Samara O'Shea

The Pursuit of Happiness

There is an excellent article in this month’s Psychology Today about happiness. It’s not as simple as just feeling good—but we all knew that.

For my second book, Note to Self, I wrote a section called “Let it (Loneliness) Be.” It didn’t make it into the book but I held onto it and posted it on my page a while back. I’m going to post it again here side by side with (or just above) a short section from the Happiness article. This is a little bit of a shameless juxtaposition because what I wrote is mirrored by the Psychology Today excerpt. Anne Lamott says that the soul rejoices when it sees the truth, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m seeing a truth that I discovered on my own written across someone else’s pages. It’s validating! And the rest of the article is superb. Do read.

Let it (Loneliness) Be (written by me)

As I mentioned earlier, I tend to be an in-clement weather diarist. Sorrow and uncertainty will get me writing like nobody’s business. As far as keeping a life’s record, this can be dangerous as it may someday appear that I was more miserable than not. However, as far as therapy is concerned, this is a great way to deal with pain. Writing has saved my sanity on multiple occasions. I’ve concluded in recent years that it does no good to fight off any emotion. We need them all. It’s the seemingly bad, counter-emotions that enable us to appreciate the positive emotions. Without sadness, happiness is taking out the trash. Without loss, gain is turning your right blinker on.

As we get older, we can ideally start to anticipate our reactions to certain situations and create an emotional equilibrium. Our emotions are on rotate and they all need playing time. In other words, you can never rid yourself of sadness, anger, disappointment, and hurt. You can, however, know that they will be back at some point and prepare yourself. This will sound strange, but I’ve made a point of feeling—really feeling—my negative emotions. Loneliness, for example: if I feel a bought of it coming on, I don’t push it away or tell myself I’m not feeling it. Rather I let it bring me down. I spend the afternoon with it. I write in my journal and listen to music that reinforces the emotion. I give myself deadlines when doing this—such as, You have until tomorrow morning to feel this way (longer depending on the situation)—so as not to run the risk of being a perpetual sourpuss. Here’s the upside: I’ve discovered that when I dig into my mushy emotions the same way I dig my hands into the belly of a pumpkin, I am granted the good stuff for extended periods of time. When I allow sadness to run a full course through me, then my days of happiness last much longer.

Journaling played a large role in my being able to endure each emotion, as writing about anything makes it more real. Once the emotion solidifies then you can see it, touch it, and experience it fully. Our emotions have minds of their own, but we can learn to work with them and, in doing so, have them work for us. In the middle of a distressing period, unforeseen or not, I like to remind myself that the heart is a muscle and, like all muscles, it needs a good workout.

Pain Is a Part of Happiness (from Psychology Today)

Happiness is not your reward for escaping pain. It demands that you confront negative feelings head-on, without letting them overwhelm you. Russ Harris, a medical doctor-cum-counselor and author of The Happiness Trap, calls popular conceptions of happiness dangerous because they set people up for a “struggle against reality.” They don’t acknowledge that real life is full of disappointments, loss, and inconveniences. “If you’re going to live a rich and meaningful life,” Harris says, “you’re going to feel a full range of emotions.”

The point isn’t to limit that palette of feelings. After all, negative states cue us into what we value and what we need to change: Grief for a loved one proves how much we cherish our relationships. Frustration with several jobs in a row is a sign we’re in the wrong career. Happiness would be meaningless if not for sadness: Without the contrast of darkness, there is no light.