Practicing happiness 24

“If you are disallowing happiness you are disallowing everything you believe will make you happy.” – Abraham-Hicks

Even if you know that core beliefs based on childhood experiences are the root of your problems, still it’s not a good idea to make your work about digging them all up.

Rather, if your work is just intending to feel better those core beliefs will come up when you are ready to face them, and you’ll only face those which are actual obstacles to better feeling.

As you intend feeling better you’ll probably notice it working immediately, but after some time and distractions you’ll find yourself feeling bad again, or bored, or in some situation you don’t like.

This is contrast coming up to help you let go of your resistance. All you have to do is intend to feel better in the midst of whatever you are experiencing, and trust that this approach is enough.

It probably won’t seem like enough, but that’s just resistance making you impatient or feeling like you need “more” to really change your life.

But all of that – impatience, boredom, frustration, yearning for change – will eventually be shown to originate in your deepest resistance and loss of alignment.

Alignment is satisfaction, security, and sufficiency. It won’t be immediately apparent but by accepting the intent to feel better as enough for you moment by moment, you are retraining yourself to allow satisfaction, security and sufficiency into your experience.

That’s what the quote at the beginning of this post is all about. If you aren’t happy and you’re finding fault in your experience of life, it’s all because you are disallowing happiness, possibly at a very deep level or from a very early point in your beliefs.

That doesn’t mean you need to go find those beliefs and change them. If you haven’t practiced feeling better you won’t be able to change them. You need to strengthen the attitude of feeling better and letting it be enough, and that itself will become the foundation of your new beliefs.

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How to…

Change of pace: I want to share something that is working really well for me.

Is there one thing in your life you reliably and consistently turn to and feel good about? Would you like to extend that good feeling to other aspects of life?

That’s what I’m working on now.

1. Identify something in your life that feels reliably good. Watching series, playing music, drinking a glass of wine after a long day at work, playing sport, whatever works for you.

2. Recognise that when you feel good it’s not the thing making you feel good, it’s how you’re managing your thoughts/vibration.

3. Examine how you’re doing that. When I have a glass of wine in the evening I have an expectation that it will be a relaxing and enjoyable way to unwind. I also have a strong intention that I will enjoy it and not let anything interrupt my enjoyment. Finally, I unconsciously choose thoughts and points of focus that match my intention.

I don’t pour the wine and then get distracted. I don’t pour the wine and think about the worst things that come to mind. I don’t pour the wine and let people interrupt me. I dont pour the wine and start criticising the wine quality.

No, I’ve learned how to enjoy wine-time and it has very clear albeit unconscious parameters.

4. Understand that it’s not the wine that creates this experience, it’s you.

5. Consider your expectations, intentions and choices at other times when you don’t feel so good. Household chores, study or work, certain social interactions…what are your expectations, intentions and choices in those situations?

The fact is that you have the same ability to use your expectations and intentions to steer all your experiences, and the same ability to choose your thoughts and words with care, opting for better feeling ones all the way.

Imagine if you could have that wonderful relaxed and easy feeling all the time…not by drinking wine all the time obviously, but by learning from your good experiences and the powerful skills you unwittingly deploy.

This isn’t about trying to put a “happy face sticker” over your bad feelings. It may not work for you, it may require other elements I’m not fully conscious of. But for me it is a very clear “aha!” moment of knowing full-well that I am already creating my experience in one set of circumstances, and why not extend that creation into others?

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Your aim should be to feel good.

If you can’t feel good, feel better.

If you can’t feel better, feel less bad.

If you can’t feel less bad, at least don’t feel worse.

If you can’t not feel worse, at least only feel a little bit worse.

If you can’t do any of these, at least appreciate that you know you’re not doing any of them!

Even the smallest shift changes your momentum.

Make the smallest shift, and tomorrow you can start afresh.

You’ll get there. Even if there’s some turbulence you’ll definitely get there.

Take these small steps and honestly you can’t help but get there.

Take these small steps and you can’t avoid getting there.

It’s all these tiny shifts in feeling that add up, free things up, and bring you lasting relief.

Just don’t give up, and be gentle on yourself when it seems like you’ve failed. You can’t fail. And no one else can tell you the magnitude of your challenge so don’t compare yourself to others or apologise for lack of progress.

F*** it all and just feel better (less bad, not as worse, etc).

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The answers come when you surpass them.

When you feel good, answers come without effort.

Last night I managed to feel better by letting go of my old internal struggle, and within minutes I discovered something remarkable.

If you’ve been following my blog you’ll know I’ve been obsessed with mysticism for more than twenty years, and in the past week or so I’ve been writing about disorganised attachment.

So imagine how I felt when I came across this study into mystical experiences among people with disorganised attachment.

The paper argues that people with disorganised attachment have a propensity for mystical experiences due to trait absorption.

