Category Archives: Happiness

Quit calling them ‘negative’ emotions

Certain emotions frequently show up in science and the media as “negative” emotions. We all know them as sadness, anger, disgust, frustration, etc. Then there are the “positive” emotions—happy, excited, etc. Instead of classifying an emotion as “negative” or “positive” how about we just start calling it by what it actually is? 

We are sending the message that emotions are bad.

When we classify an emotion as negative, we are sending the message that it is bad. That we aren’t supposed to feel this way. It makes us feel guilty about having these so-called “negative” emotions. No one wants to feel “negatively” or do the “wrong” thing. But an emotion isn’t bad. It isn’t wrong to feel a certain way. We need to stop grouping them together as a set and refer them to as an individual feeling. Yes, I am sad that my grandfather is in the hospital. Yes, I am disappointed I didn’t get the job. Yes, I am frustrated that the dog had an accident in the living room this morning. This is life, folks. 

These emotions are ok, they are healthy, they are necessary. We don’t need to pretend that we don’t feel this way. We don’t need to feel guilty or that we are doing something bad by feeling upset or disappointed. Rather we need to let the emotions come. We need to feel them, accept them, allow ourselves to work through them. What we don’t need to do is ignore them. That only compounds the situation and makes things eventually erupt. So instead of thinking about emotions as “negative” or “positive,” think of them simply as an emotion. Leave it at that. There is no need for classification.

Don’t force happiness, do this instead

Somewhere along the line, we started being told that we should always be happy. It became this known ideal that emotions are bad. That needs to change. Emotions are not bad. They are part of us. We shouldn’t be pushing those unpleasant feelings deep into ourselves and trying to force ourselves to always be happy. 

Ask yourself, who are you pretending for? Allow yourself to feel all the emotions—the good and the ugly. Let it out. It is healthy and part of helping ourselves cope with the unpleasant things that happen in life. It is not just ok to feel sad, angry, frustrated, disappointed, unhappy, it is necessary. Life would be boring if it was all hunky dory all the time. In order to truly appreciate those moments of peace, you know those little moments, we also need those moments of pure chaos and distress. 

You need to feel safe in expressing your emotions. Surround yourself with people that accept you as you are. Stop pretending. By not allowing yourself to feel you are only doing harm to your mental health. You can’t make all those feeling go away. Eventually, they come back up. By allowing yourself to show them and feel them fully, you are tackling the situation head-on. Have you ever felt that moment of relief after a good long cry? That moment of clarity? That realization that you are ok and you can get through it? We need all those emotions to get to that moment. 

Find that friend, or that village, that accepts you fully. You need to be with people who don’t want you to pretend, who don’t expect you to hide how you are feeling. This big beautifully scary, serene, tragic, wonderful world we live in requires a whole range of emotions. 

Have you ever tried to force happiness? How did that make you feel? 

We are not supposed to be happy all the time

It would be nice if we could be happy 24/7, stress-free, relaxed, all smiles, but that is not reality. We are not supposed to be happy all the time. We are supposed to feel a range of emotions. 

Could being ‘happy’ all the time actually be dangerous?

I speak to clients all the time who are feeling down. They ask me what is wrong with them for feeling down even though they can’t identify a specific stressor in their life. I help them to learn how to cope and find happiness in themselves, to feel better, but there are always going to be moments of sadness. There are going to be times when we just don’t feel happy. This is life.

In fact, some say it is dangerous to try to be happy all the time. It is better to allow yourself to feel all the emotions. Being happy is great but it is not the appropriate response to all situations. If someone you care about dies, you can’t expect to respond in happiness. If you are not having a great day, maybe your car won’t start or you got stuck in traffic on the way to work, it’s appropriate to feel frustrated. If your schedule is packed and you feel like you don’t have enough hours in the day to get things done, it is ok to feel overwhelmed. In fact, you should. Feeling these emotions helps you to cope. 

Life can be wonderfully beautiful in so many ways, but it can also be devastatingly tragic. If we are always happy and something bad happens, we won’t know how to process that information. We won’t know how to deal, according to Danish psychology professor Svend Brinkmann in his book Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze. 

The bad things in life help us to better appreciate all the good. So, while it is good to look at the positive in bad situations. It is ok, and healthy, to feel all the emotions associated with the good, bad and ugly of the world. 

