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The Pursuit of Happiness

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It’s not easy to be positive when things aren’t going your way. If you’re feeling under the weather, your job’s getting you down, you’re arguing with your partner or the cost of your MOT’s just cleaned you out until next Christmas nobody could blame you for feeling down. But have you ever stopped to think it might not be the situation itself that’s the problem, but the way you approach it?

In my experience people tend to fall into two main categories. In the first category are those who have a fundamental appreciation that life doesn’t always run smoothly. In the second are those who tend to feel affronted at the very notion things might not pan out as they would wish them to. It doesn’t take a genius to work out which of these two types of people would cope better if life took a turn for the worse.

To give an example (and cite the inspiration for this post), a few days ago I saw an acquaintance post on Facebook that they didn’t know what they had done wrong in life to deserve the run of bad luck they’d had. This jarred with me. Why, I wondered, did they assume they must have done something wrong? Why didn’t they instead realise that in life the rough comes with the smooth? After all, if there was no rough what would we have to compare the smooth to? How would we know that smooth equalled good?

Following on from the above observations I’d hazard a guess that most people, when asked what they want most in life, would put ‘to be happy’ somewhere on the list. And why not have that aspiration? Because, argues Dr Russ Harris in his book, The Happiness Trap, it is often the pursuit of happiness itself that makes us miserable. Based on the principles of a new mindfulness-based model known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), the book attempts to help the reader accept what is out of their personal control, rather than employing exhausting and ultimately ineffective control strategies to suppress the feelings that negative events instil in them.

ACT breaks mindfulness into three categories; defusion, acceptance and contact with the present moment. Defusion is the letting go of unhelpful thoughts, beliefs or memories. Acceptance is making room for painful feelings and letting them come and go without a struggle. Contact with the present moment is, quite simply, learning to engage fully with the here and now.

In his book, Stumbling on Happiness, Professor Daniel Gilbert takes a more scientific approach to the study of happiness, postulating that the human brain is so preoccupied with the present that it often fails to correctly imagine the future. This, he claims, results in the overestimation of almost every life event. When we worry about how something will pan out, therefore, we are effectively wasting a lot of energy. In other words, we are trying to please our future selves at the expense of the ones that live in the present. Not very clever, is it? By helping us to understand errors in our own mental forecasting Gilbert brings us a step closer to true happiness, in the here and now.

So next time you catch yourself burying a painful emotion to get back to your perceived state of ‘happiness,’ or imagining the finer details of a future event, remember that to achieve true happiness you might be better off letting the emotions wash over you and trying to be fully present in the moment.

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About Belle365

Hi, I’m Belle. Thanks for stopping by. Here's a list of ten things about me: 1. I want to write, but rarely do it. This tortures me daily, and, unless I seek to remedy it by writing more often, will continue to torture me until my dying day. 2. I worry: about hate, about greed, about selfishness, about the state of the world my (God willing) children will inherit. I worry about what people think of me. I worry that this makes me shallow. I worry about things happening to my loved ones. I worry how I would cope. I worry that this makes me selfish. I worry that worrying will send me to an early grave. But I'm so good at worrying that I also wonder what I would do if I wasn't worrying. Probably more writing (see point 1)....Oh. 3. I see myself as two people (though, as far as I am aware, I am not technically schizophrenic): a) the fancy dress loving party girl, who loves nothing more than having fun with her friends, because she has seen through her own experiences that life is short, so why not enjoy the ride? b) the more serious and reflective person who wants to learn and to help people and to find her higher purpose (I suspect it is also she who really, really wants to write). Sometimes these sides are conflicting. Fortunately they are in total agreement when it comes to chocolate, red wine and travel. 4. I don't see myself as an ardent feminist, but the older I get the more frustrated I feel by the societal view of women and ageing. Having just hit the metabolically displeasing age of 35 (now officially past it according to the massive wankflap that is Donald Trump, as well as virtually every media outlet on the planet, whether they overtly state it or not) I hate the fact I am made (and have let myself be manipulated) to feel that my fertility is now teetering on the edge of a clifftop free fall, and that even if I do negotiate this rocky march towards infertility and manage a miracle procreation, my usefulness as a financially solvent career woman will be over, seeing as having a baby in your mid to late thirties is pretty much akin to career suicide. It's enough to make you want to drown yourself in a vat of wine (hence why I often don a wig and do just that - see point 3a). 5. The older I get, the more I realise that you are never too old to love drum and bass (whether you are ever too old to publicly dance to drum and bass is an issue I am currently grappling with). Ditto UK garage. I will never be ashamed of these two great loves. Never. 6. Speaking of great loves, I have two: my husband, who (sickening as it is) completes me, and Leonardo DiCaprio, whom I have loved since I first laid eyes on him as Romeo to Kate Winslet's Juliet, and will love until my dying day (likewise the husband, all being well). As much as I like Kate Winslet, I will never forgive her for leaving him on that door. There was definitely room for two. 7. I am riddled with self doubt, and have a serious case of imposter syndrome, particularly in relation to my fourteen year communications career. I have never understood how anyone could deem me capable of running their campaigns. The lack of complaints would suggest I haven't made a total balls up of it so far. But there's still time. 8. Infinity and death frighten me senseless. I can't even talk about the universe without breaking into a sweat. I need to believe in life after death because death CANNOT be the end. I should probably have some (more) counselling to address these issues. 9. If procrastination were an Olympic sport, I would win Gold, Silver and Bronze (to give an example, I sat down an hour ago to work on my new novel, and instead have been updating this bio. I refer you to point 1. Sigh). 10. I make more lists than Buzzfeed. When I die, besides having Oasis's Champagne Supernova played at my funeral (deep breaths - see point 8), I should probably have a To Do list inscribed on my headstone for when I reach the other side...

One comment on “The Pursuit of Happiness

  1. Pingback: Putting theory into practice | Belle 365

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This entry was posted on January 29, 2013 by in Bea Spiritual, Bea Yourself and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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