By David Joel Miller.
It is hard to find a thing if you don’t know what it looks like. People who are unhappy can find the pain anywhere but can’t find happiness. A happiness expert can find a happy thing a mile away. Which are you?
Why is it so hard to find happiness, financial security or so many of those other things clients who come to see me say they are looking for? There is a simple phenomenon, called the “expert effect,” which explains one reason it is so hard to find those things were are looking for in life. Let me tell you a story that illustrates a real-world example of “expert effect” that happened to me and then let’s look at how this phenomenon may be keeping you from getting the things you want, like happiness, out of life.
Once I had a friend who was very into antiques. We decided to go antique shopping together. We went from shop to shop and looked around. Several times as we left a store this friend would say to me something like “Did you see that Fenton Glass?” “They had some nice Murano glass in there, did you like it?” Each time I had to admit I had not noticed the glass piece my friend had asked about. This was very frustrating to me.
So over the next few weeks, I checked some books on collectible glass out of the library and read them. This was in the ancient days when people went to buildings called libraries to get books instead of reading books on their e-reader. After reading several of these books about collectible glass I began to know some of the different kinds of glass that might be in antique and collectible stores.
A few weeks later this friend of mine and I ended up downtown for lunch and decided to check out a couple of antique stores. The same thing happened as last time, they commented on some glass piece they had liked. Only this time my response was different. I had indeed seen the piece they mentioned and now I even had an opinion on the ones I liked and the ones that did not strike my fancy. I had become enough of an “expert” to at least recognize a piece of glass when I saw one. Please don’t email me with questions on collectible glass. The only thing I may be able to tell you is that piece looks like glass to me. But at least now I know glass when I see it, most of the time.
Now that I am a counselor I realize that for many of my clients this “expert effect” is what is holding them back. How can you find happiness if you don’t know what it looks like?
Lots of people think that if they get a new job or a larger house or say a new romantic partner then they will be happy. The come to see me when they get one or more of these things and then discover they are still not happy. So the first step in finding a happy life would be to find out what it looks like, for you and for others who seem to have a lot of it. See happiness is a feeling, not a thing. Many people know what things look like but they can’t tell a feeling from a piece of collectible glass.
This is a special problem for people in recovery, recovery from substance abuse, dysfunctional relationships or other problems. To find recovery I believe that you need to get to know three things.
First, you need to really know what your problem looks like. Lots of substance abusers spend years trying to avoid looking at their problem. So what does the disease of addiction look like? How would you know a good relationship from a dysfunctional one? How would you really know if you were happy?
Second, you need to know what recovery looks like. Let me give you a hint here. Recovery is not a list of “things” that you will have. Recovery is not a cure or a cure-all, it is being restored to sanity or restored to a functioning life.
Lastly, you need to get to know yourself. What are you like when you are happy? What makes you sad? What do you like? I tell clients you will spend more time with yourself than with anyone else in your life and you need to really get to know you. You should be the world expert on you.
Have you begun your study of you? Have you started to study the truly happy life? Let me know if you have and what you have learned about happiness.
For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog, there is also a Facebook authors page, in its infancy, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. Thanks to all who read this blog.
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