I want to be happy: the fascinating path to wellness
July 18, 2018
Happiness is something that every single human being is concerned with. Although we refer to it in different ways and think about it from different perspectives, at the end of the day what is hidden within that word is and always has been the same: to feel well.
In fact, the idea of well–being, although it does not sound as poetic as the word “happiness,” can be considered the reason why psychotherapy even exists. Subjective well-being is a term we often use, based on the idea of integral health. It is a state that goes beyond “not having” problems, worries, or concerns… Inner well-being is much more than simply not feeling bad. This term is basically referring to happiness, but in a relatively less technical sense (although positive psychology is reviving this term in an academic context).
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When psychologists ask their patients what their goals and expectations are for therapy, they often express it in ways such as: “I want to feel good,” or “I want to go back to being myself.” In fact, many people clearly affirm: “I just want to be happy.”
Some enormous challenges arise when goals are expressed in this way. The psychologist’s primary responsibility is to reorient their patient’s expectations in a more realistic and short-term way. In order to do this with assertiveness and care, they must first validate their legitimate and human desire to be happy. They must also remind them that this relies on a number of uncontrollable factors and that the journey to happiness never truly ends: it is a complex search that will accompany them throughout their lives. When looking at happiness from a more short-term perspective, it makes more sense to identify the things that make them feel unhappy (these are often the reasons why they seek professional help in the first place). It’s important to take into account their personality, background or biography, life circumstances, and the way they think in general – all these factors might play a role in preventing this person from being happy.
Once the patient feels more adjusted to what is attainable in the present moment, it’s useful to look at the abstract goal (“I want to be happy” or “I do not want to feel bad”) and to think of some more specific secondary objectives. We must examine what has gone wrong in previous attempts to achieve this goal, only then will we find a way to reach the desired outcome.
This way we can unpack exactly what the patient wants and needs, even though, at first they weren’t able to verbalize it clearly enough. Some of the objectives could be “to relate to my family in a different way” or “to decide if I want to continue working in this job or if I want to change careers.”
Clearly, these are still relatively general objectives, but expressed in this way it becomes easier to work on them and eventually, to achieve them. If we just say “I want to be happy,” we don’t even know what that really means or how to get there.
Happiness, as we indicated in the beginning, is not easy to achieve. Neither is it easy to understand nor maintain. There are no definite steps that can help everyone to guide their daily life towards happiness. It is important to be honest with ourselves and with others, in addition to having an open mind: happiness (subjective well-being) is subjective for each human being, because everyone has vastly different needs.
Recently, a type of therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy has been gaining strength in the field of psychology. Explained very briefly, this approach emphasizes the importance of leading an authentic life, meaning, a life that is always consistent with our values and what we feel is important to us. Authenticity and happiness are not exactly synonymous, but if we stop to think about it, we realize that one cannot exist without the other.
Total and absolute authenticity, without the slightest hint of inconsistency, can not exist nor make sense in a permanently changing and chaotic world. That’s why reaching a permanent and everlasting state of happiness is ultimately unattainable.
However, a realistic search for happiness is possible for ourselves, based on our values and a deep ethical reflection on our relationships with other human beings. Sometimes we may stray away from what we believe is good for our well-being, but this may be good for our personal exploration and can even help structure our lives.
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