I just found my deeply personal lifelong efforts to transcend the paradoxical injunction of disorganised attachment written up in a Swedish psychology paper.

The authors are at pains to say this doesn’t delegitimise mystical experiences, in fact they argue it may be a worthy therapeutic goal.

For me it validates my deeply felt need for transcendence, and at the same time it helps me release that need a little.

Once again I credit my persistent work at feeling better for this insight. I can enjoy the insight because I feel better, not the other way around.

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When you feel like crap “just feel better” is the most unhelpful-sounding advice. After all, there are reasons why you feel bad right now, it’s not simply a choice, right?

Well that’s true: it’s not simply a choice; it’s also a practiced habit. That’s why feeling bad comes easier than feeling better, at first.

As I’m learning about attachment theory, I can see how feeling better is like a child turning to his or her parent or caregiver for security, comfort, reassurance and affection.

Perhaps the sense that feeling better is trivial or not enough is related to our attachment style? If we never learned to find genuine security and comfort with a parent or caregiver then we implicitly never learned to value simply feeling better when we feel bad.

Bitter self-reliance

For me the inability to find reliable security and comfort in my attachments led to a kind of resignation towards suffering, and self-reliance in seeking to avoid future suffering.

That’s why “feel better” seems insufficient to me…I never learned how. Ingrained in my childhood was more of a “endure until it goes away” approach to suffering, followed by an intense search for deeper answers that promised to help me “overcome” suffering forever.

And that pattern has helped shape my life. Alongside my perennial search for “answers”, I’ve done my best to avoid suffering as much as possible while also silently enduring whatever conditions I consider unavoidable.

Securely feeling better

That’s why feeling better is ultimately such a powerful thing to learn and practice especially when I feel like it’s “not enough”.

Every moment of intentionally feeling better is retraining my mind and body into a completely new pattern capable of maintaining equilibrium and balance.

Imagine what a difference that makes, to go from an attitude where suffering is inevitable (and can only be overcome through extreme effort) to one where suffering can be quickly and effectively neutralised and soothed, and the opposite – genuine good feeling – can be developed and grow.

That’s why those moments where I feel bad, and feeling better seems insufficient, are the most valuable moments to practice.

Practicing happiness 03

You can’t get ahead of where you are.

I used to be so impatient. If someone told me to take a walk each morning I’d refuse just because it didn’t sound like enough.

I’ve learned that a morning walk improves my whole day, but I arrived there so reluctantly!

I’d think “what’s the point? It might feel better, but that’s not enough. It’s pointless, it doesn’t change anything. I need something inspiring, something game-changing!

My old attitude would see me reject modest improvements because they were modest; but the dramatic changes were just too big.

It was a catch-22: I wanted something so huge that it would change my life. But something so huge was, by definition, out of reach.

Instead of walking around the block each morning, I wanted to climb mountains.

That’s what feeling better is. Just feeling better is a modest step that improves everything. It’s achievable because it’s so modest.

I wasn’t satisfied with such a modest step. I wanted to feel amazing. I wanted to feel great. And I wanted life to shore me up with circumstances that would make me feel that way.

That yearning still comes up, but I’m better at seeing through it now. It’s a false promise that anything can feel better than simply choosing to feel better. It’s just like refusing to walk the block because I’d rather do something more challenging.

The only reason I desire anything in life is because I believe it will make me feel good when I have it. But feeling better is a step-by-step path to genuinely feeling as good as I can feel in this moment, and doing so in a reliable, practiced, sustainable way.

“If you want to make God laugh…”

I really hate the saying “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans”.

Maybe it’s a melancholic thing, but like the idea that “God is testing you”, I feel it places thoroughly unlikable anthropomorphic qualities on what is, for me, sacred.

“God is laughing at you while you’re doing your best” is how I take it. And by implication, the person who kindly shares this nugget of wisdom is taking some vicarious pleasure in God’s wry view of your struggles.

And as for “God is testing you”, try: “God isn’t sure about you, so he’s giving you an arbitrary kick in the guts just to see how you take it.”

Nope.

Some people might get a kick out of that (I’m told some Cholerics love to feel they’re rising to a challenge) but for a melancholic, arbitrary changes in the game do not go down so well.

If God is testing me, then he’s always testing me. If God is blessing me, then he’s always blessing me.

For some people the path is straight and narrow, and for others the burden has to be light and the way easy.

But that’s not really what this post is about. Plans, yes. Theology, no.

We’ll leave that topic with the observation that the original Yiddish is more succinct, and more importantly it rhymes:

Der mentsh trakht un Got lakht

Which apparently means “man thinks, God laughs”.

Why does God laugh? Better to ask why we need to be told that God laughs.

We need to be told, because we often find that our plans go awry, and our thoughts betray us.

