Generally speaking, the majority of people who decide to come see a therapist, do so because they are unhappy with some aspect/s of their lives. Some do so reluctantly, perhaps encouraged by a loved one or by their employer. Some have been in therapy previously, managing a chronic issue; while others simply feel it may be their last option for invoking change.
Although it makes logical sense that one would seek the services of a therapist when they are unhappy, it has been very enlightening to discover how conflicted a client seems when they continue to see a therapist, as they begin to “feel better.” I recently encountered a theme among clients I had been seeing for about six months, ask me if perhaps they were bipolar or experiencing mania. They were feeling happy and felt the need to question it. They were questioning the very mental state of mind they were seeking! “I just don’t understand, I’ve been happy for two weeks straight! Something must be wrong with me!”
Some have learned through personal experience and now some of the top researchers in the field of neuropsychology, are suggesting that happiness is an intentional practice. A practice; not a gift or something one is just lucky enough to have. Happiness is a state of mind that has been shown to be achieved through positive mind/body practices; such as self-awareness, mindfulness meditation and exercise.
What was also interesting about this “enlightenment,” was I realized not one person seemed to question their unhappiness when they first came to see me; in fact, they all shared multiple reasons to support their unhappiness. Yet they readily and without pause, seem to question their happiness. It seemed the more they began to experience a state of happiness on a more regular and consistent basis, the more they doubted it. In their view, nothing significant had changed; they were still living their same lives, with the same jobs, in the same relationships, but yet now, they were feeling happy. They all seemed to overlook the one thing that had changed, their internal practices. The thoughts they gave attention to, the beliefs they identified with and the actions they took, all shifted in support of a practice of happiness and living with integrity and acceptance. The tools they had acquired over the past few months and began to use, also had a direct effect on their nervous system. They were feeling calmer, less anxious. They were experiencing happiness, not because they were pathological, but because they had been practicing it. Their work to change old patterns had begun to take hold and their practice was paying off. This of course, is an important insight into understanding not only how we seem to expect unhappiness, but also how we perceive therapy.
I have come to believe therapy is about learning tools to practice a new set of skills. It is not just about assessing and diagnosing. It is about addressing the whole person, their unique individual approach to understanding themselves and how they interact with the world. Therapy is not just for people whom are experiencing “unhappiness.” It is also for people whom are experiencing happiness and wish to continue to develop a set of adaptable tools they can use, to remain more consistent in their practice and avoid blaming and self-depreciation when their encounter challenging times. This is a passion of mine, to re-educate the way we think about mental health and how we go about managing it. Happiness is a practice, not a privilege. It’s up to all of us to decide whether we wish to question it or practice it.
What step will you take to practice your happiness?