I read your section in the Word every month and I like the way you explain certain problems. It helps me to think about myself. I don’t have a mental problem or experience with a terrible event, but I feel bored and unhappy with life. I should be happy because I have a good husband and children and enough money, but sometimes I feel like it is not enough. Sometimes people tell me to compare to others who have less than me to make me feel better and sometimes they tell me to not think too much and to just accept the life I have. What do you think? Is there a way to feel better about my life?
Thank you for writing about your feelings and the questions of how to feel better in your life. You have all the things that you believed would make you feel happy… but they don’t. Acceptance, as your friends have suggested, is often good advice when you don’t have control of the things you can change. But it sounds to me like you are willing to make changes in order to feel more happiness.
There is a famous book written by Viktor Frankl called Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl was a prisoner of war in the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. In the suffering of that experience he observed people all around him giving up hope and losing the will to live. He himself maintained a determination to live as long as he could so that he could write about and tell others of what had happened there. He came to understand that when people find within themselves a clear purpose that gives their life meaning, they live differently. They live with direction and hope.
When I, as a therapist, help people get out of depression, it almost always leads to questions about what it is that makes life worth living. Some research in the field of Positive Psychology tells us that there are three ways that people experience happiness. The first is with more positive emotions: excitement, pleasure, joy, laughter, discovery, relief, exhilaration, peace, feeling loved and more. Good feelings make us happy… at least for a while (we need to remember that the same thing that made us feel good the first time will fade when we do it again and again).
The second way that people describe feeling happy is when they are engaged deeply in something. We love being involved in a way that makes us lose track of time and which is not distracted by extraneous thoughts. When we are focused we are happy. It says a lot about our natural desire to be directly engaged with the experience of living, being present to the moment we are in.
The last, and maybe most important, lesson from the research is that people are most happy when they are fully engaged in activities that are meaningful to them. Helping others, being creative, exploring and discovering, and contributing to a cause or purpose are all ways that people have discovered meaning in their lives. Joseph Campbell is known for his advice to “follow your bliss!” He is saying that one of the tasks of life is to find what you love… in people, in nature, in art or literature, in politics, in beauty, in life itself. Our passion comes from that love of living.
Sometimes we have to clear away the tasks of life in order to discover what inspires us or to see them differently. We can easily find ourselves working a job we have to tolerate, or doing the chores of shopping and cleaning. I hear people say that they love to read but they cannot find the time. My advice is to learn to prioritise those things that feed your soul, inspire you and give energy to your life. The tasks will take care of themselves somehow.
Maybe it is not to change what you do… but it is to discover the purpose behind it. Raising children can sometimes feel like a thankless chore, but when we imbue it with love and the inspiration of showing children how to live happily, it can become inspired by the love of living.
So here is some food for thought. What is your purpose? What gives your life meaning? What inspires you? What gives you good feelings? What engages you? What does it feel like to discover your bliss?
Enjoy it all!