Happiness vs. Suffering

I am writing this post from the courthouse as I do my civic duty. Normally, I don’t mind sitting around all day waiting to be selected – I am one of those rare people that truly believe this is part of what being an American citizen is all about. However, this time around I am thirty-four weeks pregnant, hot, tired, and facing a lot of deadlines at work that must be completed before my son arrives. As you can probably tell, I am feeling a bit negative. But as I seethe, I am reminded of a thought I have been pondering for a couple of weeks now, and that is the battle between happiness and suffering.

Must we suffer through life?

I have gathered from my research that we are going to experience suffering in our life whether it is through actual physical pain or emotional or cognitive pain like frustration, anger, anxiety, guilt, shame, and depression. But how we respond to that pain is the key to whether we are happy.

When faced with pain we tend to think negatively about it. Pessimistic thinking can worsen a situation because we focus on and replay the negative over and over making our situation worse and ourselves miserable. Our minds are more powerful than we give them credit, replaying our pain can actually increase it’s intensity and could be potentially self-fulfilling. For example, given my current situation, I don’t want to be at the courthouse, I would rather be at work. All I keep thinking about is all the work I have to do and the fact that I am hot. I keep focusing on this, and I recognize that my heart is beating faster and my body temperature is heating up which is making me hotter, and I am starting to sweat. I am making a situation that isn’t that bad, to begin with, worse just with my negative thinking.

What can we do to break the suffering pattern and pessimistic thinking and be happy?

Basically, it boils down to changing how we think about the suffering which can alter how we experience it. Or, in situations where we can actually be proactive in changing our circumstance putting solutions into action to improve our lives.

Mindfulness is a significant component in altering negative thinking. Mindfulness is about being present in the moment and aware of what you are experiencing cognitively and physically. There are a couple of ways of doing this:

  1. Body Scan – Close your eyes and start at your head and move down to your feet, recognizing if you are holding tension anywhere and relax that area. Those suffering from physical pain can actually make their pain more unbearable by holding tension in their body. We also tend to tense up and hold our breath when we feel frustration or anger so mindful body scanning can help with cognitive suffering as well.
  2. Meditation – It requires you to sit comfortably, letting go of your thoughts, clearing the mind, and focusing on the feeling of being you. I have personally never been good at meditation. I have too many thoughts, and I have not been able to settle my mind. But those who practice meditation rave about its benefits.
  3. Journaling – I find the best way to be mindful, for me, is through journaling. I write without editing, and I am completely honest with myself. I find getting my thoughts out of my head and putting them on paper helps me to empty my mind and relieve stress and tension. I am also able to evaluate and assess my feelings and emotions better when I can see them written.
  4. Exercise – Exercising forces us to be mindful of our breath and the muscles we are working. Plus, working out increases endorphin levels, which can make us happier.

The point is we have a choice in whether we choose to suffer through life or if we choose to be happy. One of my best friends recently told me that she recognized she wasn’t happy with certain things going on in her life, so she chose not to stay in any situation that made her unhappy. It was a huge, but necessary step for her to improve her life and her well-being and I am super proud of her. I think her story serves as an example for all – if you are unhappy, do what you can to better your situation, whether that means changing your job, your friendships, or your current state of mind.

Can you be happy all the time?

I believe you can be happy and content most of the time. As I stated, in the beginning, some suffering is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be chronic. Perhaps this is a millennial school of thought, but I don’t believe one must stay miserable because of some arbitrary sense of loyalty. The only time I feel there is an exception to this is when a commitment has been made, but I think before making any commitment whether it is something small like being on a sports team or something more significant like in a marriage you should really think about it and reflect on that decision before making it. If you have any reservations, don’t do it until you feel ready.

How can I apply this to my current situation?

I am here until they release me so I cannot physically remove myself. But, I did a body scan and released the tension I was feeling in my shoulders, and focused on my breathing. I also decided to change my negative thinking. I am here for the day, so I need to make the best of it – like writing this blog post. The moment I did all of this, my mood improved and I felt happier.

It may sound like a bunch bologna but try it for yourself and see!