On the Self Help shelves in bookstores there is a proliferation of books which guarantee a more successful, better, more fulfilling, but especially happier life. These books reflect our wish for happiness, and our unease with suffering, pain, discomfort, uncertainty.Of course, I am not advocating that we should suffer unnecessarily, nor am I saying that self help books are of no value. But I have to admit: when I see titles making promises that if only a certain number of easy steps are followed, all will be well and you will have found true happiness, my therapist heart sinks. Real suffering requires real inquiry and time spent, with a therapist, finding out what is going on: not a checklist, questionnaire, or twenty positive self affirmations in your mirror every morning.
There are no quick fixes. Of course some issues are more easily resolved, and sometimes reading books and getting information that way can make a huge difference in our understanding and experience of what is going on for us. But usually our unhappiness is there for a reason: whether it is part of a normal response to an abnormal environment or event(such as trauma), and/or whether it rises from within us as a response to our own particular history. Our unhappinesses are usually unique to our particular lives and requires telling about and inquiring into.This is done best in the presence of another who can hear and see and witness and guide and comment and ask questions, and ultimately help us become aware of what is going on and what is causing us to feel unhappy. Therapy can help us explore and try out new emotional, behavioural, mental: in other words psychological, alternatives, which help us to be normally unhappy, in stead of pathologically unhappy. Freud once famously said: ‘The aim of psychoanalysis is to relieve people of their neurotic unhappiness so that they can be normally unhappy”. I smiled when I read that first, even though at first glance it sounds pretty pessimistic.( Neurosis, by the way, is a general term “applied to a variety of mild disorders or conditions that are characterized by anxiety and phobias that don’t involve any altered senses of reality and don’t effect the entire personality”. http://www.alleydog.com/glossary/definition.php?term=Neuroses#ixzz2RGxTrr2 )
But when we are neurotically unhappy, it means that we are unable, because of unhealthy ways of experiencing our emotions and thoughts, to be resilient in the face of what happens to us in life. In therapy we can learn to inquire into those ways of feeling and thinking and behaving which get in the way of being able to experience if not ecstatic happiness, then an ease of being, or a sense of general wellbeing. In therapy we learn new ways to respond to our inner impulses and outer triggers in ways which enable us to have good relationships with others and ourselves, to feel generally good, calm, resourceful and satisfied, and able to take on the task of growing up and becoming more fully who we are.
This general sense of ease and wellbeing is as good as it gets. Being able to cope with what life throws at us in a way which fits our relationships and personalities and circumstances so that we don’t make the sometimes unavoidable suffering worse, is as good as it gets. Living an aware life, a life in touch with what goes on inside, does not guarantee permanent happiness: it does bring though a sense of self responsibility, of autonomy, and being one’s own person. Not happy shiny always, but alive and responsive to the world.
Original post here: http://ronellehartblogspot.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/as-good-as-it-gets/