What does it take to be happy? Happiness is one of our ultimate goals in life. Yet, I see people all around, in my personal life and patients in my office, who are just not happy.
We often get caught up in our fast paced, complex lives, keeping happiness a distant, elusive goal instead of something we experience. People seem to be looking for something that is either missing or they just don’t know what it is that will make them happy. Many people actually know what will make them happy yet they have no idea how to go about making it happen.
Life Doesn’t Have To Be Terrible
Malia, a 37-year-old woman, began therapy with me because she had the aching feeling that something was missing in her life. As I got to know and understand her, the initial feeling she presented was guilt. Malia was married, had two children and lived in an affluent town. She described her marriage as relatively happy. She and her husband had some marital problems 3 or 4 years prior to her seeing me but her husband made major changes. Still, she wasn’t happy. Malia had the typical complaints about her two children including some sibling rivalry, homework battles from time to time, and having to ask them to clean their rooms 5 times until she had to yell and threaten punishment. That probably sounds sort of familiar to you. Malia was a full time homemaker and her family was financially secure. She had a limited social life because she felt very out of place in the upper middle class community in which she lived. Her own background included a similar socio-economic status, but she grew up in Texas. She found it difficult to relate to the values and culture of the New York metropolitan suburban stay-at-home mom. College educated with a degree in marketing and public relations, Malia initially identified feeling intellectually unfulfilled as being the piece that was missing in her life. As we explored her thoughts and feelings about this issue, it became apparent that renewing her career path that was purposefully shut down when she started having children was not the only issue. In fact, it wasn’t even the real issue. All was good in Malia’s life yet she felt a semblance of unhappiness. All was good but it just wasn’t good enough. Comparing herself to less fortunate or overtly dysfunctional people in her life made her feel guilty for complaining. For years, she accepted her unhappiness because of that very fact. But, life doesn’t have to be that terrible. And it doesn’t have to be that average.
Your life doesn’t have to be mediocre, or boring, or less than what you fantasize it to be. Regardless of your specific situation there are things you can do to rectify the problem areas in your life, and improve the overall quality of your life.
Whoa Is Me! It’s A Pity Party
If you think you are a victim, never catching a break, it is time to stop the pity party and start to take control of your life. Maybe you are a victim.
Or, could it be that you just make bad decisions and you create scenarios where the outcome tends to be a negative consequence for you? There is also a possibility that you view yourself as a victim as a defense mechanism. Seeing yourself as a victim and never catching a break can be a means of protection against really bad feelings.
If you are the victim, you don’t have to change. Change means you must confront your feelings and your actions to see the connection to the negative outcomes you tend to experience in your life. That may be a bit too difficult and emotionally threatening to your self-esteem. So, you become the victim both by not seeing your responsibility in creating bad situations and by feeling too emotionally tenuous to face the fact that you need to make changes.
Taking Charge Of Your Own Life
For you to achieve trio-happiness, freedom, and self-fulfillment in your life, you must take charge of your own life. When I was doing my clinical training I had a wonderful mentor. He told me that he could see that I was very passionate about helping people and that I was going to be very successful as a psychologist. He felt the need to caution me saying, “Make sure you run your practice and do not let the practice run you.” Are you running your life or is your life running you?
A core concept for your happiness is making sure you are taking charge of your life. So that the train doesn’t leave without you, you need to be taking action, changing behavior patterns, and being proactive to head off problems. A common theme with patients is that they often feel trapped in their lives. That there is no way out with no options. Rarely, if ever, are there no options. Trapped is only a state of mind and is usually not a reality. Yes, sometimes the options aren’t great options but, nevertheless, they can “untrap” you.
The Formula For Success
There are numerous subtle and significant changes you can make in your life to overcome problems, cope with stress, improve your present life, or simply promote self-growth. This book is the accumulation of the thousands of therapy sessions I have had with thousands of patients. I have found that there are certain common themes that apply to everyone’s lives that can improve and enrich this one chance you have at making it all worthwhile. Anyone can benefit from my experience and everyone can better themselves using the formula I purpose in the subsequent chapters.
I have identified the essential dimensions of daily living that are required to obtain happiness, freedom,and self-fulfillment. Remember, you need the trio-the 3 dimensions for matter to be solid –length, width, and height. If you are missing one of these dimensions it cannot be solid. With the number “3” applied to each of these critical areas of an individual’s life there will always be 3 factors to address in order to acquire success in each area of your life. The total picture will help you navigate through life with less effort, less stress, and more happiness. Remember… you deserve to be happy. Mahatma Gandhi said that, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” May I be so bold as to add one more piece to Gandhi’s definition of happiness? It is also what you feel. Like Malia, even if your thinking, doing, and saying are in harmony, if you don’t feel it, then something is missing or wrong. Collectively, each chapter in this book helps you make sure to fill in the gaps and solve the problems in your life.
Dr. Michael Osit is a Licensed Psychologist practicing in Warren, and author of Generation Text: Raising Well Adjusted Kids In An Age Of Instant Everything (07/08) and The Train Keeps Leaving Without Me: A Guide to Freedom, Self Fulfillment, and Happiness (06/16)