We’re really good at going all Indiana Jones on our own suffering
We’ll dig for months to pry out the reason for that prickle of anxiety or spike of sadness… (and that’s assuming we’ve moved past the “why did I do that dumb thing” into “oh. I feel that annoying thing again” which takes a lot of work in and of itself.)
The specificity principle dictates that we get better at what we do. And since 2000, I’ve done <insert insane number I’ve lost track of> hours of cognitive behavioral therapy, which provides an introspective look at personal behavior patterns and why they arise. I have a box of journals that range from daily diary to a deep dive into my own sensations, emotions and rather endearing sense of sarcasm. I’ve been actively learning and practicing mindful awareness for almost 10 years, and I meditate relatively regularly. I’ll laugh at myself reading this in five years, but I’m currently convinced I have some decent awareness around my shadow behaviors and hilariously convoluted emotional landscape.
I’m guessing it’s not just me that’s spent countless hours and dollars on their own pain.
It seems like a pretty widespread thing, this attention to suffering and reactions to it.
Social media teaches us to pay attention to our own shortcomings as athletes, parents and partners. We bond with others in the nearly unbelievable levels of tragedy broadcast on a daily basis. Our culture glorifies and sanctifies too busy/too stressed/ too tired as a status symbol. The counter culture offers a cure by a panacea of self-care disciplines. And In the self-development and “victory through struggle” culture, we get off on overcoming adversity and identifying our own neurosis so that we can learn from and share our inward journey. <stares at self in mirror>
Bleak truth: lots of us are good at being miserable and a lucky few of us have figured out how to be at peace with the hard truths of our shit.
But how often do we practice…REALLY practice… the skill of delving into and exploring our own joy and happiness?
I’ve been – honestly – incredibly happy lately. More and more moments of pure well being strike me out of nowhere, and my heart settles in a little more deeply to this beautiful life. But I’ve been glancing at those moments, giving them a quick nod of the head, and returning to the grueling work of figuring out why I’m not MORE happy MORE of the time. I have learned to make friends with my darkest teachers, but haven’t bothered to get to know the intricacies of the light. I would assume though, that since it’s a skill to stare down negative reactions and behaviors, that the principle specificity applies to figuring out your chain reactions as they relate to that feeling that for a brief second, unicorns exist and you ARE, in fact, Beyonce.
I got turned onto this little gap in my experiential work by Hardwiring Happiness, by Rick Hanson. This super short, easy-to-read science bomb walks through our bias toward noticing and reacting to negative environmental stimulus, then offers very simple ways to change the bias toward positive environmental factors. As a strength coach working in the neurology of threat and how it affects chronic pain and athletic performance, I about peed myself reading this book because it applied everything I knew about how brains effect bodies to how brains effect brains.
The tiny habit that Rick suggests as a starting point: noticing when you’re happy and staying with it for 12 seconds…
I digress, but look at this for a second: When was the last time you only stayed with your sadness or hopelessness for 12 seconds? When was the last time you stayed with feeling on top of the world for more than five seconds? (We love to a: wallow in our piteous, validated misery and/or b: skip ahead! Look for either the things destined to destroy our newfound fun or – ironically – something EVEN HAPPIER because this shit isn’t enough.)
But have you ever asked yourself in a moment of joy: What does this joy feel like? What is inside the joy I’m experiencing right now?
I tried it. It was terrifying. I was worrying that if I look closely or question my happiness that it would – like that unicorn – not actually be a thing! (Brene Brown calls this “foreboding joy.” OH SHIT. I’m happy! What if it goes away? aaaaaand we’re back to the suffering.)
So. More on this as it keeps evolving. But:
I’m practicing. Looking at the comfort inside a really good hug. “Oh. This feels really safe and wonderful. I wonder what’s under that sense of safety? Huh. I’m just really enjoying this right now.”
If you wanna practice too, hop on Instagram and tag me with your #momentsofjoy. Good talk. Go do good things in the world.