The Science of Happiness II
Saanich News June 22, 2005
Paul Beckow M.Sc. R.P.C.
Individual couple and Famliy Counsellor
Last column I suggested that looking after our own happiness is one of the biggest challenges in a marriage. If both people, or even one person, can be responsible for their own happiness and satisfaction, you are well on your way to having a powerful relationship.
Yet many of us don’t know how to experience happiness on a consistent basis.
We simply have to look at the large number of Canadians presently using prescription medications to know that many of us are experiencing troubling stress in life. To many, life is a battlefield.
What can we see that will empower us in this area?
First, most of us live as though our circumstances are the source of our happiness. Consequently, we blame our state of satisfaction on what is happening or not happening to us in life.
Living this way, we give up our happiness all too easily.
If we examine this closer, we see it’s really not the events or the conditions in our lives that make us feel happy or not – although it seems that way.
What is it then?
It is our thinking.
Watch and you’ll see. It’s our thoughts, the things we are saying to ourselves about the circumstances, that create our various emotions and reactions. And we talk to ourselves all day long. And sometimes into the night too.
So to examine our happiness invites looking at our thinking. When we look at our thinking, we can see some things.
We can see we spend much of our life “in thought.” We live in the dream of thought, rather like being in our own “movie”. Many of our emotions and moods are given by what we’re playing on the big screen.
Furthermore, we can notice that if we think something, it is totally true for us. We “believe” our thoughts. We rarely question them.
Also, we can see that much of our thinking happens automatically, almost mechanically. Thoughts are not something we are “doing,” but something that seems to be happening to us. In a way, our thoughts are “doing us”.
Lastly, when we watch the chatter in our heads, we can see that it has a certain thrust. Our thinking is full of judgements, problems, likes, dislikes, wants, pictures of how things should or shouldn’t be …
Many of our thoughts seem driven by fears or desires. Things are not quite right yet. They need fixing and improving. Happiness is in the future somewhere.
This is not a prescription for being satisfied.
Yet these understandings about our thinking can empower us.
We can see some of the mischief our thoughts create. We can see that, without awareness, we regularly let ourselves be captured and controlled by thoughts and the emotions, moods, and negative states they cause within us.
Perhaps being happy is actually the skill of dissolving and detaching from unsettling unhappy thoughts. This quieting ourselves leaves us more fully in the present.
There are a few simple actions we can assume to take this on.
First, we must stay awake - remain aware of our thoughts. When we are filled with a stressful feeling of some kind, we can notice and track the thought that produced it.
Second, we can keep in mind that the only way a thought or a series of thoughts can control us is if we give significance to them. If we don’t give a lot of significance to a thought, it has no power to derail us. Thoughts are simply thoughts. They require our consent to give them power.
Understanding the nature of our thinking helps put us in the driver’s seat. When our mind poses worries, hurts, regrets, we can actively observe. Simple watching thought is powerful. There’s nothing more we need do. Observing is detaching.
As we watch, we notice that, if we don’t attach to or energize them, thoughts pass away - as do the experiences our thoughts stir up. We begin to have some mastery in the matter of our thinking.
We learn to let go.
When people learn to live in a peaceful state of mind, they discover that happiness and contentment are independent of circumstances. It’s not that things shouldn’t go “right” – of course that’s best - but things don’t have to go right before we can be happy.
Being aware of thought is the first bold step in looking after our happiness.
Paul Beckow is a certified individual, marriage, and family therapist. If you have a relationship, personal issue or concern, he can be reached by phoning the Victoria Family Institute at 721 2477 or contacted through his web site at www.paulbeckow.com
For personal or couple counselling, for more information, or to register for a course - please contact Paul Beckow at The Victoria Family Institute.