Source:

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/happy-all-the-time-positive-thinking-duty-burden-psychology-professor-svend-brinkmann-a7620311.html

Creating a new ‘normal’ after loss

You lost someone you love, someone near and dear to your heart. Maybe this was a person you spoke to on the phone a few times a week, or someone who lifted you up and supported you. Maybe it was someone that was part of your day-to-day life. Maybe it was a parent, child, sibling, friend, or even a pet. Regardless of the circumstances, losing someone you love is incredibly difficult. It can be hard to “go on” after such a loss. You suddenly don’t know what to do with your time, what to do without that person or pet by your side. 

Honor what once was

The fact is, we are not the same after we lose someone. It is not easy to transition between what once was and what now has to be. Grieving is building a bridge between the old and the new, with each piece being put into place a piece at a time. It is a slow and concentrated deliberate process. You may have heard others say, take it a “day at a time” or even a “moment at a time.” Start slow. Don’t expect to feel better in a day, a week, a month. Yes, you will find that new normal. You will find your place but it is a process. 

For example, maybe you have lost a grandparent whom you visited every Wednesday afternoon for coffee and a chat. Although things have changed, you can create a new tradition. Maybe replace it by going to a coffee shop and reading a book your grandmother enjoyed or visiting a special place of hers. Maybe use the time to call a friend or relative and chat. You don’t have to completely change your routine just alter it a bit to ease the transition while honoring what once was. If you have lost a pet that you walked every morning, replace that morning walk with a jog. These small changes, although full of a emotion and feeling much larger, will help you to build that bridge from old to new and rediscover contentment. 

Loss is not easy but the pain does subside when we acknowledge it and honor it. You can move forward, you can hold on to the old while going forward in the memory of your loved one. After all, they would want you to find happiness again.  We don’t need to gloss over our grief. Grief exists because we love. 

What small steps have you taken to build a new normal after loss?

Don’t Be Nice: Do This Instead

There is a difference between being nice and being genuinely kind. Being nice is on the surface. It is superficial, pleasing, and agreeable. It is making people happy around you but not necessarily meaning it. It is not authentic, not deep, and not always true. 

Being kind goes deeper

Rather than “being nice” as you have been told since you were a child, practice kindness. Being kind goes deeper. It is the practice of being compassionate and authentic. It is establishing healthy boundaries and truly meaning what you say, what you do. When we reach the point of just “being nice” we are damaging our relationships and creating unhealthy situations for ourselves. Running errands for a neighbor “just to be nice” or volunteering at an event “just to be nice” establishes unhealthy boundaries. 

When we, instead, do things out of deep-seeded kindness from within, it means we genuinely care about what we are doing. We have a vested interest in how things turn out and the people around us can see that. It means we aren’t just doing things because we feel like we have to, we are doing them because we really truly want to do them. We really want to bring the neighbor dinner, we really want to help with the shopping for the school event, we want to help a friend out with a project, or hold the door open for a stranger. 

Avoid teaching your children to “just be nice.” Instead, explain to them what it means to be kind and to establish healthy boundaries with that kindness. Teach them how it feels to truly be helpful and to want to do good things for others. In turn, you are teaching them to be genuine, to be truthful and to take care of themselves. You are not teaching them to overextend themselves for the mere purpose of “being nice.” You are teaching them to dig deep inside themselves and determine what they can do to be good people, not superficial or fake. 

It might feel like a thin line but chances are you can think of a few times in your life you have just been nice and differentiate between the times you truly meant what you were doing—those times you were being kind. 

How do you practice kindness?

My daughter thinks another girl is pretty: Part 3

This week’s series of posts (read Part 1 and Part 2) has been all about my five-year-old daughter and how she thinks another girl is pretty, and the many opportunities to help her (and myself) learn more about life that have come out of these feelings. 

Handling Rejection

As I mentioned in Part 2, my daughter decorated a card for this girl and attached a pretty plastic ring to it. When she was done with the card she told me she was “scared” to give the card to the girl. I saw this as an opportunity for me to teach her about rejection. 

I asked her what she was “scared” of. She said, “what if the girl doesn’t like it or is mean about it.” I gave her some things to think about, and put the situation into perspective: 

1.) If it is kind words, you have no need to be scared. The best you can do is be kind to others, and saying nice things — being uplifting— is a good thing.

