Scanning through multiple emails from the last few months, I noticed an interesting theme in reader and listener stories: the pursuit of happiness and the trouble that people get into along the way, which then results in questioning why they’re not happy, whether they ever will be happy, and, based on past experiences, whether their upbringing, past experiences, mistakes, appearance etc., mean that their future happiness potential is and always has been ‘capped’.
There’s a hell of a lot of pressure, both internal and external, to be happy, and of course, feeling happier is a good thing, it’s just that pursuing it as if it’s a static destination or the flash car, house or job that you finally land after much blood, sweat and tears, is making us very unhappy. Thinking about happiness a lot is causing many of us to beat ourselves up, questioning whether we’re ‘good enough’.
We judge the way that we feel and where we’ve been, by comparing us to others and holding us to an imaginary gold standard of happiness.
We look at other people and wonder why they find happiness so ‘easy’ and we try things out and wonder why certain feelings still come to us, prompting us to question whether it’s worth the effort. It’s tempting to settle for less, convincing ourselves that some crumbs is better than no crumbs, even though this only results in us feeling far worse. So, where does that leave us?
Here’s what I’ve learned, and I say this as someone who only started feelings her feelings just before I started Baggage Reclaim nearly 11.5 years ago: Being happy isn’t natural for some of us because we’ve adopted certain coping and survival habits due to past experiences, causing us to be out of touch with our feelings and who we are, but to also be primed for the other shoe to drop when we find ourselves in good situations, something that we gradually grow out of as our confidence increases but also as we recognise our resilience.
It’s important for us to acknowledge this because sometimes, when we’re reading or listening to advice about happiness, we can start to feel as if we’re weird because it can seem as if they don’t account for trauma. It can seem as if it’s advice for people who are already relatively happy and just don’t know how good they have it. Compassionately acknowledging the journey we’ve travelled can help us to be more patient with ourselves but to also acknowledge our efforts.
What we also discover is that as we start to feel better about ourselves, part of our processing and evolving means that issues from the past crop up, so it can be a bit of a juggle.
It can feel as if we make leaps forward and then cool down a bit to somewhere higher than where we were before but not quite where we’ve just been. In the future, when we look back, we realise how far we’ve come and actually, how happy we’ve been even with what may be some very testing times, but the ups and downs can cause us to feel very frustrated. It can feel as if our past keeps interrupting us.
When I felt challenged by some issues from childhood that popped up over the last couple of years, I did say to myself, ‘What the eff does the past want now? Why do I have to go through this?’ I felt very down and angry for a while, especially because it felt as if I had back-to-back pain. Just as I would navigate out of one thing, boom!, and the next thing was on top of me. It did feel really unfair but eventually, I stopped focusing on that or even putting myself under pressure to be ‘better’, and went back to taking care of me, bit by bit, day by day.
I learned a lot about myself and I realised how important it was for me to go through what I had. I stopped trying to be in control, hard as that was at times. Then I went to New York at the end of May 2016 with the kids, to run a workshop and have an adventure. Nia, my youngest, was sick for pretty much the entire trip. I’d surrender, then I was frustrated, then surrender and back and forth I went. We got back to London and I vented in my journal and to Em, finally found the humour and peace in it and said, ‘Right, I truly am ready to let go and be done!’ It felt great. Fifteen minutes later, I got the news of my father’s cancer. I’m laughing at the absurdity and twisted humour of life.
It’s too much to expect of ourselves that we can be happy all the time, even if we had The Most Jacked Up Childhood Ever or that we’ve been through our fair share of painful experiences in adulthood and feel that we’re owed a peaceful time.
It’s also too much to expect that we can control life and obliterate anything that doesn’t suit us or that it will come with well-timed intermissions.
We have to juggle emotional baggage that we offload, declutter and accumulate throughout our life, with living, loving, and being challenged by what life throws us along the way.
We can be angry, afraid, sad and more, but we become more resilient and enjoy genuine happiness because we keep figuring out how to get back up after we fall and we learn from the journey from ground to standing. We also figure out what feels good and right for us and how to achieve that authentically instead of subscribing to someone else’s version of what makes ‘everyone’ happy. We take pleasure in lots of small things that maybe we never used to notice before instead of always having to go ‘big’.
Trying to ‘make’ ourselves happy without actually taking care of us, the person, as in the thoughts that we feed us and the way that we treat us, is like cutting the heads off the weeds while leaving the roots.
Self-esteem is the sum of how we treat ourselves and that’s not just about the ways in which we go about enjoying more happiness, but also very much about how we treat us through the difficult times. Try to be just a little more patient, kinder, empathetic, tolerant with you each day–it can make a vast difference to your life.