Practicing happiness 19

Nothing is more important than that I feel good.

It’s easy to say, but takes some work to really internalise this principle. I don’t think I’m there yet, but I’m learning more each day.

I’m learning that “good” isn’t always within reach. In which case aim for “better” or “less bad”.

If you’ve suffered chronic anxiety and depression with underlying complex trauma you’re probably going to need to aim for “less bad” for a while.

Still it’s a useful question: is there anything more important than me feeling good right now?

Well yeah: looking after the kids. Helping out my wife. Doing work. Running errands. All of those are more important than how I feel. They need to get done, and if I fail to do them I’m basically failing as a human being.

See? I told you it was a useful question.

Having beliefs like that explains why you don’t feel good. And that’s another useful measure: if I don’t feel good, I probably (definitely?) don’t actually believe there’s nothing more important than me feeling good.

I can easily say “nothing is more important than that I feel good” but that’s not what I really think.

So how can I close that gap?

Because if I really think that, I’m much more likely to act in accordance with it. And before I even act in accordance with it I’m going to feel tuned into it. That thought is going to orient my whole approach to life and help me create a reality that feels good to me.

And obviously that’s going to include things I want, like my kids being happy and healthy and a good relationship with my wife and enjoyable fulfilling work and everything in life unfolding in satisfying ways.

But in the meantime how do I close the gap?

I think the general direction is to act according to the thought, even if I haven’t fully accepted it or still hold contradictory thoughts.

If I start acting as though I really believe nothing is more important than that I feel good, I will add momentum to that thought.

At the same time I might start to notice I have false premises or resistance on some issues. For example: why do I think some important activities (like looking after my kids) are not compatible with feeling good?

Surely there are ways of doing that (housework, study, work, family duties) that are compatible with feeling good?

I’ve accomplished this before on the subject of cleaning my kitchen: I went from feeling resentful that I am forever cleaning my kitchen, to feeling really good about having a beautiful, tidy, clean kitchen – while allowing that it doesn’t have to always be in that state.

That proves it’s possible to change perspective, to find a way to feel good, and that means I really can believe that nothing is more important than that I feel good.

Can everyday life be joyful?

I was taught as a child that I could only relax when all my work was done for the day.

I was taught by example that everyday life is full of unwanted chores that you put off as long as possible until you can no longer ignore them.

I learned that it was impossible to feel good so long as these chores awaited you; and yet they were endless.

On my own I concluded that there was no joy in this kind of life. But at the same time I accepted this “daily grind” as reality, something that had to be escaped or overcome.

This is my resistance to everyday joy

In order to find joy in everyday life I must let go of these beliefs. Yet when I do, I face the underlying thought that these chores must get done, and by refusing to shoulder the burden I am being lazy, selfish, and inflicting harm on others.

If joy comes, I can’t accept it unless all my “work” is done. And my work will never be done – it restarts each day and some of it carries over.

So joy is simply not compatible with everyday life, unless my circumstances change somehow.

First change your thoughts

I’ve been working for two years at learning to feel better, so I know already that changing my thoughts is more powerful than trying to change my circumstances.

So what thoughts can I change to feel better and let go of my resistance?

I’ve already shown myself twice before that supposed burdens can be transformed if I look instead for what I want, what I appreciate.

For example, instead of thinking that the dishes have to get done and no one else is going to do them, I started to think about how much I love a clean and tidy kitchen. If I then choose to clean, it’s for the sake of something I love and appreciate, rather than a burden I must bear or else be labelled lazy, selfish and somehow morally deficient.

Another recent example was getting my 1yo daughter to sleep. For a year I could only think of it as something necessary, regardless of how difficult or burdensome it might be. I was the only one who could rock her to sleep, so it was up to me to shoulder that burden or else be totally irresponsible, selfish, and a bad parent.

What changed was that I found a thought that felt good: I’d love for her to learn to soothe herself to sleep. I was able to set aside my resistance for the sake of this positive goal, and help her learn to soothe herself.

Extrapolating to everyday life

The stuff of everyday life can be transformed if I allow myself to find positive thoughts instead of old patterns that feel burdensome and self-accusatory.

Starting at the beginning of the day, my morning routine can be because I love getting up early, feeling clean and refreshed, and enjoying my coffee, rather than the burden of being up early enough to get everything done.

I can enjoy my kids’ company early in the morning, and get my son ready for school because I want him to feel secure and safe and cared for, and to learn by example how to care for himself.

I can enjoy the walk to school because it’s lovely to be outside for some exercise with my kids, stretch our legs and get some fresh morning air.

I can enjoy taking my son to school because I want him to enjoy learning and interacting with others and working out his own preferences in life.

I can come home and enjoy relaxing in my home with my wife and daughter. I can write blog posts that inspire me and work on articles that feel good. I can do research into things that interest me and work out my own preferences and where I’d like to go next.

I can tidy the house – if I want to – because I love having a clean and tidy home. It’s not a burden that must be shouldered, it’s not something for which I am judged and criticised. I love the feeling of a clean and tidy home, but it’s okay for it to not be clean and tidy. And it’s okay to let my wife tidy if she wants to.

I can plan dinner because I love our evening meal together. I love cooking for my wife and kids. I love their enjoyment of my food. But it’s also okay to let my wife cook if she feels like it. And its okay to get take-out occasionally too.

I can pick up my son after school because I love being there for him, to hear about his day and how he feels, to say hello to some friends and bring him back home. But I can also let my wife do it sometimes if she wants to.

And the evening together can be a time when we enjoy watching things together, playing games together, reading stories together. It can be a time for fun and enjoyment rather than the last hours of burden and work.

Finally, we can put the kids to bed and get some sleep ourselves, not because we are worried about tomorrow’s burdens, but because sleep is so good for body, mind, and spirit. Sleep is true rest and it’s something we can love and enjoy for itself.

Letting go of old resistance

I can retell the story of my day and like a miracle transform endless burdens into continual joy.

I can gently remind myself as often as necessary that these daily activities are only as burdensome or routine as I make them out to be in my thoughts.

I live and work and think and play and sleep at home. I’m home so much, it’s time to let home be the place of joy and love and happiness I’ve always wanted it to be.

I want my everyday life to be joyful, and I think I know now how it can be.