Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Happiness Trap: New(ish) Way of Thinking

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What if getting rid of all our bad feelings and striving for glorious happiness isn't the be all, end all? The idea that getting rid of bad feelings is NOT the key to managing depression and anxiety is one of the main themes of the book I've been reading at my therapist's suggestion, The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living by Russ Harris. Rather, Harris says the key is learning to acknowledge all of our feelings (good, bad or indifferent) and keep right on doing what we need and want to do in our lives. It's about acceptance and making a commitment to refuse to be controlled by them. Hence the term "Acceptance and Commitment Therapy" (ACT).

If you're anything like me you're probably having a hard time wrapping your head around all that. I mean, isn't striving for happiness what we've all been working so hard on? Yes, it probably is. And according to Harris, this is part of the reason we're running in place trying to heal our emotional pain through traditional therapy. Even though I've been trying to study mindfulness for the past few years and have been able to understand its concepts in the context of physical pain, it's been harder for me to undo the imprint of years of other ways of thinking about my emotional health. I always thought I'd get to a place where I didn't think terrible things and hate and berate myself. But just as with my physical pain, the reality is that I don't know whether or not I'll ever stop having that emotional pain. Either way, I have to keep on keeping on.

I will admit I'm scared at the idea of accepting that I may never rid myself of the bad thoughts. I hate them. I hate living with them. I hate how they make me feel. More than anything I want them to go away. Yet I can also see that I'm constantly trying to distract myself, often in unhealthy ways, so I don't have to hear the negative chatter in my mind. Rather than doing that "la la la everything is hunky dory" routine, by being present and uniting my body and mind I see that I can come closer to having the life I want to have. I'm still at the beginning of this journey in the emotional context, but I'm hoping that my understanding and application of it in the physical context will help me catch on.

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DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this site constitutes medical or legal advice. I am a patient who is engaged and educated and enjoys sharing my experiences and news about migraines, pain and depression. Please consult your own health care providers for advice on your unique situation.