Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Waiting until it is safe to feel happy...

A client in my office recently said, “I want to say that I am happy in my life, but I'm afraid that if I say that, then I'll be inviting trouble.” I have heard this—and said it myself—enough to know that my client is not alone in this thinking. Many of us have been taught or conditioned not to allow ourselves to feel happy for fear that the very act of feeling happiness will cause bad luck.

Are you keeping yourself from experiencing the full happiness of the moment, for fear that acknowledging it will jinx it? Not only is this what therapists call “magical thinking,” it is also a self-defeating way of managing our emotions: This belief prevents us from experiencing our happiness in the moment, keeping us waiting for a future time when it is safe and OK to feel happy.

Of course, there may not be any such future time, as our human lives and all the constructs of human lives are finite. There may not be a better time to enjoy your relationship, or to feel satisfied in your job. So, instead of allowing ourselves to be happy, or to feel satisfied, we dwell in the anxiety of not knowing if it is safe for us to feel good. The great irony is that our circumstance will certainly change, and there will be a time when we are not able to enjoy the life that surrounds us. And rather than enjoying what we had when we could, we borrowed from our future discontent.

In essence, we are waiting until we have permission to be happy. And, because we are conditioned to believe that the here-and-now is not the place for happiness, we will never be in a place where it is safe to feel happy. Each time something comes into our lives that we would be happy about, we will instead minimize it, refuse it, and worry that actually being happy would be back luck.

I remember asking that client, "What permission are you waiting for? What holds you back from feeling good, happy, in the moment?" I think that applies to many of us beyond the therapy room as well. I would invite you to try and recognize this pattern when it comes up for you, and to allow yourself to be happy in the moment.

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