While some people manage to retain their happiness, most of us become more unhappy than happy by the time we enter high school. What happened? We were taught three “facts” that set the stage for a lifetime of unhappiness: “Life is scary,” “Life is less scary if you accumulate stuff.” and “You and everyone else must follow the rules.” Those who accept those “facts” without question embark on a lifetime of what I call “The Cycle of Self-Inflicted Suffering.”
The Cycle of Self-Inflicted Suffering has four stages: a. Fear, Neediness, and a sense of Obligation. b. Demands. c. Disappointment. and d. Anger, Resentment and Blame. The Cycle then loops back to Fear/Neediness/Obligation and continues throughout an unhappy person’s life unless the Cycle is broken.
Break the Cycle of Self-Inflicted Suffering and you regain your happiness. But how to break the cycle? The only way to break the cycle is to consciously reject one or more of the three false “facts” we were taught.
Here are four paths for breaking the Cycle of Self-Inflicted Suffering…
1. Question your Needs. It is human nature to want more “stuff” and to hoard for a “rainy day,” but happiness doesn’t come from houses, cars, electronic gadgets, or a bank account or retirement fund. Make a list of everything you don’t have that you think you need. Make a list of everything that you do have that you think you couldn’t live without. Now cross out everything on the first list and at least half the items on the second list. Not only do you not need those things, most of them create more unhappiness than happiness. Feeling needy is a big source of unhappiness that can be eliminated through conscious choice and a continued commitment to simplicity. Question your non-material needs as well. Joyful relationships are wonderful, but you don’t need to be in relationship. If you are single, eliminate the thought that something is lacking, and just live each day joyfully.
2. Confront Fear of the Unknown. Our greatest fear is the fear of the unknown. It could also be called fear of the future because the future is unknown. The way to begin to reduce fear of the unknown is to confront that fear. Acknowledge that you don’t know what tomorrow may bring and that that causes fear. Once you have shown a light on fear of the unknown, you can address that fear with courage and, if you believe in a Higher Power, a faith and trust in ultimate goodness.
3. Grant yourself Freedom. Most of us have spent a lifetime believing that we bear huge obligations. Our parents heaped obligations upon us, then our schools, our church, our community, our friends and family. Stop! There is almost nothing you actually need to do. You truly do have choices about what you do and what you don’t do. Each time you begin a thought with “I need to…” or “I have to…,” pause and ask yourself who is demanding that you do that thing and what the consequences would be if you did something else instead. Make the choices YOU want to make. Take actions from conscious choice and not from fear or unthinking habit.
4. Grant Freedom to others. This is the flip-side of #3. The sky never opened up with a great voice pronouncing how others should dress, speak, vote, worship, spend their leisure time, manage their money, or raise their kids. Your opinions of how others should behave are merely your opinions and having the expectation that others should conform to those opinions is a major cause of unhappiness. Live and let live – you will be much happier for it.