March 31, 2016
A common misunderstanding among people who feel depressed is about the term “Happy” or “Happiness”. The misunderstanding can be cleared up in one sentence: Those are feelings not destinations.
Humans are wired to have a multitude of emotions over the course of a day. For example, we can feel disappointed it’s Monday again, grumpy during the commute, and grateful for the score of a good parking spot all before starting work. There are no good and bad emotions just positive and negative ones. Labeling them as good or bad puts a judgment on our emotions creating more intense negative emotional states because we don’t like to feel badly. In spite of not liking those feelings, we often grab hold of them because we shouldn’t feel this way. That line of thinking just adds layers to self-judgment and tightens the grip on the negative emotion. Happy, on the other hand, is a positive emotion we feel when things are going pretty well throughout the day. In reality, we actually didn’t feel any negative emotions giving the illusion of happiness-the destination.
So, if humans are built to feel, how do we keep from locking the negative emotions in place? One way is to build tolerance. We can do so by allowing them to wash over us like waves in the ocean. In nature, we are guaranteed the ebb and flow of the ocean tide. We can rely on the ebb and flow of emotions as well. When a negative one splashes in, stand firm, and soon it will leave with a new feeling rolling in to take its place.
Another way to build tolerance is to talk about our negative feelings with a supportive person. Additional tolerance can happen if we find healthy soothers like music or walking outside. We can also choose to intentionally induce a positive emotion by looking for something to laugh about or engage in an activity that will change the negative emotion such as dancing, for example. It is difficult to stay disappointed while dancing or laughing. Yes, we have the ability to control our emotions by changing them.
If happiness isn’t a destination, then what is there instead? The concept being searched for is a sense of well-being. We can’t always predict what circumstances life will throw at us such as stress, pressure, and loss. If we have a sense of well-being, no matter what happens, we know we will come out of it okay. This requires a developed identity or sense of self that doesn’t wobble with the waves of negative emotions during the rough patches. After all, humans have feelings but our feelings are not who we are.