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A Big Misconception About Happiness

By Neil Strauss , March 1, 2020

Today’s blog post is about a specific life-changing idea. I feel so strongly about this, I was going to write a book about it. But I have three books due this year already, so I’m putting it in this blog post instead. The idea is about your happiness.

I talk to many people about their lives and goals, and this is what I’ve noticed:

Most people say that their biggest goal is happiness. Some even say they want to be happy all the time.

It’s a lofty ambition — and on the face of it, sounds like a good thing. But is it possible to be happy all the time?

The answer is no.

Many best-selling books have been written about the science of happiness, and how to live a life full of happiness.

These books make sense — in theory. They make people feel hope while reading them, and our culture is marketing the hell out of happiness.

But the big problem with this is that, first of all, you don’t actually want to be happy all the time. I’ll prove it, read on.

Secondly, wanting to be happy all the time is a recipe for more unhappiness.

Here’s why:

We have many different emotions in our lives.

Emotions like anger, fear, and sadness are completely normal – and they exist for a reason.

Our emotions are here to help us and guide us and lead us to certain actions, many of which are essential for our physical and psychological survival.

Here’s the proof I mentioned above:

If a car is hurtling toward you, you don’t want to be happy and wave with a big smile at the drunk driver. You want to feel fear, and leap out of the way. Then you want to be angry, and call 911 and get this person off the road.

So fear allows us to protect ourselves.

Anger allows us to assert ourselves.

Sadness gives us a chance to deactivate.

Guilt helps us live in accordance with our morals or values.

Make sense?

So what happens if you’ve dedicated yourself to feeling happy, yet you find yourself experiencing another emotion, like sadness?

This means that you are failing in your goal of being happy, and that will make you even sadder.

In other words, if you resist the emotions that you perceive as negative, that resistance will make those emotions stronger by adding extra frustration or disappointment or anxiety to whenever you feel them.

That’s why my life goal isn’t happiness. It’s acceptance.

You’ll find that if you accept an emotion, it begins to lose its power over you.

If you want the emotion to completely lose its power over you, add in this:

Find enjoyment within the emotion or curiosity about it. Appreciate the feeling, explore it from a place of non-attachment, and take the opportunity to learn more about yourself and raise your emotional intelligence.

In short, acceptance and non-attachment are the keys to a better emotional life.

(Cautionary Note: There’s a functional side of these emotions and a dysfunctional side, which generally come from over-attachment. Functional anger, for example, is assertiveness, while dysfunctional anger is rage. These is sadness, then there is dangerous depression.

If you experience the dysfunctional sides of these emotions, and they put you or others in danger, immediately find a therapist and/or program to help bring them into a moderate, functional range.)

Try this:

Next time you’re sad, instead of trying to become happier, lie down in bed or on a couch.

Get in touch with your sadness, explore it, speak to it, follow it down to its deepest place so you can better understand it. If you want to cry, go ahead and cry. No one’s watching. This can be a powerful release and therapeutic in itself.

And guess what?

After you experience an epiphany or release, you’ll feel a sense of excitement and happiness automatically!

This is because, as the saying goes: The only way out is through.

My son does most of this and he’s only two: He doesn’t resist his emotions. He experiences them fully. And when they’re over, they’re gone. He doesn’t hold on to them or get stuck in a story about them or wish he could have felt something different.

And my job as a parent is not to say, “don’t cry” or “don’t be sad.”

It’s to accept and affirm his emotions so that he doesn’t end up as fucked up as so many adults are: “You’re feeling sad right now. It’s okay. I know it’s a sad thing that you can’t play with that circular saw.”

Soon, he stops crying, sees something else he wants to play with, gets excited, and he’s over it. His laughter fills the house.

So if you want more laughter in your life, then stop resisting the sadness in your life.

There’s nothing you have to learn.

All you have to do is unlearn.

 

 

 

 

 

Neil Strauss is a ten-time New York Times best-selling author; a contributing editor at Rolling Stone; and a former music critic, cultural reporter, and columnist at The New York Times. where he won the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for excellence in music journalism. In 2018, he was honored with the Los Angeles Press Club’s Journalist Award for his Rolling Stone 50th anniversary cover story, “Elon Musk: The Architect of Tomorrow.” His 12-episode podcast, To Live & Die in L.A., was number one on the iTunes charts for two weeks and spent four months in the top ten, where it was named one of the ten best podcasts of the year so far by Apple. It has racked up over 35 million downloads in just its first season.

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