"Give me recipes for happy with the chemicals gone." Blue October's "X Amount of Words"
Long ago, Aristotle outlined a concept of constructive emotional behavior. The individual who shows constructive emotional behavior is the "temperate person." Aristotle described this person as one whose emotions are in the right amount, proportionate to the event that caused them. His emotions are expressed at the right time, not responding too quickly nor dredging up old hurts and resentments. And finally, these emotions are expressed in the right way as they never do harm to oneself or to others. Oh boy, this is a tall order for us humans who tend to either flee from our emotions or use them as swords against others.
Hundreds and hundreds of years have passed since Aristotle described the healthy personality. Many theorists have since elongated his notions, from Freud to Jung, from Rogers to Erikson, from Maslow to Meade. There are commonalities and individualities with respect to the definition and development of the healthy personality among all of these classic theorists. In between the time of Aristotle and present day theorists of course lies the writings in the Bible, just take a look at the books of Matthew or James and we will see the ways in which we humans as asked to be.
While we Americans espouse the virtues of 'happiness' we find it ever fleeting, seemingly an elusive chronic state of being. Instead of a quest for happiness, instead of wanting happiness say for your children, I would like you to consider living your life in ways that are useful and functional, ways not tied to notions of 'happiness' per se but with the undying belief that use and function will indeed compel that state you so desire.
Happiness as a feeling state
Consider these words: worry, closed, rigid, partial, begrudging, constrained, suspicious, envy, defensive.
In contrast to these words: authentic, present, open, fluid, whole, forgiving, caring, creative, accepting.
Now I would like you to close your eyes for a moment and experience those two sets of words: worry, closed, rigid, partial, begrudging, constrained, suspicious, envy, defensive versus authentic, present, open, fluid, whole, forgiving, caring, creative, accepting.
Which one sits better within you? Which one feels more positive? I am confident you all find that second set a more pleasant experience. You may not on the outside be able to pinpoint exactly what the words mean or how to achieve them, but I am certain they indeed feel better to you when you think about them. Indeed, these are the individual markers that lead to happier, more useful and functional lives.
Happiness as a feeling state, an emotional experience is in and of itself temporary, as are the other emotional experiences you know as fear, anger, sadness, disgust and so forth. Strong emotional experience is fleeting. But when you develop and practice the qualities necessary for usefulness and personal function, you will find that you experience your days and your relationships in largely more positive ways, in ways less tense, and ultimately over time you feel more ease and joy in your life.
Environmental Supports and Internal Structures
My hope is to motivate each of you who reads this article and return to it from time to time, to move away from that first set of words: worry, closed, rigid, partial, begrudging, constrained, suspicious, envy, defensive to that second set of words: authentic, present, open, fluid, whole, forgiving, caring, creative, accepting. I want you to know that to change effectively in more positive ways you need two things: environmental supports and internal structures.
To help you understand the idea of how a healthier, easier, more joyful you stems from changing the environmental supports and developing new internal structures, I am going to digress for a moment: Let's say I tell you "I want to run faster!" What will you say back to me? You will say "You need to train better, eat and rest well, and then be patient!" We all know that for one to become a stronger, faster, better runner he needs to train diligently but without the emotional worry over it, to rest when he needs to rest and eat really well and avoiding vices, and let time go by so the body can develop the biological systems that support faster speed. This seems absolutely obvious, does it not? The key is learning to alter the environmental supports and develop the internal structures necessary for that faster speed.
Developing greater life satisfaction, more satisfying personal relationships, greater involvement at work, and so forth, each that we all desire follows this same basic pattern: learn new things, practice using those new things, rest well and avoid vices, and let time go by with patience and belief it will work! Really! This article is one of the environmental supports. You can learn new ways of thinking, feeling, and doing. Then you can start to practice some of these things and start to notice small shifts over time in how your respond, think, and feel. That is all. A simple formula really. But you have to believe, without any worry, that you can make these internal changes!
So start now: Write down the list of negative versus positive words I gave you:
— worry, closed, rigid, partial, begrudging, constrained, suspicious, envy, defensive
+ authentic, present, open, fluid, whole, forgiving, caring, creative, accepting
•Find one environmental support: Perhaps start with a trusted friend whom to talk to about these words and how they make each of you feel differently inside and how they trigger negative versus positive thoughts. Be honest that you want to move from the negative to the positive (and being accepting means that we all have some negative we can move away from). Positive does not mean perfect!
•Find one internal structure: Understand that your memory system impacts how you think, feel and act and that you want to rewrite this system from negative to positive. Appreciate this takes practice, time, and belief.
And so now I leave you with this, "Practice hope. As hopefulness becomes a habit, you can achieve a permanently happy spirit." – Norman Vincent Peale
Or would you rather I leave you with this, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” — Matthew 7:13-14.
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