We have become an instant society. We no longer have to go to the library to do our research—we can get the information we need as soon as we type it into Google. We do not have to wait for days or sometimes even weeks to receive a letter from a loved one who is far away. Technology has made it possible for us to connect with them immediately. We have become a society that demands instant gratification, and when it comes to fixing our lives, it is no different. We want to be happier people, and we want it now!
Many self-improvement books out there today tell us that if we read the book, we will be instantly successful, instantly happy, or instantly rich. All that we have to do is one, two, three, or even ten things, and our lives will be wonderful immediately. You know the approach: the ten ways, the five keys, the three secrets, most of which usually prove to be beneficial in many ways. Most of the time, we grab these books because we want to feel better instantly. Over the years, I have been educated, motivated, and inspired by books structured this way, but if we really think about it, we realize that instant happiness is temporary. We are not going to be happy all of the time. We are going to encounter setbacks and experience loss—because these things are part of the human condition. Life is full of valleys and peaks; it ebbs and flows. We will experience times of great happiness, but we will also experience challenges that will test our human spirit.
While we may think we are on a quest for constant bliss, what most of us really want is peace, contentment, and an overall sense of well-being. We want to be able to enjoy life without experiencing chronic anger, fear, and pain, and we want to be able to bounce back from life’s challenges without becoming immobilized. We may kid ourselves and think that we want life to be pain free, but it is through our challenging times that we grow and stretch ourselves in magnificent ways. Surviving our trials is part of what eventually leads to our joy. We cannot have one without the other.
People often turn to addictions and other self-sabotaging behaviors in a search for instant relief to numb their pain and provide themselves with immediate happiness. Unfortunately, this type of instant happiness comes at a huge price—long-term misery. Many methods that serve as immediate painkillers lead to long-term destruction, causing life to snowball in a negative way. To avoid such a destructive path, we may have to sacrifice instant happiness in order to build something much better, something that lasts.
Positive growth is a building-block process. One small block builds on another small block, and then another, until eventually you see a bigger picture emerge: tremendous growth. Yes, just as a snowball picks up its pace, moving from slow to fast, gaining in momentum, so too does positive growth build positive momentum in our lives. Once this snowball gets going, life’s challenges and obstacles are no match for this mighty boulder’s positive energy.
Friction and resistance may stall us temporarily, but stop us … not a chance. We have gained so much positive momentum that even in the face of adversity, we can do great things. We now recognize our strength, our worth, and our comeback power.
-An excerpt from my book, The Snowball Effect: How to Build Positive Momentum in Your Life.
When we can give up the search for instant happy and embrace our pain, frustration, and disappointment, we will ultimately be happier and live a more fulfilling life. Embracing the pain does not mean we cling to it or ruminate in it for years. It just means that we observe it and allow ourselves to feel it (many times with the support of others) without trying to immediately push it away with self-sabotaging behaviors. Be aware that pushing pain under the rug rather than accepting it and grieving it can be self-sabotaging.
Take a look at another excerpt from my book.
When someone has been traumatized in some way and he or she attempts to just get over it without grieving it, a whole host of physical and mental health problems may arise as a result. When trauma is swept under the rug, the emotions related to that trauma go into hiding. They don’t simply go away. When they go into hiding and are not processed, they reappear. It may be months or even years later, but they resurface in one form or another. When emotions related to an earlier trauma reappear, they often come in disguise and resurface as symptoms.
We may or may not be able to connect these symptoms to an earlier injury. These symptoms vary greatly depending on the person and the situation. They may appear as emotional triggers causing us to have an intense emotional reaction every time something reminds us of an earlier trauma. Sounds, smells, people, situations, and many other things can trigger strong emotional reactions within us. The disguise may appear as physical symptoms such as back pain, neck pain, chronic headaches, stomachaches, irritable bowel syndrome, and fibromyalgia. The unprocessed trauma can also show up as disease, anxiety, depression, and many other mental health disorders.
There are many research studies that show the benefits of discussing and processing upsetting events and emotions with another person rather than suppressing them or acting them out in an aggressive way. Norman Vincent Peale wrote in his classic book The Power of Positive Thinking, “Emotional ills turn upon yourself, sapping your energy, reducing your efficiency, causing deterioration in your health. And of course siphon off your happiness.”1 In my practice as a therapist, I have unfortunately seen this in action many, many times. Unprocessed pain, bitterness, and chronic anger have people snowballing in the wrong direction. The snowball is indeed a destructive boulder getting bigger and bigger with time.
Before trauma can heal, it needs to be processed and grieved, and there is no magical time limit for the grieving process. But if you have been full of bitterness and resentment for years, it is time to seek out support, embrace the pain behind the anger, and then let it go so that you can move forward with your life.
Here is another way to look at it. If you were to break your leg in three different places, would you be able to jump up immediately and just get over it? No! You would need to see a doctor, nurture your leg, and give it time to heal. And what if you were to dislocate your shoulder? Would you ignore it and just get over it immediately? If you did, you not only would have a disfigured shoulder that you could never use properly again, but you would always feel pain … and that just wouldn’t be wise.
No, I don’t think that you would treat an injury that way. I am guessing that you would have a physician reset your shoulder so that it could heal properly. Resetting your shoulder would temporarily intensify your pain, but that would be the price you paid to heal.
Emotional pain is no different. It must be confronted and grieved in order to heal. Like a dislocated shoulder, it might feel worse before it feels better. It is important to discuss the problem with a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional. You will need to allow yourself time to grieve, feel the emotions associated with the injury, and nurture yourself back to better health. Finally, you need to let it go if you wish to be the best version of yourself and experience joy in life. It is healthy to grieve, but at some point you do need to let go to move forward with your life.
Finding the balance in the process of accepting the pain, tolerating the pain, and letting go of the pain is tricky but very doable. Letting go of the pain doesn’t mean that we will never again feel some of the pain associated with a traumatic event, but it does mean that the pain will be much less intense, and the joy in our life will outweigh the pain.
Instant happy is not all it is cracked up to be, especially when it can possible bring long-term misery. Sometimes you really do need to feel the pain (without turning to addictions and other self-destructive behaviors looking for instant happy) to experience the gain.
If you would like to read more of The Snowball Effect: How to Build Positive Momentum in Your Life, click here.
I hope this helped some of you, and I hope you have a great weekend!