Much is written about happiness. Books. Articles. Songs. Videos. Happiness seems to be a universal pursuit and one that has existed through ages; indeed, it was a frequent topic among philosophers from the ancient worlds of West and East and has been pursued without pause since then. No one has yet to discover a single answer to how to find happiness. Russ Harris, a important leader in acceptance and commitment therapy, wrote a book entitled The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living. Is happiness attainable, or is it a trap, a sham?
It’s difficult to create inner peace when circumstances around us cause or contribute to stress, anxiety, negative thoughts and emotions, and cognitive dissonance (an uncomfortable feeling that develops when your actions and values don’t match up). Sometimes, to be at peace and decrease the experiences we don’t need, we need to walk away. However, doing so is often easier said than done. Knowing what it involves and how to do it will move you in the direction of wellbeing and inner peace.
Today is Memorial Day.
For many, it marks the beginning of summer. Some schools have already dismissed, the academic year officially over. It’s the unofficial first camping weekend of the season. It’s a day of picnics and barbeques, of gardening—planting and nurturing vegetables and fruits that will nourish us in the moment and through the next seasons as well as planting beautiful flowers to appreciate and enjoy mindfully.
Memorial Day weekend—the weekend, not the “Day”—is this, yes. The dedicated day, however, is beyond this. Today is a day that we remember, honor, and appreciate soldiers who sacrificed their lives standing for the freedom they valued for everyone. It began in 1865 at the end of the Civil War and continues today as an honor those who have continued to preserve our way of life for 153 years and counting.
Social anxiety prevents us from fully living our lives. All anxiety does this, of course, but social anxiety does a particularly good job of blocking our movements along the path to our quality life. This anxiety disorder is more of a spectrum of experiences than it is one single form of anxiety. It ranges from shyness (which isn’t a diagnosable disorder) on the mildest end of the spectrum to avoidant personality disorder (this one is so pervasive that it’s categorized as a personality disorder rather than an anxiety disorder.
Right now I have a wonderful room with a view. Seated on a smooth leather couch with deep, soft cushions, I can see calm blue water through the picture window in front of me. If I get hungry or thirsty, I can stroll over to the deli counter and order myself something nourishing. This would be great if I were actually on vacation. Unfortunately, I’m not on vacation. The calm blue water isn’t a tropical lagoon. It’s a lap pool. I’m at the gym my son and I belong to. He’s working out. I’m just working.
Sitting in the lobby with a computer on my lap isn’t quite what I had in mind when I said I wanted to go to the gym. I joined for physical health, mental health, family bonding, and connection with others. I enjoy increasing both heart rate and endorphins. Exercise enhances wellbeing and improves lives. Does it count when I go to the gym but sit on a couch rather than on exercise equipment?
Knowing the greater purpose for your holiday can help you take action to make it a positive one despite stress and problems. The traditional holiday song tells us, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas.” It makes it sound easy, as if we can just snap our fingers and have a wonderful holiday season, whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Solstice, or something else entirely. Is this a wish that is oversimplified? What about people facing stressors and challenges? What about those experiencing mental illness such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders, dissociative disorders, trauma-induced disorders, and much more? Is it possible to have yourself a merry little Christmas despite challenges, even serious mental illness?