By David Joel Miller.
How much effort does it take to try to be happy?
Are you one of those people who grew up trying to be happy, trying to look happy for a parent, for friends or those around you? Were you pretending to be happy but you never really felt it?
After long periods of trying to be happy, of pretending so that you don’t make others sad, you lose touch with how you really feel.
You may have despaired of every really feeling happy. Happiness for you was something you faked for others, but deep down inside you never really felt it. You began to wonder if you would ever genuinely feel happy the way others appeared to experience it every day.
For this effort to try to feel the way you should, the way others tell you that you should feel, you pay a high price. You lose touch; become disconnected, from how you are really feeling. You begin to doubt that you will ever have a genuinely happy experience the way others do.
You may give up on happiness and opt for not feeling so much pain. You may use drugs or alcohol to numb out or you might disconnect from your feelings altogether.
One cause of this disconnect between your feelings and you, and there can be many causes, is those adults who did not validate your feelings. When you said you were sad they said you had nothing to be sad about. You began to question what you felt and what you should feel.
Most of us know what anger feels like. But you may have been told that it’s not acceptable to feel anger, so you tried your hardest to feel an approved feeling. Before long you need others to tell you what it is you are feeling as you struggle to feel the way you should feel, rather than the way you do feel.
Some of you gave up on the idea of feeling happy or content or accepted. Those positive feelings were beyond your reach. You opted instead to avoid feelings and to try to feel the way those around you told you to feel. You may have thought that you would never get there and tried to accept your lot as one whose role was to make others happy, not to find those feelings for yourself.
Over time this trying to feel the way you should and the denial of what you are truly feeling in favor of pretending to experience the feelings others ascribe to you, these behaviors extract a heavy price. You become increasingly disconcerted from feelings and your inside becomes empty.
There are solutions. You can find happiness. Acting in happy ways, doing things that you find enjoyable can help, but only if you stop pretending and let yourself feel what it is that you truly feel.
The road to happiness runs through you. It requires getting to know you, that fearless and patient path of self-exploration. Finding happiness also requires developing a palate of feelings that bring the color back into your life. With the joy and pleasure, there will also be some pain and discomfort. But accepting that this is a real life and sometimes you will not like it is part of finding out who you are.
Be very cautious when other people tell you who you are, especially family members and those misery-loves-company friends. What they say is only their opinion. You do not have to create the things they tell you.
Other people’s opinions of who you are and what you should feel are things they hand you, nothing more. Like things that they might pass to you in a restaurant, some are worth eating and some are already destined for the garbage. You don’t have to keep everything you are handed in the restaurant for the rest of your life. Some of it goes in the trash on the way out. Some things you use for a while and leave behind. Let others opinions of you be like something they pass to you over dinner. You decide if you want this or you will trash it.
Some things others tell us, like a napkin given at the dinner, may indicate they have seen a part of us that needs cleaning up. If two or more people tell you that same thing you may need to look at this part of you. Think about this for a while and see if they are right. But just because they hand you a napkin to wipe the ketchup off your face does not mean that you will have a dirty face forever.
Consider that you determine who you want to be and how you will get there. Along the way you are entitled to feel and think anything you want, as long as you don’t try to impose those thoughts on others.
Get to know yourself, accept yourself as just fine the way you are, but with the potential to be and do more, and you will find that you just might discover that true happiness, the kind you do not have to fake for anyone, around the next life corner.
Are you ready to stop pretending to be happy and begin the hunt for a life worthy of the person you can become?
David Joel Miller, LMFT, LPCC
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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 check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, 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. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books