Who told us we deserve to be happy?
For some time now, a question has been floating about my head and I have yet to find an answer. Why do people believe they deserve to be happy? There are any number of retreats or conferences that all promise to help you become happy. Recently, there was even a chance to win a trip to Finland, rated the happiest country in the world, to attend a several days’ long conference to learn how to be happy. They all appear to support the idea that we deserve happiness and so these conferences and retreats are tools to help you learn to do so. But where did the idea begin that we, as individuals, deserve anything, not least of all happiness?
I know that may sound bizarre from a therapist. Isn’t it my job to make people feel better? Actually, no. It is not. My job as a therapist is to help point out to people how they, themselves, are standing in the way of their own happiness. I know there are several individuals out there who will push back and point out that there are individuals with serious mental illness that impede their ability to be happy. Yes, I agree. I have met individuals during my years practicing who were organically depressed and, despite therapy and medication, could barely reach dysphoria. However, when I speak of people falsely believing they should be happy, I am referring to the majority of us who are choosing to succumb to neuroticism, looking at life through a negative lens and choosing to be a passive victim.
For those people, the reality is you deserve to be happy only if you are willing to put the work into being happy. Many people are not, however, and it becomes much like the search for that magical weight-loss drug that will allow us to be thin without first changing our relationship with diet and exercise.
I would never minimize anyone’s struggle with anxiety and/or depression. These things have long term negative consequences for the sufferer, from hypertension, heart disease and cancer. Being anxious and/or depressed not only take a toll on us emotionally. It slowly kills us, physically. However, we resist the idea of changing how we think.
Granted, change is often scary and difficult. Our brains are committed to keeping everything status quo. No matter how unhappy we are, our brains prefer what we know as opposed to accepting something unknown and different. This is why it often takes people many attempts to stop bad habits such as overeating, drinking and substance abuse. Our brains can logically accept that what we are doing is no good for us. That does not mean our brains won’t resist any and all efforts to change what we have been doing. Knowing this does not give us the right to just give up and not even try.
We can find any excuse to withdraw into ourselves and continue negative patterns of thinking and behavior. They are familiar. They don’t challenge us in ways that make us uncomfortable. While true, they also keep us stuck and being stuck means we get nowhere. For some, this might be acceptable. For most of us, though, it is an uncomfortable limbo.
Change can only happen when we are so tired of how we feel that we have no other choice but to change.