Do You Choose Happiness?

    One time, I was having an argument with the speaker standing in front of a crowded assembly. The argument was taking place in my head rather than out loud as I didn’t quite have the energy to actually engage in a discussion right then. I thought that perhaps it would be an even better idea to present it to you to see what your thoughts would be. The speaker was making a case for happiness and I certainly can’t argue with that. He reminded us that wisdom requires that we be happy. He shared research that happy people get the job done better than unhappy ones and noted that the last decade and a half of research in “positive psychology” has led to many fascinating outcomes supporting this. He argued that people try too hard to get to the next goal and then the next, thinking mistakenly that when they only reach their goal they will be happy. This is not true, he admonished: Happiness comes from the process of living your life, not from getting to a goal. I couldn’t argue with any of that. Then he said that happiness is a choice. Some people choose to be unhappy. And that is where I part company. I could immediately think of two classes of people who are unhappy but not by choice: People who have serious troubles in their lives and people who are stuck in a cage of unhappiness that they don’t know how to get out of. In fact, I completely believe that these two categories cover every single person who is unhappy and that there...

How Your Anxiety Hurts Your Spouse and Children

The snow was piling up and Maggie paced the floor. She was so anxious, she started to feel as though she were getting a heart attack. One time, she went to the E.R. thinking that she really was having some kind of cardiac episode but after a night full of tests, they told her she was “just” having a panic attack. Just. Harrumph. They should only have one and then see if they still have the nerve to say it’s “just” a panic attack, she thought. These things are not small potatoes. And now it was happening again. She kept looking out the window. “Where is he?” She repeated to herself almost like a mantra. “Where is he?” It started to look almost like a choreographed sequence: First, she’d look out the window; then she’d pace a little; then she’d repeat her question to no one there, and then back to the window. When Ethan walked in the door, she shrieked. Then Maggie threw her hands over her face and burst into tears. Ethan was 1 hr. 15 min late. Given the weather conditions, that wasn’t bad. But for Maggie, the first minute he was not home on time, the worrying began. Ethan cradled her in his arms. They’d been through this before. “It’s a good thing you married me,” he crooned, “because I understand you.” “Yes, you do,” Maggie sobbed, “so you know why I got frantic when you weren’t home on time.” Your Anxiety Hurts Others Ethan smiled benignly. He could afford to be relaxed. After all, he knew where he’d been. He only got equally upset...

Overcome Anxiety With Positive Thinking

When Marlene started the steps to anxiety reduction, she didn’t realize that her anxious behavior was accompanied by negative thoughts. What she learned was that these thoughts actually propel the anxious feelings and behavior. She had to do some quiet reflection to recognize those underlying thoughts, and eventually she was able to pin them down. Then, she had to challenge them. Here are the arguments she came up with for each one: “There is always an end to misery,” “I need to get calm so I can think of a solution; there is always a solution,” “Being human means you have problems.” Meanwhile, she was practicing deep breathing along with visualizations. She thought of a lovely mountain cabin she had once stayed at on vacation. She carefully filled in the picture with the plants, the furniture, the trees, everything about that cabin. When she got into it, she could smell the mountain air and hear the birds cawing. She was amazed to notice how nice and relaxed she would become when she did this. Then, one day, a check bounced and, out of habit, she retreated into her usual pattern. “Now I have an extra charge,” she moaned, “and there isn’t enough money to cover it! What will I do? What will I do? Oh, God, why does this always have to happen to me? I hate this!” She started breathing rapidly; she started to sweat. Marlene began to feel faint. She collapsed on a chair, weak at the knees, her head swimming. This is a common reaction to stress. Neurons in the brain fire in the old patterns...

How Anxiety Starts In Your Family and Why You Need to Overcome it

Marlene is a perfect example of a person who thought she had an anxious personality. She understood why she had it, but that didn’t change anything. (It usually doesn’t.) Her father abandoned the family when she was young and then her mother had to work, leaving her in charge of younger siblings. She was responsible, but that was an awfully heavy burden to place on a child. It was scary. Little kids do not have the emotional resources to tell themselves “This too shall pass” the way adults do when something bad happens for the first time in adulthood. Hers was a normal reaction to a bad situation given that she was only a child when all this started. So the world became a scary place and Marlene became anxious at many things. Any time the stability of her life was threatened, she would overeat; she would feel her blood pressure go up; she often got queasy or lightheaded. She frequently thought she was headed for a panic attack and had so many of them that she started to label herself as having a Panic Disorder. Along with this, she would think: “Oh, no, I see no end in sight,” or “I don’t have a clue how to get out of this!” or “Why did this have to happen to me?” Marlene tried the approach described in last week’s post, with a great deal of irritation. That’s common. “Why,” she complained, “Do I have to be the one to work on myself when it was not my fault that I was treated badly and became an anxious person?” She...

Overcome Anxiety With Mindfulness Meditation

Anxiety is a learned behavior. Can you imagine! The brain actually learns how to become anxious. Research shows that brain development in traumatized infants is significantly different than that of normally-raised babies. It predisposes them to adult struggles with stress and emotional illness. Anxiety Research [See Allan Shore, the Effects of Early Relational Trauma on Right Brain Development, Affect Regulation, and Infant Mental Health, Infant Mental Health Journal, Vol.  22(1–2), 201–269 (2001)] The good news is that the anxious brain can also heal. Research on what happens to the brain during meditation shows that even newbies at it can start to reach for changes that Tibetan lamas have mastered in a lifetime of training. [See Daniel Goleman, Finding Happiness: Cajole Your Brain to Lean to the Left, New York Times, February 4, 2003] So if you say, “I’m an anxious person,” it sounds like, well, that’s that. But if we stand in awe of our brains and marvel at the fact that they can re-learn how to respond to similar situations that triggered the old responses, hey, we have a fighting chance of overcoming history. Anxiety Hurts Relationships What does your attitude do to your relationship? It gives you the permission to spout your anxiety all over the place and your husband (or wife) can’t do anything about it (or so he thinks, but that’s another post). Do you see where we’re going here? Your thinking is plum wrong. You do not have permission or any excuse to act up and make him scared or unhappy or nervous himself just because you are used to feeling and acting anxious....
Show Buttons
Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Linkdin
Hide Buttons