The journey to happiness
Our days are inundated with messages telling us to “be positive” and how to “be happy.” They make it sound like a light switch you can quickly turn on, and that’s all that is needed. But let’s be honest, this marketing plays on our desires designed to sell us something. We spend a lot of time striving for happiness; we are ultimately looking for it in every choice we make and every dream we have. This search for happiness comes in many forms. We strive to feel secure, be recognized as somebody of value, enjoy life, love, and have knowledge. All of this work ultimately to feel happy.
Have we ever stopped to ask, is being happy all the time realistic? If we are trying to be happy all the time, could we be missing something even better?
Here we are trying to be happy all the time, and it is likely that, as a result, is another emotion. Somewhere in our history, as human beings, we decided that there are good emotions like happiness and love and bad ones, like anger and envy, which left us expecting ourselves to experience as many good emotions as we can and not to experience the “bad” ones.
Have you noticed there is a lot of irony in being human? When someone tries to force us to question our reality, we call that gaslighting. But when we do it to ourselves, it is called reframing, finding the positive or gratitude. So, what if feeling our actual emotions was always the goal, and we have just lost our way? In all due seriousness, why the heck would we have so many available emotions if we should only feel one? What if what we have needed all along is emotional resilience?
If we burn our hands, we feel pain, and our bodies will instinctively move our hands to safety. Our body tells us that our body is in danger and acts to protect us. Yet when we feel fear, an emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain or a threat, we expect ourselves to push through. The physical sensation and the emotion are both designed to protect us, yet we have never pushed through and caused more burns. So why do we do it with our emotions?
Much like the example of your hand in the fire, your emotions are a message from your body and mind. The value of that message can only be heard when we listen and allow ourselves to embody our experience. The best part is that listening can happen simply by stopping and listening. Sound too simple? Well, it isn’t; you see, we are inundated with messages and distractions all day. Our phones, Netflix even our music are designed to draw us in. So how do we turn them away and start looking in?
For me, this starts with curiosity; it is so easy to assume we know why or how we feel something. I mean, we have been living with ourselves for how long now? Of course, we know immediately why we are angry, right? If that feels true, you have never faced a moment in the middle of an argument when you can’t even remember why you are fighting. Or you’ve never been experienced being suddenly angry or sad but didn’t understand why.
Instead of knowing, I am listening. What do I feel in my body? Where do I feel it? What thoughts am I experiencing? Do I notice any emotions? What are they? Is there an underlying emotion?
Can Feeling Our Emotions Lead To Happiness?
So, now what? How can feeling emotions other than happiness lead to being happier? To understand this, we have to go back to why our body is feeling the emotion in the first place. All emotions are a reaction to either an internal or external trigger. If your loved one brings you a cup of coffee in the morning, you may feel loved, happy, or grateful. If you witness someone hurting, you may feel sadness, grief, or agony. In both examples, the emotion is a reaction to the trigger.
Ignoring these messages does not make them go away. Try as we may, gaslighting ourselves doesn’t change what we are triggered by, and it may make it worse as we are now facing the reaction to the gaslighting. I’m also not suggesting we drown in our emotions either. I am saying that we need to develop our ability to embody ALL of our emotions with self-compassion and be responsible for their impact.
So how can emotional range and self-regulation lead to being happier? The answer is that our emotions were always a message for us to hear. It reminds us to enjoy something or a reminder to support ourselves through an experience that requires coping. In both cases, our emotions help us meet our needs, which is an essential ingredient in feeling happy.
Want some help in learning to discern your emotions and learn to care for them? Look no further than this book by Brené Brown.
In Atlas of the Heart, Brown takes us on a journey through eighty-seven of the emotions and experiences that define what it means to be human. As she maps the necessary skills and an actionable framework for meaningful connection, she gives us the language and tools to access a universe of new choices and second chances—a universe where we can share and steward the stories of our bravest and most heartbreaking moments with one another in a way that builds connection.
Brown shares, “I want this book to be an atlas for all of us, because I believe that, with an adventurous heart and the right maps, we can travel anywhere and never fear losing ourselves.”
No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinicians.