Pleasure, satisfaction, joy, delight, well-being, exhilaration, ecstasy, bliss, euphoria — all synonyms for happiness. We all want it, and many of us spend our lives not only searching for pleasure, but also trying to avoid pain. Once we find pleasure, we hold on to it, hoping we never have to let it go. On the other hand, when we experience pain, we try to push it as far away as possible so we don’t feel it for one moment longer than we have to. These tendencies are human nature. But do they work? Does this way of behaving actually lead us to success in finding what we so badly want?
Pain occurs when there is conflict between the way things are and the way we would like them to be. The more we wish our lives were different, the worse we feel. As a result, we often jump back into our search for happiness. The tricky thing here is that the pleasure we find will always end, which will lead to disappointment: We fall out of love, our stomachs get full or our friends go home. Trying to avoid this subsequent pain is an impossible feat, and it often gets worse with our increased efforts to try. For example, eating to reduce stress can lead to obesity, and working excessively to distract from painful feelings can lead to serious health issues.
Most of us believe our happiness is dependent on external circumstances, which can lead to the pleasure-seeking (and pain-avoiding) instinct controlling us. In reality, our feelings are internal states of mind, and though we may try, none of us can run fast enough to escape our own thoughts. And we cannot eliminate unpleasant thoughts and feelings by fighting with them.
All hope is not lost! It is possible to take a different approach, to change our relationship with pleasure and pain. We can let pleasure come and go naturally. We can step back and learn to be calm in the midst of pain. Learning to spend time with pain is essential to achieving personal happiness. You may be thinking to yourself, “What? Are you crazy? Why would I want to do that?” This new relationship can bring serenity and calm into our lives. It can also allow the experience of happiness to be more robust.
So now let’s talk about how this can be accomplished. Mindfulness can help us see our thoughts in a new way. Thoughts can be seen as lenses through which we view the world. Clinging to a particular lens allows it to dictate how we interpret our experiences and who we think we are. Through mindful practice, we can increase our awareness of many verbal shades while not being defined by any one of them. Acceptance is based on the notion that trying to get rid of pain amplifies it and transforms it into something traumatic. Acceptance is coming to terms, “letting it be,” a willingness. It does not mean you are resigning or giving up. To be accepting means to respond actively to our feelings by experiencing them. The goal here is to open to the strength of the moment, and to move more effectively toward our values. Said another way, the goal of acceptance is to feel all of the reactions that come up more completely, even (or especially) the bad emotions, so that we can live our lives more completely. Values-based living helps us identify our values and move toward living them right now. When we are struggling, we often feel things have to be better before we can do the things we really want to do. For example, “I’ll start working out again as soon as I get the motivation.” Is this true? Is waiting really necessary?
The answer is a resounding no! The experience of pain and suffering can impact careers and is often stressful for employees and their families. If you would like support in learning how to manage your experience differently, please contact Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-3500 to schedule an appointment. Appointments and all consultations will be confidential. To obtain additional information, visit our intranet site (http://intranet/intranet/ESS/Index.htm).