In general, I don’t expect people to come through my door and tell me stories of happiness and satisfaction. (At least in the early stages of therapy anyway.) But lately I have noticed a trend in my clients that is more than a little disturbing. They come to counseling rife with complaints that must be completely annihilated before happiness can ensue. Don’t get me wrong–I’m all for a big ol’ dose of the smiles. But, I don’t believe that we should all wait until our lives are tidy piles of organized bliss to take ownership of contentment or satisfaction. I’m reminded of a song lyric that goes something like,”life’s a journey, not a destination.”
For most of us to feel better we must get away from the idea that we must be anxiety-free. There is no such thing, and whoever told you there is needs to have his or her hands spanked. We are wired to be alert to our surroundings and to respond appropriately when in danger. That requires the tightening of muscles and cascade of bodily chemicals we all try to meditate, exercise, and generally voodoo ourselves out of feeling. This begs the question of how we moderate our stress and balance our lives without expectations of perfection that make us crazy. I am not suggesting that we all sit tight and bite the bullet when we feel anxious. But, I am curious how we can start to view mental health as integrative rather than an all-or-nothing affair.
Of course, everything in moderation, right? That’s right–even feeling crumby sometimes. Authors John Forsyth and Georg Eifert point out that we live in a “culture of feel-goodism” that robs us of our ability to take anything in stride. Media outlets everywhere keen to market their products tell us that we should feel, look, and be better and better all the time. Why, if we aren’t totally satisfied at any given moment we must seize that moment and dress it up with food, stuff, or experiences. Poppycock! ( And boy, do I know of what I speak. I’m fighting off a commercial-induced Dairy Queen craving right now.)
I encourage you to take a look at what thoughts prevent you from living right here, right now. If you have a commitment to some far off goal of delirious joy that must be achieved before you can savor the moment, please slow down a bit. The way anxiety (and depression and a host of other maladies) rob us of our joy is by making us believe that where and who we are are not good enough. Isn’t it funny how popular advertising mimics mental illness?
The individuals that I know who are truly happy are not problem-free. Rather, they are free from the burdens of believing that they must never feel overwhelmed again to be happy. That is the perfectionistic demon of anxiety talking, and it has a loud voice.
Your Partner in Healing,
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