2.) If someone says “no” to you but remains respectful, we need to respect their choice. Consent is not just for boys. It works across all relationships—whether it be romantically or just a friendship. Everyone has the right to say “no”.

3.) If someone says “no” to you and are disrespectful/mean, you don’t need to worry about what those people think. They aren’t worth your time if they aren’t going to consider your feelings. If they are not going to be nice to you, then you don’t want to be their friend anyway. You deserve to be respected and treated fairly and kindly. Walk away from those situations where you are not treated with respect. 

Rejection is hard. No one likes to feel rejected, but it is part of life. Children, just as adults, need to learn how to handle rejection in a healthy manner. They need to understand what is ok and what is not when it comes to how other people treat them, and how they treat others. As adults, it is our job to help them process these situations so they know (1) its ok to be sad, disappointed (2) it is not ok to be treated unkindly, or to treat others unkindly (3) it is ok to say “no”. 

Do you remember the first time you felt rejection, how old were you? How did it make you feel? How have you helped your child through a moment of rejection?

My daughter thinks another girl is pretty: Part 2

As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, my five-year-old daughter thinks another girl is pretty. She decided she wanted to give her a pretty plastic ring, so she made her a card and put the ring on it. 

During the process, my daughter said she was embarrassed and “scared.” She said a few of her female friends were making comments like “eww, that girl isn’t that pretty anyway” and “I am weird.” It doesn’t surprise me that female competition is beginning to start at her age. Child and adolescent psychologist Katie Hurley describes in her book No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident and Compassionate Girls the trend of toxic female competitiveness that is creeping down from high school, and starting as young as grade school. She offers many reasons for this, citing busy schedules, rise in stress and anxiety levels, and increased pressure for children to do well in sports and extracurriculars.

Girls uplifting other girls

I responded to my daughter’s concerns over giving this card to her friend, by telling her “we can show people we like them in many ways.” I told her, “girls can think another girl is pretty. And girls can uplift another girl.” Her twin sister also supported her, the best any five-year-old can. She also made the girl a card that said: “my sister thinks you are pretty and wants to give you a ring.” Afterwards, the twin quietly told me she doesn’t care if girls are not “suppose” to like girls, she loves her sister anyway. I told her, “we can like people in many ways. We are just going to send nice words to uplift another girl! Cool, right?!”

We, adults, have a lot to learn from young children about loving and not judging each other. We are conditioned to compete with our peers. We draw on our insecurities and instead of turning them into positives, we put other women down. We are not being uplifting because we are afraid of other women being more successful, prettier, “bigger” than us. We need to dig deep inside and find that inner strength to uplift each other. Us, women, we need each other. We need the support from others, the kindness, the acceptance. We should be helping each other to feel good about ourselves, instead of doing the exact opposite. 

How do you uplift the women around you?

More on Hurley: https://www.thestar.com/life/relationships/opinion/2018/02/08/why-girls-are-getting-meaner-younger.html

Your high expectation makes you unhappy

Before you go to a party, leave the house, or get out of the bed in the morning you probably have some kind of expectation about the experience. You have a predetermined notion in your brain of how things will play out, how the day will go, what you will do, how much fun you will have at the party, how much traffic there will be on the way to work, etc. Most of us have a general idea of how long it will take to get somewhere, or how things should go when we get there. 

The problem comes when things don’t go the way we expect. We become unhappy, stressed because things aren’t working out the way we had planned in our brain. Happiness is reality divided by expectation. We don’t really know how things will go but because we have a pre-formed expectation we tend to feel the unhappiness of disappointment when things go a different way. 

Reach-Target-Minimum

That is not to say we should lower expectations in order to be happier. If we always expect the worst that is not a very fun way to live either. So rather than thinking in one line, it is better to think in a range. What I am referring to is the RTM Formula — Reach-Target-Minimum. Reach is a high but realistic expectation, target is an area that is reasonable, and minimum is the least to meet. If you begin to think in these realistic terms then you will be able to move forward in life with more acceptance of the way things turn out — whether higher or lower than expected. 

I frequently say you have control of your happiness, because you really do. You have the ability to change the way you think about things before you go into them. You have the ability to come to terms with a new reality and open your mind to new possibilities. 

You have everything, why do you feel empty?

