Unhappiness is normal: Why the pursuit of happiness can make us sad

It’s not uncommon for a client, when initially asked what their goal for therapy is, for them to say ‘I just want to be happy’. Or for some to say they believe they ‘should’ be happy, and yet they are not, so they are somehow failing at life. For practitioners of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), these misconceptions are to be questioned, challenged and replaced with a more rational and helpful view of happiness.

This (irrational) belief that we all just ‘should’ be happy, or that happiness is somehow an end in itself is a common one, and for us humans, also a relatively new one. The ‘pursuit of happiness’ is a largely 20th century idea. The increasing focus on the individual, and the achievement of our individual dreams and goals has led to that most toxic of toxicities: toxic positivity.

We’ve all seen or heard examples of toxic positivity. From posters demanding ‘good vibes only’ to friends telling us to ‘cheer up, move on, turn that frown upside down’ etc. As anyone confronted by these platitudes when feeling anything less than positive knows, not only are they facile, they are also, more often than not, counterproductive.

Humans did not evolve to be happy. We evolved to survive and breed. That’s why we also experience emotions like anxiety, concern, anger, defensiveness and contentment. Happiness is a natural part of our emotional lives, but still just a part. And whilst our human lives are now so much more than simply surviving or breeding (if we even choose to), it is still unnatural to expect only happiness, and to be so dismissive and unwelcoming of everything else.

REBT believes that our lives are made up of the full range of emotions: from the most joyful moments of happiness to the darkest moments of despair, with everything in between. We understand that an emotional reaction to an event is natural. Should a person experience setbacks, losses or failures, it is natural for us to feel negative emotions such as sadness, frustration or self-doubt. These only truly become a problem if a person becomes ‘stuck’ in this emotional state and it slips into depression, anger or self-damning. And that’s when REBT does such a good job of helping restore balance.

But some people can erroneously believe that any experiences of negative emotions, or simply not being happy all the time, is a sign of greater distress or failure on their part. Our job, as REBT therapist, is to be an antidote to toxic positivity. To let them know that sometimes, unhappiness is normal. In fact, most of the time, feeling generally ‘neutral’ or ‘just OK’ is absolutely fine.

These normal ups, downs and averages are the bread and butter of life, and the very things that make the birthday cake of happiness so exceptionally wonderful when we do, from time to time, experience it.

Nick Jones
REBT Therapist

* Humans aren’t designed to be happy – Rafael Euba via The Conversation

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Spring has sprung – time for a personal spring clean?

After a couple of chilly false starts, and with the Easter holidays on the horizon, it finally looks like spring is really here.

Whilst the daffodils and crocuses might have made an early appearance, it can take longer for us humans to get into the optimistic mindset of spring. The long, dark and cold early months of the year can seem endless, and for many of there is an undeniable link between the seasons and our moods (read our earlier blog on Seasonal Affective Disorder here).

But at last the longer days and increasing temperatures can help lighten our moods and maybe help motivate us to make some changes in our lives. Whether that’s a traditional spring clean of the house, or a more metaphorical spring clean of our lives, there’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of spring’s optimism.

CCBT’s Director, our own Avy Joseph suggests that spring is the ideal time for self-reflection, helping to deal with your past and to focus on the future. It seems many of us get stuck in a feeling of unhappiness, especially through the winter months. Avy explains “You have to challenge those feelings by working out what is holding you back (such as feeling a failure after a divorce, or realising your job is not as rewarding as it once was) and then accepting it without judging yourself. Understand that whatever happened is an event fixed in time and that life, like the seasons, moves on. Accept yourself as a valuable person who has imperfections.”

Dealing with the bad or unhelpful things that have gone before and addressing them helps cleanse our minds, ready for whatever the spring and summer months have in store for us, a new start if you will.

Freshen up your goals

It’s natural for our lives to acquire unhelpful habits, either in actions or beliefs, so taking the time to cast an objective eye over the general state of our lives then getting out the ‘feather duster of change’ from time to time keeps us mentally and emotionally fresh and helps keep our lives on track, whatever our goals may be.

We’ve written about setting realistic and personally valuable goals here, and now is the ideal time to revisit yours. Whether it’s getting back into a healthier lifestyle, reinvigorating your social life or dusting off your CV and achieving new professional heights, throw open the windows and let the warm breeze of change in!

And if you are looking to grow professionally, don’t forget we can take you from novice to fully accredited Cognitive Behavioural Therapist with our specially designed courses in REBT (Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy). Learn all about our CBT training here.

A spring clean of your life could make a massive difference to someone else’s too!

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How’s that ‘New You’ working out? Self-acceptance and setting healthy goals

Out with the old, in with the new! That’s what they say around December / January every year, isn’t it?

But now, in the cold light of the new year, as perhaps our motivation starts to wane, maybe it’s time to take a look at why we choose our goals and what we can do to really help achieve them.

So often, we look around and feel our lives would be improved if only we could achieve some (often) random goal. Lose weight? Get a new job? Become fluent in German? So many things we are ‘supposed’ to do to improve ourselves, so many things that if only we could master them would make our lives so much better.

There’s an old saying: No matter where you go, there you are. I like to think that it means regardless of what you do or where you go, you will still always be yourself. So if you are going to be your own most constant companion, doesn’t it make sense to know, accept and make sensible choices for yourself?

Unconditional self-acceptance: a revolutionary resolution

An incredibly useful thing you can do to make the coming year and beyond more fruitful and emotionally well-balanced it to understand and begin to practice unconditional self-acceptance.

We’ve written about self-acceptance before, and it’s such a useful thing to learn for everyone. Accepting ourselves for who we truly are, both good and bad, can be the key to identifying and making improvements that really matter, rather than what we think we ‘should’ make.

Just because Instagram or the latest magazines tell us we should be stick thin and be earning huge amounts of money, if we know and understand and accept who we are, we might see that these things are not so important to us. Or that if we really do want to make changes, we can accept that are starting from a place not of failure, shame or envy, but from one of acceptance and a desire to change for all the right reasons.

Motivation is key to maintaining change, and coming from a positive place (I would like to lose weight / get a new job / speak German, but understand I don’t have to, and if I don’t achieve this straight away that doesn’t mean I’m a failure), will be much more useful than berating oneself as no good and a let-down right from the start. That will only lead to resentment, low frustration tolerance (I can’t stand this!) and ultimately avoidance / giving up.

Whose goals?

Once we begin to accept ourselves for who we really are, the good, bad and indifferent, we can then start to make healthier, more rational choices about what we want to achieve.

Are we trying to achieve something for ourselves, or to please others? Are we doing something because we really want to, or because we feel we ‘should’? Interrogate your motivations and make sure your plans really are going to deliver what you really want. You might already feel good about how you look, what you earn and what languages you can speak!

And if you do decide to go ahead and achieve something new, that’s great too. To help you get started, we have a whole series of blogs on confidence and success, covering everything from setting goals to making plans and seeing them through.

And we’ve even got you covered for when things go wrong: Why accepting you might fail won’t make you a failure.

So remember, as the New Year becomes slightly less new: change is possible, change is good, but change is very seldom compulsory!

Nick Jones
REBT / CBT Therapist

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