Tilley Psychological Services

About Being Happy

Busy-ness

Connection

Belief Systems

The Pursuit of Happiness

 

 

Busy-ness

In Alberta, we are living in an economic boom.  This means an increase in income for some people, but a corresponding increase in the cost of living for everyone, along with a pressure to "keep up."  People stay in jobs in which they are unhappy, are bullied, or feel undervalued, because they believe that a bigger house or car will make them happy.  Many people crave a "simpler lifestyle" but do not know how to achieve it, or how to fight the pressures of our culture.  This may require making some simple decisions about life, but simple is not always easy and it is very hard to defy the trend of doing more, and acquiring more.

 

In the 1970s there was talk of the workplace of the future - there would be no paper, things would get done faster, and we would have 3 day work weeks!  Instead, the technology has lead to a bigger paper trail, an overload of information, and dramatically increased expectations about the pace and production level of individual employees.  I know of relatively few people who work 40 hour work-weeks, and I know of many who work close to twice that.  We need to slow down, examine what our needs really are, and start making the changes that lead to lower levels of stress.  

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Connection

In our culture, at a time when communication over long distances has become easy and commonplace, many people are lonely.  We "communicate" frequently with people through email, text messages, phone messages, and short "sound bites".  At the same time that we crave deeper connection, we fear going beyond a superficial level - we have forgotten how to. We neglect meaningful life tasks because we are too busy trying to keep up with the "information explosion", to have "experiences", and to be stimulated.  We don't take the time for relationships, with people or with the world, because we are too busy pursuing material comfort and status.  We no longer value the experience of enduring suffering or loneliness, which builds inner strength and confidence, so many people are bored and do not know how to entertain themselves. 

 

I heard someone say, a few years ago, that people who live in places that are economically deprived often seem to be happier than we are if their basic needs are met.  In one way, this makes sense - we are social creatures, and when times are tough, we band together to fight a common threat (such as a drought, an earthquake, or an invading enemy).  There is a level of satisfaction that comes in this togetherness, and I believe this comes from being able to connect, on a meaningful level, with other human beings. 

 

It is impossible to change our culture, on a larger scale, but over and over we hear about the power of consumers, of grass roots movements.  We all have choices to make, every moment of our lives.  If we could all make a choice to slow down, turn off the electronics, and pay attention to the moment, to the people in our lives, that elusive happiness might budge just a little bit closer.

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Belief Systems

For many people in our society, their unhappiness comes from within. They have a set of beliefs about themselves that are simply false: "I am worthless", "I am stupid", "I am ugly", "I do not belong", "I do not deserve to live."  They have held these beliefs for so long that it does not occur to them that the beliefs might be false.  They are felt with such intensity, that is seems impossible that they are only thoughts, not realities.  For such people, it is important to have a safe environment in which to challenge these beliefs and learn new ones so that they can move towards greater meaning and satisfaction in their lives, and its side-effect - happiness.

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The Pursuit of Happiness

We live in a culture in which the pursuit of short-term happiness is an accepted goal.  We all like to espouse values such as relationships, family, satisfaction with life, and making positive changes in the world, yet we all run around trying to make money and mortgage/car payments.  Victor Frankl wrote that ". . . happiness cannot be pursued, it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself".  By this he meant that if we chase after the goal of happiness, it is elusive.  On the other hand, we find meaning in life through having a life/work task that engages our energy and creativity, having fulfilling relationships within the world (and this can be with nature, art, or philosophy as well as people), and by finding meaning in suffering.  We all suffer in life to varying degrees, but we can find inner strength, purpose, and integrity through the our suffering.  (Having developed many of his ideas while in concentration camps during World War II, he is in a good position to talk about finding meaning in suffering.)  If we can do those things, focus on our life tasks rather than the pursuit of short-term pleasures, then happiness happens.

 

For those of you who are interested, you might want to read Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.

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Contact me at 780-702-8905 or email linda@tilleypsych.com