I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be happy. Here are some of my thoughts.
I’ve done what all good, sheep-like psychologist eventually do: create categories for something that is probably far too complex for such an explanation.
But, hear me out.
I’ve reasoned there’s organic happiness and there’s constructed, or synthesized, happiness. An organic happiness would be someone’s baseline: how you are when you wake up in the morning, how you respond to the corresponding events of the day. This is the happiness we often feel we need to correct.
A synthesized happiness, then, comes in peaks and waves from an outside source. It eventually decreases gradually or exponentially. It may be uncertain, untrustworthy, or fleeting.
These thoughts came into my head not only because of our humanly need to correct all feelings we feel don’t line well with other’s feelings, but because there is such a stark difference between the happiness I feel organically, the one that sprouts naturally in my consciousness, a simple product of biological existence, versus the happiness I feel after I’ve accomplished something I had doubts about, after spending a day with the people I love, or after I take a pain pill for my back.
I think I’ve made this distinction because I notice I’m often disappointed in my organic happiness, in my baseline of existence.
There are tons of speculated biological and evolutionary reasons why certain chemicals peak at certain times in our brains–to keep us focused, to associate good feelings with good friends so that we build connections which were at one point most essential for survival, to simply bring us enjoyment. But now, there are so many things in life that can trigger intense rushes of endorphins, like substances and fame, that what we experience in the day to day just can’t compete. I am happier and friendlier when traveling. I am happier and friendlier when on pain medication. I am happier and friendlier to strangers when I am also among people I care for and love.
And so I find now, when I have a moment to rest and reflect, I remind myself that everything is enough.
I’ve had three of my six past therapists tell me I need to tell myself that I am enough, and I’ve tried that, but I think this stretches deeper. I think that realizing that life is enough, that how I feel is enough–negative or positive–is what paves the way for accepting myself. If I can truly believe that every negative feeling exists as a moment ripe with the potential for growth, and that every positive feeling exists as a moment ripe with the potential for contentment (as opposed to: oh no, I’m happy, let’s see how long this lasts), then I think that may be the key to actually existing.
But believing something doesn’t mean I create a mantra and repeat it to myself until I drop dead. That doesn’t foster belief and studies show that reiterating positive mantras to yourself can actually make you feel worse. I measure how much I believe in something by the rate and construction of my reactions. Let me give an example.
Last night while watching television, I felt the same disappointment I discussed earlier: I felt sad that I couldn’t spend every day feeling the fuzzy, determined, focused happiness that pain medication brings. I felt sad that I felt sad about that. I felt sad that my own level of being just didn’t seem to be enough; I enjoy my personality, I admire my intelligence, I accept my flaws, but the feeling of existing, the feeling of being human, limited, temporary, often enrages me. Being just isn’t enough.
And in this moment of realization, my mind reacted with a simple thought: let’s be okay with this.
Now sometimes I have voices responding to my thoughts, or voice-like thoughts responding to my thoughts, but this was all me, it was a reaction that I haven’t programmed. I haven’t spent the last two years off medication waking up every morning spewing “learn to love yourself” and “you are enough” quotes until I repeat them robotic, on demand. I’ve spent my time entrenching myself in the madness, the chaos, the pain. I spent time locked in my room staring at the wall, if that was what my pain was. I spent time walking off waves of panic, if that was what my pain was. I spent time being unhappy, if that was what my pain was. I resisted the urges for bail outs–a psychiatrist would have bailed me out, numbed me to my anxiety, tainted the voices and the paranoia, evened the mood swings and depression. And I would have learned nothing.
This is not to be said in a way where everyone taking medication should be offended. For me, medication was another avoidance technique that I’d perfected through years of trauma. For others, medication is the stability key that allows them the time and focus to come to the same types of realizations I have. We all reach wellness in different ways.
I’ve noticed in depression, I am no longer overwhelmed with sadness because I allow the sadness to spread. I choke sometimes with the paranoia, fight it, try and reason with myself and that often cycles me further. I am still growing. I choke with the anxiety as well, get lost in the sensations of my body, and the doom my mind screams. I am still growing. But the depression, which has been with me since I was eleven years old, has become a close friend. I am 24 years old. It’s taken 13 years to cultivate this friendship.
And so happiness for me does not mean contentment or joy or the absence of sadness. Happiness for me means experiencing being without judgement.
I figured I’d share some of these thoughts with everyone as we plunge through Mental Health Month as well as the Covid Pandemic.
This week we are covering Schizophrenia, Bipolar, and Dissociative disorders, starting tomorrow. The post will be later in the evening (PST) as I have some self-care and some things that need to get done at work. If you have a blog post on those topics that you’ve written and would like to share, or if you’d like to submit your own story, contact me here or on my social media handles below.
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