The reason most programs-for-change (diets, self-help books, even psychotherapy) very often don’t result in lasting change is that we sign up for them expecting SOME aspect of ourselves to change, while a much more fundamental shift is required in order to have a truly different ongoing experience of ourselves – which is what we’re looking for.
Let me break that down.
We’ve heard this common wisdom before, that happiness must come from the inside rather than the outside, that there are no quick fixes, that no one thing can make you happy. And we’ve all had moments of agreeing with these sentiments, being cynical about them, struggling against them, trying to accept them. We hear these lines, and perhaps unconsciously accept the ideas as “true but not practical for MY life”: somehow you can’t simply convince yourself to not want a new iPhone, to not want the perfect significant other, to not want to be thin, to not want the fulfillment of a particular dream you’ve ALWAYS had. You just want what you want, and you believe certain things will make you happier if not happy with a capital H – even though you’ve heard all those lines, and even though you might sincerely want to be the type of person who’s “down-to-earth,” “knows what’s really important,” a person who lives a simple life, etc.
The problem is not that you have the wants. The problem is not even the ideas you have about how a certain change might make you feel (for a few moments or days or weeks, a desired item or change in ourselves will affect our mood).
The problem is when you become an unhappy person who always lives feeling as if what you want, the things that would grant you peace, happiness, and ease, are always out of reach. This leaves you with an ongoing sense of depression, that on some days is very far in the background, and on other days completely knocks the spirit out of you. Bottom line, it’s there, threaded throughout your sense of being, so deep that you don’t recognize it as resignation, hopelessness, sadness… You just see yourself as a “realistic” type of person who is “responsible” and “does what she has to do.” (Read: your lust/energy/life libido, your spontaneity, your ability to feel fully whole and engaged in a moment, have all become severely weakened), and the only way you deal with this is to fantasize about the next thing you need to acquire or do that will remedy the situation. You find something (or many things) in your current situation that are THE PROBLEM, and you spent a GREAT DEAL of your mental time criticizing and plotting yourself into what you should be and could be doing about it.
MEANWHILE, a much deeper solution is called for. Even in psychotherapy, which I believe is one of the best ways to come to understand yourself and get to the roots of longstanding issues, it is possible to get used to a cycle of thinking about the reasons for a problem, struggling to work against it, and then becoming depressed that all that work only leads to seeing more problems to be fixed.
At some point, you actually need to make a fundamental decision to BE happy again.
This is radical when contrasted to a lot of the other mechanisms-of-change that are suggested to us. And again, we’ve heard things like this before, that make it sound so simple, and even if we’d like to be the type of person who could just make such a decision and then “be all better,” it’s never really worked for us.
What I’d like to offer in this post is a reminder of why deciding to be happy IS realistic and IS necessary in order to make true change. If you reflect on our deepest motivators in life, it doesn’t take too much philosophizing to uncover love, comfort, engagement, peace, and happiness as primary reasons that people choose to live at all. It’s really not debatable that as children we all start out with a default of wanting ourselves and others to be happy – and, in the absence of abuse or trauma, very young children are happy most of the time!!
You’ve heard this before too. Oh, why can’t we just learn to be childlike again, be interested in the blue sky and get more playtime. Again, we think it’s a good idea, and are unable to implement.
What I believe we’ve forgotten is that we don’t need a reason to be happy – and very young children have not had the life experience or mental capacity to mentally conclude themselves out of that truth yet.
As human beings we are physiologically and spiritually/emotionally built to feel peace and happiness when we feel that our needs have been met – when we feel that our existence is being supported wonderfully.
After enough years of conditioning, we learn to link up whether or not we are being accepted with whether or not we are going to survive. (As a child, if your parents do not accept you, and leave you alone to fend for yourself, you would die). The evolutionarily beneficial nervous system response of fear to not getting our needs met, gets hooked into our later interpersonal life. So that when we’re 12, or 25, or 45, we have a completely out-of-proportion response of despair if someone rejects us, when really, we are still completely safe physically despite that rejection. We will still feel joy again despite that rejection, we will still eat again. But, because the fear-wiring is hooked in, we are susceptible to feeling bound to many, many, many things as derivatives of needing to be accepted. “Needing” to be successful, to be seen as savvy, to be seen as physically beautiful, to be seen as funny, to be seen as having “made something of oneself,” these all derive from feeling a “need” to be accepted – and we feel this “need” regarding others AND regarding our own selves. We internalize all this so that we feel like WE will not accept ourselves if we are not physically beautiful, if we have not “made something of ourselves” by a certain age.
The antidote is to realize the fundamental delusion in believing that we cannot be happy, we are not okay, unless _______________. It’s not new-age-shit, it’s not Buddhism, it’s not low standards, to understand that it is a delusion to think that ANY certain condition determines whether or not you can be okay, whether or not you can be happy. The reason it’s not true is the fact that we are born with a default of happiness – physiologically we are evolved to feel peace and happiness when we feel our existence is being supported – in other words – THAT WE ARE, that we continue to be in this moment, ALIVE. Even ONE moment of aliveness requires every cell in the body to be functioning well enough to allow us to inspire and expire air. When we calm the hell down and feel this (often known as meditation, or taking stock of what you’re grateful for), we DO automatically touch peace, and happiness is never far behind.
I know this has been perhaps a bit dense, but I wanted to explain why I believe programs-for-change often go on endlessly and leave us feeling essentially the same as when we started the program in a very deep way. What doesn’t change despite the amount of self-change work we do is our deepest orientation towards whether or not we are okay, whether or not we can be happy right this second, and this second, and this second.
It’s true that you can be. It is 100% definitely, completely about letting yourself be. You don’t have to create your happiness, manufacture it, will it, work on it, hope it into existence.. It is everyone’s default and your suffering is in direct correlation to how far you’ve been led towards believing the opposite, that happiness is something you may have lost a long time ago and that you as you are now cannot have it.
You as you are now has it, but you won’t let yourself believe that. And although this is a simple truth it is not a quick fix because you have to re-orient your entire way-of-being. All the moments in your day where as a default you slide toward unhappiness, you have to consciously wake yourself up.
But it’s do-able, and it creates permanent change..
Once you’re on board, you can already start experiencing yourself as a “happy person.” You don’t have to wait until you’ve suffered enough to deserve it. You’ll make the fundamental shift from “depressed person who struggles to be happy” to “happy person who works to remind herself that her existence is always being wonderfully supported, whenever she forgets.” You’ll forget less and less. You’ll get your energy back.
This is the difference between chronically struggling and waking up right now.