Our culture places a high value on happiness—having the best job, house, the most friends, things in general. We’re constantly in a state of grasping for something—filling ourselves up from the outside. And it’s totally bumming us out.
In this video from BigThink, psychologist and author Susan David says our obsession with happiness hinders our ability to do the hard work of living: being able to recover from setbacks when we inevitably make mistakes, or lose a job—you know, when that picture-perfect veneer we were working away at starts to erode.
Appreciating All Your Emotions
While keeping a positive outlook is good in theory, it’s also important to acknowledge that sometimes, negative things will happen to us. The point isn’t to avoid those emotions, but to handle them in a healthy way.
“It is really important that as human beings we develop our capacity to deal with our thoughts and emotions in a way that isn’t a struggle, in a way that embraces them and is with them and is able to learn from them,” says David.
Here are three tips she shares to embrace all of your emotions:
- Discover what drives you. Ask yourself what motivates you every day, not necessarily because it brings you happiness, but because it’s something you care about. For example, if you’re an animal lover, volunteering a the SPCA might make you sad—but it will also provide your life with a greater sense of purpose.
- Allow room for failure. When we are afraid to fail, we never learn from our mistakes. Says David, “I believe that it is stopping us as a society, including our children, from developing higher levels of well being and resilience.”
- Don’t make happiness a hard-and-fast goal. When you put all of your energy into achieving happiness, you may neglect to notice when you’re actually happy. David suggests we instead focus on what’s important for us, and happiness will become “a byproduct of that focus.”
A Guided Meditation for Turning Towards Difficulty
If you want to work on turning towards any difficulty you might be dealing with right now, explore this practice from meditation teacher and author Ed Halliwell, author of Into The Heart of Mindfulness.
This practice is usually best done in small doses at first. Preferably working with difficulties that aren’t likely to be overwhelming. It’s important to remember that you’re in charge of how you undertake this experiment. You can return to mindfulness of breathing as an anchor at any time or let go of this practice for a while if you need to, being kind to yourself.
A Practice for Turning Towards Difficulty
- Begin by settling into a dignified sitting posture. Upright, steady, grounded. Feeling the feet on the floor, bottom on the chair, spine erect shoulders dropped.
- And now expanding awareness to experience throughout the body. Being in the present moment with the body. Noticing what you find and allowing what’s here to be here.
- Now inviting you to experiment with gently taking your attention towards a region of more intense sensation. Turning towards the intensity. Being interested in the qualities of and changes in sensation from moment to moment.
- If you like you could offer a sense of breathing with the sensations, feeling them together with the rising and falling of the breath. Breathing in with sensations, breathing out with sensations.
- Noticing: are there any impulses to resist or pull away? Perhaps you find your attention drawn into thoughts. Maybe you find your thoughts trying to make sense of the difficulty or problem.
- If it feels too much to be doing this it’s always okay to continue with or return to mindfulness of breathing or body or to stop practicing for a time. Gentleness is paramount here and there are no right or wrong things to happen when you try this.
- And experimenting now if this feels okay for you with breathing into the region of intensity. Opening further to the sensations on the in-breath and having a sense of softening on the out-breath, of letting go.
- Staying with the intensity only for as long as feels manageable for you right now. Coming back to mindfulness of breath or body as and when that feels right for you.