Today we are going to talk about one huge happiness tip that initially doesn’t look all that happy. At first glance, it may actually look like the opposite of happiness. So what is this extremely powerful happiness tip that really doesn’t look very happy?
Your one big happiness tip is to…..
Embrace the Pain
Yes, that is it! And yes, I realize, like so many things, it is a lot easier said than done- but it is absolutely essential if we are to live a happy life. You see, life ebbs and flows. Life is full of joy, but it is also full of sorrow. We cannot have one without the other. If we are unable to embrace the pain and we try to make our suffering go away too quickly, we may turn to impulsive behaviors and act out in some way that will actually make things worse in the long-run. We may find ourselves drinking too much, eating too much, or turning to other unhealthy behaviors because we want to be happy and we want to be happy now!
Embracing the pain doesn’t mean that we cling to it and spend years ruminating over it, but it also doesn’t mean that we instantly try to purposely push it away. When we judge our emotions harshly and say things to ourselves like, “What is wrong with you? You shouldn’t be feeling this way,” our emotions go into hiding and we often turn to self-sabotaging behaviors such as addictions to numb these emotions and keep them down. By pushing away our emotional pain (stuffing our pain), we increase the risk of mental and physical illness and severe body pain.
By observing our pain, tolerating our pain, and getting support for our pain, we are neither clinging to or pushing away our suffering. By doing this, we are allowing ourselves to heal from it which will help us find joy again.
Because we are human, we are going to experience pain, but it is usually us not our experience that causes most of our suffering. How we react to our circumstances is more significant than the circumstances themselves.
Below you will find a short excerpt from my book, The Snowball Effect: How to Build Positive Momentum in Your Life, which goes into more detail about the importance of embracing your pain in order to achieve long-term happiness. The book also focuses on some things you CAN do to decrease your suffering while you are tolerating your pain.
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.
Although the above excerpt is referring to traumatic emotional pain that needs to be grieved, we also need to embrace the emotions we feel when we are just having a bad day. Maybe we are feeling a little irritable or depressed and we don’t even know why. Instead of judging the emotion and criticizing ourselves for feeling this way, it can be helpful to observe and describe the emotion and know that in time it will pass. There is power in accepting the way you feel even if you don’t understand why you feel the way you do. Remind yourself that tomorrow you may not feel this way. There is no need to drink or eat the feeling away. Instead, go for a walk, go for a run, get some fresh air, talk to a friend, say a prayer…..
Observe, describe, don’t judge, and know it will pass. This, my friend, is one huge happiness tip.
I hope you have a great day- and if not, remember… This, too, shall pass.
Sometimes it is the harsh judgment that we put on the feeling that causes the most suffering.