Why Can’t I Just Be Happy?
The question, “why can’t I just be happy?” is one I encounter continually. Feelings of happiness and joy are certainly experiences that we can learn how to have greater access to. There are things that many people consciously do that block the feelings that they want to feel.
Other unconscious forces also influence how we feel on a regular basis. We can learn to understand both the unconscious and conscious actions and make changes to have greater access to “positive feelings.”
First, I think we need to dispel some myths about happiness.
Here are some of the most common beliefs that are based on myths that I see people buying into in my years of personal experience and professional work.
Busting Happiness Mythology:
Top 3 Myths About Happiness:
1. Happiness is a state that I can reach.
2. It’s my fault that I don’t feel happy.
3. If I’m not happy it means that there is something wrong (with me).
Here Are The Facts:
1. Happiness is not a destination.
We often believe that if we get the things we want-partners, jobs, etc. that we will finally just be happy. Feeling good about what we have, what we’ve achieved, or our relationships is not a static state.
We have a much greater access to understanding emotions through neuroscience. We know that given how our complex nervous system functions, it is just not possible to have one ongoing sustained emotional state.
I believe (especially given that we’ve got that whole pursuit of happiness idea) that it’s quite harmful to fall into this belief system.
In my professional experience it leads to a lot of shame, self-blame and increases the challenge in managing the other challenging emotions that we will inevitably feel as human beings.
2. It is NOT YOUR FAULT if you don’t arrive at the happiness destination.
There are many reasons that someone may have difficulty accessing feelings of joy. For example, if you have past trauma and you are in a protective fight/flight/freeze state in an ongoing way, your brain is not going to allow you much access to feeling good.
There are a variety of reasons that you may have difficulty feeling happy. Blaming yourself is a common response, but one that deepens the problem.
3. There is nothing wrong with you just because you are struggling. A wide range of emotions are a part of a healthy life.
If you feel other, more complex feelings besides happiness, about your life, or your circumstances, it does not mean that there is something wrong with you. Emotions are wired into your survival brain, and they are being generated faster than you can think about them.
If you are feeling sad, scared, anxious or lonely this doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. I find that this is one of the most common and frustrating myths that leads to you buying in to the idea that you are broken and need to be fixed.
This can lead a person that is suffering down a rabbit hole of trying to figure out how to “get healed” and arrive at “just being happy.” This is a myth that is sold to us in a constant and scrolling way that is certainly profitable for some and leaves many still suffering.
How to Bust through the Myths:
1. Recognize a variety of emotional states as a normal part of your human experience.
Examine your expectations about what will “make” you happy. Is it true that you will generate a lasting feeling of happiness when you finally ___________(get the relationship, change something about yourself, move, have what you want?). We can’t accurately predict our future emotions, though most of us firmly operate under the assumption that we can.
The fact is, none of us can really predict with accuracy anything about the future, and emotions are the same way. When we have expectations about emotions that we don’t wind up feeling, disappointment is inevitable.
2. Understand your stories of guilt, shame, self-blame and blame of others regarding emotional states.
What is actually true about your emotions? It is common with many emotional struggles to step easily into trying to find a way of explaining why we feel what we feel.
These interpretations are often wildly inaccurate and lack general knowledge about how emotions are generated through our brain and body and then experienced in our thoughts later. I frequently find that what we tell ourselves about how we are feeling is often much more harmful than the feeling itself.
Re-framing emotions with understanding and the practice of self-compassion can lead to feeling more happiness and overall satisfaction.
3. If you find it difficult to access feelings of happiness and joy it is possible that your brain and body have adapted to generating other feelings for a variety of reasons.
This doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. Our bodies and brains adapt to our circumstances and to protect us may not allow us to let our guard down so that we can access joy.
There are concrete ways to support your system to be able to access the feelings that you’d like feel more easily (more to come on this in a later post). You may need to work through the other emotions and support your system to have the ability to be in a more regulated state first.
There are many kinds of therapy, including EMDR, that can help you to stop cycling through past emotions and be able to be more present for your life.
How can I experience more happiness?
Emotional fluency and understanding can lead to greater life satisfaction and reduced feelings of disappointment.
Through exploring complex emotional landscapes and the stories that we have generated about them we can learn how to be with and manage our most challenging emotions.
I find that the attempt (and assumption that it’s possible) to “get over it” aka “stop feeling that way” leads to a lot of misery.
Have you met anyone that (you know personally and is not attempting to sell you something or get something from you) knows the secret to “getting over it?” The answer is no. If they tell you they know the secret to how to “transcend” or “get over” normal human emotions I suggest running the other way as fast as possible.
You might be speaking to or following someone who is a cult leader at worst and is uneducated and making very harmful assumptions at best.
And again, be aware of anyone who has a one size fits all solution that if it doesn’t work-it’s your fault.
Finding a skilled therapist that can support you in understanding, regulating, and processing old emotions is a powerful pathway to accessing that feeling we all want more of-happiness.