of that makes you happy. Write as fast as you can without stopping or
censoring your answers. Keep writing your list by drilling down deeper as the
time passes to find things both large and small that bring you joy.
asking yourself, “What really makes me personally, deeply, honestly happy?”
writing immediately when the timer goes off, and make a note once again about
how you’re feeling. Look at the list and ask yourself how much of it reflects
what you’ve been told to enjoy rather than who you really are inside.
will begin to find new answers which have nothing to do with clothes, cars or
career. Instead, you’ll find yourself focusing on those items that involve your
senses, emotions, experiences and activities that are speaking to who you are
as a person.
some of you this exercise will result in clarity about what you need in order
to be happy. You’ll be able to start thinking about how to put more of those
elements into your life more often.
others, the answers will be just the beginning of understanding the values and
vision that will lead them to becoming authentically happy.
you are not accustomed to finding these feelings, it may make you a little
uncomfortable for them to surface. You’re not used to making your dreams a
let the question of what will genuinely satisfy you incubate in the back of
your head and your picture of achieving happiness will eventually emerge.
process is much like the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. The
inside of the cocoon contains an unrecognizable mush, not a partially formed
the gray protoplasm contains everything necessary to reconstruct itself into a
thing of beauty. It will happen. It just takes time.
Tom Muha is a psychologist in
Annapolis. He welcomes your comments and questions. To contact him call (443)
454-7274 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.