Since I’m working on “positive thinking” at the moment, I thought I’d take a closer look at the relationship between desires and conditions, and how the former makes us feel good, while the latter makes us feel bad.

Desires make you feel good, conditions make you feel bad.

I’ve been following a forum where people are discussing positive thinking material, and what often happens is that people join up with a desire that they want fulfilled, something they describe as a deep yearning and source of joy, yet at the same time an obvious source of misery.

What’s going on in these people (and in most of us) is that they’ve identified something they want, desire, or prefer, and this naturally makes them feel good at the thought of it.

But we tend not to stop there. We tend to include in that desire or preference other conditions. We set conditions in part because we think “this is how the world works”, but moreso because the conditions tend to deflate and diminish our desire until it matches how we already feel.

For example, if I’m miserable living in a small house, I’d understandably have a corresponding positive desire for a bigger house to live in.

This desire is a good thing, and it should be a source of inspiration, hopefulness, and enjoyment. I can feel good thinking about a bigger house even though my house is still small.

However, since I’m already feeling miserable in my small house, this implies I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on things that make me feel bad.

Maybe I spend ten or so minutes each day shaking my head in frustration at lack of space, or thinking in disappointment of all the things I can’t do due to space constraints.

It’s not easy to practice feeling frustrated and disappointed, and then practice feeling inspiration, hope and enjoyment.

That’s why I’ll most likely view my desire for a bigger house through the lens of my negative thoughts and feelings about my current circumstances.

Instead of feeling good about the thing I desire – a bigger house – I’ll find a way to feel bad about it. I’ll turn it into “the bigger house I can’t afford”, or “the bigger house I need right now” or “the bigger house in the right suburb”.

It might seem like I’m being realistic in my desires, or more specific, but in fact I’m adding conditions to what I desire in order to make me feel worse about it; in order to resist it.

Thinking about a bigger house feels good, because it is a naturally arising desire or preference brought about in response to my present situation.

Thinking about the associated conditions feels bad, and is in fact totally unnecessary.

How to separate desires from conditions

The way to separate desires or preferences from the conditions we impose on them is to work out what you really want and why you want it.

It’s amazing how far we can delude ourselves about what we really want.

According to the positive thinking material, we only ever want anything because we think it will make us feel better. So as a reductionist answer we could say that all we really want is to feel better, and if setting conditions makes us feel worse, we should stop doing that.

But we can also use this “feeling better” idea to understand what aspects of our desired outcomes are real, and what aspects are false conditions we’ve imposed.

So for example, what is it about a bigger house that will make me feel better?

Is it really just about space?

Unlikely, because even in our very small house we haven’t made efficient use of the available space!

In fact there are a number of little themes tied in to it.

Feelings of ease, of being settled, of having “made it”, of having something to show for oneself, of being more hospitable, of being able to explore various skills and hobbies, of having more beautiful surroundings to relax in, of being able to build fun things…

So the actual desire is not as straightforward as it seemed. It seems that only a fraction of it is about a house per se, and much more of it is about how I see myself or how others might see me.

Why your current situation is ‘perfect’

Ironically, the desire for a house turned out to be partly a genuine desire, and partly a condition set for other, unrelated, desires.

For example, I might want to be more hospitable, but being a disorganised person living in a small house means I’ll either have to do a lot of tidying every time people come over, or learn not to care about having a messy house.

More directly, is there really any reason I can’t feel “settled” now, regardless of the size of our house? Why does “settled” mean “unmoving”? Plenty of people move house numerous times in their lives and it never stops them feeling “settled”.

The same goes for feeling at ease, feeling like I’ve “made it” (what does that even mean to me?), and feeling like I have something to show for myself.

The truth is that these are things you can feel already. They’re actually not related to objective outcomes like home-ownership. They’re subjective, and we decide for ourselves the conditions we put on them.

And the irony is that if you don’t let yourself feel any accomplishment at your minor achievements, you’ll probably never let yourself achieve something “major” by your own estimation.

If you reject here and now subjective feelings of ease, being settled, or feeling comfortable with your own choices and accomplishments, then you will definitely sabotage any attempts to really “earn” those feelings.

Because the feelings can’t be earned. They come easily and naturally for people who aren’t hung up about them…just like the other things that come easily and naturally to you, the things you likely take for granted even though others struggle with them.

The truth is that your current situation is ‘perfect’, because it matches how you feel about yourself already.

The conditions you set upon your desires are ways of stopping you from achieving them…you make your desires “impossible” or “unlikely” or “out of reach” because you’ve already decided that the corresponding good feelings are out of reach for you.

So work out what you really want, and why you want it. Look at how you really want to feel, and see that you can feel most – if not all – of it right now, without regard for the conditions you tried to set for feeling good.