I used to think that the point of self-help work was to become happy. I was going to double-down on my negative thoughts, stop buying in to limiting beliefs, and start seeing the bright side of life—at which point, I’d be happy.
Except when I’d step into the work, I found that things still came up: frustration, sadness, and oh, the grief. It was like I’d been walking around wearing heavy armor, and as I started to take off the armor all of the sunlight was allowed to flood into my body—which was delicious—but at the same time, all the grief that had been enclosed in the armor was now free to flow out.
In other words? It got worse, before it got better. (Somehow, no one had told me).
I do feel quite fortunate in that someone told me that it was through the crying and raging, that I’d find my way to happy. I didn’t believe them, at first. When it came to taking responsibility for my intentions, attention, and responses, I was kicking and screaming the whole way to doing that work, wanting to do anything but actually…do the work.
Eventually, though, I made my way there. I figured out that if I wanted to become happy, I’d need to make room for frustrated, depressed, anxious, sad, grieving, hopeless, enraged, furious, shamed, annoyed, and all the rest. When you process through all of the feelings that you’ve been trying not to feel, freedom awaits on the other side.
I used to think that the point of self-help work was to become happy; I now think that the point of self-help work is to become whole.
Rather than striving to become happy, I want to see myself being a human. That means I’ll need to feel. Some may wish for a brand of enlightenment that involves being impervious to criticism, always taking the moral high road, and unfailingly seeing potential and hope even when the world delivers some of the worst things that humanity has to offer.
I wish to become happy in a way that’s less numb and more authentic: when people are critical, I own that it hurts (rather than pretend I don’t care); when the world hurts I am willing to tap into my despair (even as I am also willing to choose hope after I honor the despair); when someone is a jerk, I’d like a little room to drop the f-bomb (before I reach for compassion).
The more I’ve honored all the feelings that lead to being whole and human, the happier I’ve felt. Also, the less control they’ve had over me. Feeling the feelings isn’t bad, and the more you are willing to feel them the less they can hold you back.
If you want to become happy, just know that part of the journey will be facing yourself, facing all the things about yourself that are difficult or uncomfortable or unfair, the mistakes that you are ashamed of…yes, all of it. Not part. All.
To become happy is to become whole.