Stop Chasing Happiness

“Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulders…”

Henry David Thoreau

Happiness is like a drug.  It releases all those delicious, addicting chemicals into our bloodstream that leave us craving more.  It’s our healing balm that covers and soothes all kinds of pains: loneliness, insecurity, anxiety, fear.  …At least it does temporarily

The problem with happiness is that for too many of us, it’s fleeting.  We don’t really have a firm grasp on it, we’re just constantly chasing the “high” it makes us feel until we revert back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Negative Programming

Think about the thermostat in your home.  If you have your thermostat programmed at 74 degrees, any sudden increase in heat from the door left open on a hot, summer day, will cause our A/C to kick in to force the temperature of the house back to what it is programmed to be.  This is a cybernetic instrument.

Bob Proctor calls us “cybernetic organisms”—”an organism that has certain physiological processes controlled by mechanical devices.”  

Our physiological processes: our actions, thoughts, words we speak, are all controlled by a mechanical device: our mind.  

So, when we “program” ourselves to be anxious or unhappy, any sudden increase in happiness and positivity is only temporary, while we are subconsciously enabling our programmed pessimism to regain control.  Unless, of course, we reprogram our thermostat. 

So, how do we reprogram ourselves to stop chasing happiness and make it a constant in our lives? 

Our Programming Dictates our Actions

The first step is to recognize how our subconscious programming is causing us to act.  This might take a little painful introspection.  It’s hard to admit, even privately to ourselves, that we are not perfectly wonderful, optimistic people! 

We have history, we have pain and failures that program us to feel anxiety and fear.  These experiences are powerful, and their corresponding feelings are very strong.  And repeated often enough, these powerful experiences and their corresponding feelings write our programming.

Now, we become guarded and hypervigilant, waiting to be hurt again.  Or, we refuse to take chances and grow because we believe failing again would obliterate the little self-esteem we have. 

Thus, we choose to go through life with our actions dictated by our negative programming.  When happy moments come, they disappear as soon as uncontrollable stressors leave us scrambling for our go-to coping skills of anger, impatience, or callousness.

How is your programming causing you to act? 

But What are you Really Feeling?

Second, we have to understand that what emotions we are manifesting might not actually be what we are feeling

Take anger for example.  Anger is commonly referred to as a secondary emotion.  Anger is a common emotion expressed when we are really feeling scared, embarrassed, or frustrated.  We use anger to hide other, more vulnerable feelings. 

The Gottman Institute, one of my favorite resources for understanding relationships, (see “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”) illustrates this idea beautifully with the Anger Iceberg.   

Negative Programming: The Anger Iceberg (Small Version)

How many times have you been short with your children because you were feeling overwhelmed?  Or said something critical to your partner because you felt embarrassed

For years, I used to just say I was “upset” about anything and everything.  It started out as kind of a joke because “upset” covered a whole range of emotion, without me having to be honest and admit how I was really feeling.  But after years of refusing to identify how I was really feeling, I became stagnant.  I felt a variety of negative emotions: fear, anxiety, embarrassment, and I was empowering them all to continue to have control over me by denying their existence.   

There is great power in assigning the right name to what we are feeling.  And it is the only way to heal it. 

When we are able to identify that we aren’t really angry, but are using anger as a defense mechanism to mask our feelings of say, shame, we can start to resolve the real feelings that are at the root of our actions.

In other words, only after we identify what the emotion is that is causing us pain, can we resolve it. 

At that point, we can isolate the emotion and identify the trauma that caused it. 

And then comes the real work…

Decide to Change

The last step we have to take to stop chasing happiness and make it a permanent fixture in our lives, is to decide we want to change.  This might seem obvious, but the reality of what we’re doing is a little more complicated.    

Our programming to be depressed, stressed, embarrassed, or anxious might be painful.  But it also becomes familiar and there is comfort in routine.  Healthy routines can give us peace and a sense of control over what would otherwise be chaotic and messy.

Unhealthy routines—like perpetuating painful negativity—give us a false sense of control, and leaves us being victimized by our past, by our emotions, and by a fear of never being able to let go and move forward. 

How to Erase our Programming

  1. Isolate the past as the past and leave it there.  Stop empowering it to have control over your present and heaven-forbid, your future!  Whatever it was has done enough damage, so stop satisfying its insatiable appetite by feeding it any more of your thoughts or attention! 
  2. We have ultimate control over our emotions.  No one else.  What we’ve all said a thousand times, “he made me so mad”, is a fallacy.  Nobody makes you feel anything.  We might have trained ourselves to have emotional gut-reactions, but make them stop there.  Don’t encourage any negative emotions. 
    • Even better, stop the thoughts and behaviors that perpetuate the negative feelings.  Be so consciously positive that you make the negativity uncomfortable
  3. Understand that fear is nothing more False Expectations Appearing Real.  It is not a promised future, and has no ability to cause you harm right now in the present—unless you give it that power. 

Be honest with your emotions and positive with your thoughts. 

Be honest by assigning the right emotion to how you are feeling.  Address the experience that is causing you to feel that way instead of ignoring it and pushing it deeper inside you.  All that does is delay future happiness by programming your subconscious with one negative experience after another.

Be positive in your thinking, even when in the midst of resolving a negative experience.  Be hopeful in the outcome, and confident in your abilities.  If you infuse your thoughts with positivity, your words and actions have no choice but to follow suit! 

Once your positivity is given control over your mind, your programming will rewrite itself.  Then, when happy moments come, they will not be chased away by doubt, depression, or anger, but welcomed to stay in a happily accommodating atmosphere.     

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