I started this post on the rewards of a life of happiness, and then I fell down a rabbit hole. I understand Dr. Barry Schwartz’s Paradox of Choice. There are so many articles and choices for me to read, that I became weighed down with so much information. As per Dr. Schwarz’s thesis, I actually became depressed by all the articles regarding happiness.
So what is a rich and meaningful life?
As I said, I was writing a post about happiness, I like to research all of my posts. Because of my bend towards psychology, I tend to read a lot of books and papers published by various psychologists. My favorite psychologist – as I have quoted a few times in my writings – is Dr. Victor Frankl. He said, “… happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue…” In other words you must make happiness a byproduct not the ultimate goal. He continued saying that, “you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”
“Wait a second Thom, so what you are saying is that I should not care about happiness and it will happen, now how does that work?” It is easy, if you want to be happy, you cannot search for happiness, you must find happiness in things you like to do. You should find satisfaction and contentment.
But a rich and meaningful life is not just being happy. Yes I said it, you don’t have to be happy all to time. You do not have to be Amy Adams in the 2007 movie Enchanted. There is always going to be negative feelings.
“So what do I do with those negative feelings?” Good question. We all have to face disappointment from time to time, inconvenience or a sense of loss – whether it is the loss of a friend, a loved one or a spouse. These negative feelings will come. However, we don’t need to let them overwhelm us.
Happiness and sadness are two sides of the same coin, unfortunately we have to experience sadness along with happiness. Struggling against sadness and preoccupying yourself with negative feelings only deepens the problem. Be aware of your feelings, don’t dispose of them, but don’t let them get in your way either.
It is important that you are mindful of your feelings. Identify the feelings that you have. Are they feelings of doubt? Are they feelings of inadequacy? Maybe they are feelings of guilt or shame? No matter what the feelings are, you need to be mindful of those feelings. If they are euphoria, joy, contentment, excitement and mirth, you need to be mindful of those feelings too.
You see, if you let your negative feelings run away with themselves, you can fall into depression. There are about 15 million people in the United States that suffer from depression. Depression can lead to anxiety, if fact depression and anxiety occur at the same time. So how do you not dwell on your negative feelings and bring balance back into your life?
This is a cool exercise; close your eyes and imagine you are in a room, maybe it’s a lab or a workshop. You identify the feeling and you trap it inside of a glass jar, now the feeling is just buzzing away in the jar and it cannot hurt you anymore. Now identify the feeling: It is no longer buzzing inside of your head, and you can deal with it.
Here is another strategy from Dr. Faith G. Harper, to bring balance back into your life. One thing you must do is identify the negative feeling. You can put a name to it, give it a silly name, or the name of a person – someone you know, but are not fond of. Then you can deal with that negative emotion on a personal level. It no longer just lives in the atmosphere, but you have now given it a face, body and emotions. It sounds silly, but when you can anthropomorphize your feelings – you can confront them as you would a person – you can make the negative feeling apologize for being negative and then you can tell that persona to leave.
So to have a rich and meaningful life, you need to have the complexity of emotions, not replace or turn off emotions: Plus, you need to identify and be mindful of your emotional state. You need to know when you are happy and unhappy, identify those feelings and how they are affecting you. You need to experience each of your emotions. Are you frustrated – why are you frustrated? How can you get over your frustration? Can what is frustrating you be removed, or do you have to find another way to deal with the frustration? These are the types of questions you need to ask yourself, but ask about each emotion you have.
Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl, Beacon Press, 2006, P12
UnF#ck Your Brain, Faith G. Harper, Microcosm Publishing, 2017
This is your Brain on Depression, Faith G Harper, Blackstone Publishing, 2018
The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz, Harper Perennial, 2004