Monday, April 27, 2015

Evaluating the nature of happiness

I have just finished a 100 day happiness challenge.  The goal was to document each day things that I experienced as “creating happiness in my life”.

This is the second year that I have given myself this challenge opportunity, so I knew at the start that it would not always easy to come up with something every day that “makes me happy”

I have had people say to me, “I could not do that kind of a challenge because I have nothing to be happy about."   Of course those kinds of comments make me even more determined to explore what exactly is the nature of happiness and how do I, as an individual, invite happiness into my life?

If you have been following my blog you know that I am on a journey of finding healing in the aftermath of the trauma of being estranged by my daughter.  So there is a certain “brokenness” in my life, a feeling of being out of control in a sea of emotions.

So how does a happiness challenge fit into this healing journey?

For me taking back control over my happiness is a symbol of recovery in that I am making a conscious choice to not let the traumatic event remain in control of my well-being.   I want to create a place where the estrangement is something that happened to me but does not control me.  A place where estrangement is an event in my life but does not define who I am.

So what did I learn in this 100 day challenge?

First thing that I learnt was that it takes effort to become aware of elements in my life that create a feeling of happiness.  I was required to notice things that I might otherwise just live through without appreciating the gift of happiness that they had to share with me.  This is related to being mindful of the present, what is here and how in this moment and how does it make me feel.

I was very aware that it was a daily choice to, "make it happen".

In recovery, or healing, I am too often immersed in the negative emotions of the trauma of being estranged.  Emotions like sadness and hurt and anger, disbelief, fear that this is all I will ever feel, helplessness, loss of trust, joy and enthusiasm are all negative emotions but even more than this they are all tied to an event I have no control over.  

I can’t do anything about the event to change the emotions associated with the event.  This leaves me feeling helpless, victimized, out of control. 

To change this I have to find way to switch gears.  Find a way to regain control over which emotions I choose to favour.  Since I can’t change my emotions about the event I am only left with the option of changing which moment I will give more energy to.

Will I feed the negative emotions by dwelling on the trauma, or will I feed the positive emotions by focusing on the present and the good things that are happening or that I can participate in if I choose?

Which emotions could I focus on instead if I choose to live life in the present? 

  • Each day I choose to start with thankfulness, thankful for another day, another opportunity to heal, to build my life into something bigger than, stronger than before.

  • Each day I make myself list things from the day before that I am grateful for so that I become more mindful of the good things in my life.

And now each day I will become more aware of the choices I can make to be happy.  The important lesson that I have leaned is that there are two general categories of happiness. 

Category one – things that happen to me that make me happy
Category two – things that I choose to make happen that make me happy.

The former are things not in my control, they include my responses to actions by others and events in my life that are not initiated by me.   In my 100 days challenge, there were 16 events that fell into this category.  Less than a quarter of the things that brought me happiness came from the outside. 

If I had allowed myself to only feel happiness when something good happened to me, I would not have had very many happy moments.

The second category is; those things that I have control over because they start with me taking action or changing my thought process.  That means that on 84 days of the challenge I was able to choose to be happy because of something that I did to bring happiness into my life.

I found this to be powerfully liberating. 

Renate Dundys Marrello
2015 – 04 – 27

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