So, are you unhappy? Frankly, who cares? Who cares whether you're happy or not? You do? Then why don't you just get over it and do something? This may seem insensitive or uncaring to some. Actually, I do care and I'm quite sensitive. I've just found over the past couple of decades working with people, that buying into individual tales of difficulty and challenges only serves to add to the burden of overcoming life's obstacles and improving one's experience of well being.
So, let me start with who cares whether you're unhappy? Maybe you do. I say maybe, because I have met so many people who are of the mindset, "life's a bitch and then you die." Not only is that person doomed by their own consciousness (we do seem to get what we focus on), but the rest of us who interact with this person also get to "benefit" from their "life sucks" mentality. Hang around with enough people with this kind of mindset, and you just may start the downward slide right along with them. Pretty soon, you may be a candidate for membership in the "ain't it awful club." These folks seem to revel in one downsmanship - you-think-that's-bad-wait-until-you-here-this-one kind of thinking. Or, "been down so long, looks like up to me" also comes to mind.
Are You Dwelling in Your Own Negativity?
If you dwell enough on the negativity of a circumstance, you will pretty soon start producing an increasingly negative experience to go along with the negative circumstance. And the more you dwell in the negativity, the less likely you are to even perceive an opportunity to make a different choice, much less act on it. Kind of - why bother?
Many people are unhappy these days. Not sure if that comes as any big surprise, or if it's really all that different from days gone by. Maybe people were just as unhappy before the most recent recession, but with more cash in the bank and inflated home values back then, people may have been simply "happy" to make do while continuing to make the sacrifices they hoped would make them happier some day later.
Is Today the "Secret" to Changing Your Circumstance?
Many are now discovering that this "life-will-be-better-later" thinking is not only not true, but wasteful of the only opportunity you will ever have. The only time you will ever get to experience happiness, fulfillment or meaning is right here, right now. Today. Not tomorrow - it hasn't happened yet. That doesn't mean that you might not experience happiness, fulfillment or meaning tomorrow - just that we'll have to wait and see what choices you make when tomorrow arrives. Not yesterday, or some other time in the past - it's over, done with, gone. You aren't going to be able to do anything about what happened, except to make new choices today that might have a better chance of working for you. That leaves today. The Present. The Here and Now. This is the only opportunity you will ever have to make choices that impact your experience of happiness, fulfillment or meaning. Happiness, fulfillment and meaning are experiences you have in the moment, in the now - not when you are focused on the past or the future. Sure, you can make choices that influence the future, or perhaps correct past errors, but those choices also have great impact on what you are experiencing right here, right now.
You may have heard the old cliché about "life is a journey, not a destination." Indeed, the focus here is more on the quality of experience you have as you go through life than it is on any physical or material scorecard. However, I am also of the mind that you can have a measure of both - quality, fulfilling, enriching life experience coupled with the ability to create more of what you seek in the physical world as well.
You could start today, right now even, by asking yourself what are you currently experiencing? Not necessarily what you are doing, but how you are experiencing yourself while you are doing something. You could be at work, performing chores, or engaged in some other kind of activity that is less than your favorite. Without changing a thing in terms of what you are working on, could you change something inside yourself in terms of how you are approaching the task at hand. Yes, this is a little bit like choosing a different attitude. Perhaps all it takes is to choose to notice what you are doing in a different light: how is my experience of life impacted by the choices I make; or by the outcomes I focus upon; or by what I tell myself about what's happening around me?
So, What Can I Do?
The question becomes: how do I experience happiness, joy, fulfillment, or well-being in the midst of what might otherwise appear to be difficult, trying circumstances. That's why I started this series earlier this summer with a question: What Do You Want Out of Life, Really? and followed it up with 3 Keys to Finding Your Source of Inspiration. That led to a series of articles about women and their apparently declining levels of happiness, at least according to your neighborhood pollsters.
Perhaps you are currently living an uninspired, or at least under-inspired life. Dictionary.com defines uninspired as "having no intellectual, emotional, or spiritual excitement; dull."
That doesn't sound like much fun, now does it? They go on to define uninspiring as "depressing to the spirit."
I have certainly worked with a number of people over the years who lack much excitement or enthusiasm in their lives, people who are leading lives that are, indeed, depressing to their own spirit. If you are finding yourself in that depressing experience right now, what is it that you are focusing on that creates the experience of depression? Are you in some version of complaint (ain't it awful) or hopelessness (been down so long looks like up to me)?
How could you begin to change your experience, even if the circumstances aren't going to change any time soon? Or at least, apparently not any time soon? There are multiple steps necessary to begin the process of change. The first is to get yourself into Now - the reality of what's present. Notice I didn't say you had to like it, just get here. Then you need to move into acceptance (our focus for next week) - again not liking it, just accepting it. From there, moving to a positive focus (not some dumb form of positive thinking that pretends everything is cool), just a positive focus on how you would like your experience to change. That will lead to positive actions, and with a few more keys, a set of improved experiences, and, perhaps, even a set of improved circumstances.
Of course, you could also be doing just fine in your life and still be open to things going even better. Contrary to much of western thinking, you don't have to be sick to get better. Your life can be going just fine and still have room for improvement. No matter how well you are doing, would you object to doing even better?
As my teacher often says to me, "Russell, your 'laters' are already upon you." Basically, he has been telling me that now is the time to take the next step. I've been pretending for a while that I'll get around to doing something different, "later." Well, later is here!
Your email responses and comments to these articles have been all over the place, some claiming my writing is, well, right on, and others telling me I'm wrong, insensitive or just blaming the victim. However, they have all been helpful in shaping what I write. In fact, your responses have inspired a book I am working on with the working title of: The Aspirational Life: 9 Keys to Finding Your Source of Inspiration, Fulfillment and Meaning.
Future Huffington Post essays will attempt to lay out a series of steps, exercises and frameworks inspired by creating this book, steps that could enable you to rise above your current circumstances, and enter an uplifting world of increasing well being. Next week, we will tackle the role of acceptance as a key to change.
As always, please do leave a comment or drop me an email with your thoughts, ideas, questions or suggestions. Next week, we will pick on the theme of living (and choosing) in the present as a key to well being.
I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.
If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.
Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.