It has been all over the news lately. People who have achieved the ultimate success in life and yet they are depressed and sad. They feel unfulfilled, alone. The truth is, as a counselor I hear similar stories all the time. 

The things that make us feel alive in life tend to be the things we can’t buy with our success. They are our experiences, our opportunities, and our conscience when we go to bed at night. When I hear from clients that they have reached a high point in their career, they have achieved everything they have set out to achieve but they can’t shake this feeling of emptiness, I tell them to reevaluate their day. 

Reevaluate your day

Are they exercising? Exercise can do wonders for the brain. It releases feel-good hormones that lift us up and make us feel alive and confident. They help us to relax easier, let off steam, and sleep better. It is always good to find time to fit in some kind of movement a few times a week. 

Are they sleeping? Sleep is huge. Successful people tend to let it go in order to attain more success. They work long hours trying to finish projects and put their mental health on the back burner. 

What are they doing with their free time? Are they having time with family, with friends? Do they even have free time? Spending time with the people we love and care about, having a good laugh, letting go of the days events, can be so refreshing for the brain and the heart. 

What are you doing that you feel good about? When we do things to help people, animals, or causes we care about it lights a fire in us as people. It can be calling a grandparent, sending a sick friend a note, or volunteering at a soup kitchen or hospital. These are the things that help us feel fulfilled in life. 

Life is not all about having the house, the car, or the perfect job. It is about love and compassion. It is about taking care of yourself so that you can take care of others. 

If you can’t shake that empty feeling, it could also mean something more. It could mean depression, anxiety, or mental illness, so it is best to seek help from a licensed counselor who can help you figure out what is best for you. 

How To Trust In Yourself

Are you always second-guessing yourself? Maybe you shouldn’t have bought the purple shoes, maybe you should have called that guy back, maybe you should have majored in something else, took a different job, moved to a different place, the list goes on and on and on… 

Most people have made a pivotal decision in their life where they feel they have failed. The human brain tends to be more sensitive to the negatives and failures. That is why we ruminate on the bad and don’t trust ourselves. We keep a mental inventory of all the bad decisions we have made making it more difficult to trust we are making the right decisions going forward. 

Studies done by psychologist Dr. John Cacioppo prove the brain reacts stronger to negative stimuli than positive. Cacioppo showed people pictures that generally produce positive feelings, for example tasty food or a luxury car. Then he showed them pictures of things that usually stir up negative feelings, such as an injured person or animal, followed by pictures of items that produce neutral feelings, like a plate or hair dryer. As the pictures were shown he recorded electrical activity in the brain and found that the brain reacted stronger to the negative stimuli, showing that our attitudes are more heavily influenced by the negative. For more on this research see: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200306/our-brains-negative-bias .

We have all made positive decisions. We have made decisions that have left us feeling satisfied, try to focus on those. You can drive yourself crazy always wondering how things would have turned out if you took a different path, but what is the use in that. You need to start to trust in yourself, trust that you have done the best you can and made the right choice for you in the moment.

Here are some tips to get you started:

1.) Make a list — pros and cons lists are amazing things when it comes to big decisions. Making them can help you to realize that you are making the best possible choice you can. 

2.)Learn from mistakes— we are not perfect. You will make some wrong choices in life, and that is ok. In fact, I would be a little concerned if you never made a wrong choice. Learn from your mistakes and grow from them. Next time it will help you to make a better choice.

3.) Cut yourself some slack — as I said above, you are not perfect. No one is perfect. Don’t expect to be perfect. Ease up on yourself. If things don’t turn out the way you want, you will get through. Forgive, let go, and grow. Many famous legends did not get to be known as who they are today without first making some wrong turns. For example, Walt Disney was fired from one of his early jobs for being “unimaginative” and the first computer Steve Jobs designed was so poorly designed and unreliable that he was fired from Apple—the very company he co-founded. Thomas Edison once said “every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

4.) Start small — start by making small decisions. Maybe it is as simple as where you are going to take your family for dinner. Or what you are going to order from the menu. As things start to turn out well you will gain confidence and the big decisions will come easier. Work your way up.

5.) Focus on the now — let go of the things that did not go as planned. Think about the things going well in your life now and look directly at the decision at hand. Don’t think about the thousands of scenarios the future holds. 

Finally, trust yourself. You can achieve more than you ever know. You are stronger and wiser than you believe.