It is not at all necessary that we always stay happy.
Just as a car can go off track if the driver is not attentive and wouldn't be able to bring itself back on track even on a straight road, our mind too can go off track and create complicated, depressing thought patterns. The trick to happiness is to be constantly aware of our thought process and to keep realigning ourselves to the road of happiness.
As a saying goes — happiness is not a destination or something to achieve, it is a path to be . Happiness doesn't mean there is no sadness, disappointment, hurt or pain; rather it is a more wholesome state where despite our negative experiences we are more centred and at peace.
Afreen was emotionally disturbed due to conflicts with her partner Yogesh. Here is an excerpt from one of our sessions...
Afreen: I feel very neglected ever since Yogesh has been promoted. He is always working and even when he is not, I have become less of a priority for him.
Therapist: I see... you feel neglected after he took on new responsibility.
Afreen: Yes, I know it's unfair on him as he has to put in more hours now, but I am feeling so unimportant that it's breaking me. And I am feeling horrible that I am unable to enjoy his success.
Therapist: So you feel unimportant and insignificant as Yogesh is more involved with his work and new responsibility.
Afreen: Yes. It's not that I am not happy for him or that I am jealous…. It's just that it feels like I am not his priority anymore.... I've known him for long. He was jobless and very unsure when I started dating him. I had a good job, I still do. Yogesh started settling down and became focused staying with me. He openly acknowledges it too. But now that he is focused and is becoming an achiever, I feel I have lost my value in his life. I feel my job is done and he doesn't need me anymore.
Therapist: Yes, I can see that.
Afreen: Yogesh doesn't say anything but he is also hurt; maybe he thinks I am jealous of him and I don't want him to do well. I feel horrible.
Therapist: You also judge yourself as you are not exactly ecstatic about Yogesh's success. Have you spoken to him and tried telling him how you feel? Afreen: No, I feel ashamed to do so.
Instead I've been taking it out on Yogesh and then I feel terribly guilty.
Therapist: But there is nothing to feel guilty about. You perhaps played the role of an anchor in Yogesh's life, nurturing his talents, helping him to focus and find his drive. Now when you perceive that this role is over, you feel unimportant. It's not that you are envious or you don't want Yogesh to succeed.
This is a lot like how people usually feel when they retire. But this role doesn't define your value or your relationship. You just need to embrace your new role. Selfjudgement is not going to solve this problem. You need to discover your new role and redefine your dynamics with Yogesh. And talking about it might help. But more importantly, you need to value yourself irrespective of your role in Yogesh's life. Does that make sense?
Afreen: Yes, it does.
To feel complete within and to be centred, one needs to have a selfassured and healthy relationship with oneself, with others and with life in general. Let's break it down...
Relationship with the self — self- worth, life script and self- image
How we value ourselves largely determines how we value life in general. We tend to depend on external situations, events and others to define us, or to give us value. Like, Afreen's criterion for valuing herself was based on how much she was needed by Yogesh. If a new situation or an event makes one believe that one has no significance or is not needed anymore, it can trigger personal insecurities and emotional stress. Learning to value ourselves irrespective of the situation is a very important skill to stay happy.
We often have a oneline script running in our head, based on the conclusions we have drawn from our experiences. These scripts are grossly generalised and often they have a prophetic undertone — ' nobody loves me and nobody will ever love me again', ' everybody who I am close to will leave me and go away', ' people use me and always discard me when they are done', ' whenever I try hard to achieve something, it always slips away'. These scripts, if not changed, become self- fulfilling prophecies.
Unconsciously, we end up following these one- liners even when we are trying to prove them wrong. For example, a script like ' nobody loves me' can make one overzealous to prove it wrong. So, the person becomes possessive and clingy, eventually leading to the script being reinforced.
These scripts can be changed by coming to terms with the incidents which we generalised and drawn conclusion from.
If we have a positive image of ourselves which says we are lovable and okay as we are, we can be happy and joyful on our own. We become less dependent on situations or others to validate us. Need for external validation comes from our If we have a positive image of ourselves which says we are lovable and okay as we are, we can be happy and joyful on our own. A healthy relationship with the self is a key factor in staying happy
inability to validate ourselves. A healthy relationship with the self is a key factor in staying happy.
Relationship with the greater self — meaning of life
Sometimes it is not obvious to us what will give our existence meaning. Often we delude ourselves into believing that personal achievements will give us ' meaning' only to discover that even a huge amount of success, money and fame fail to give us what we are looking for.
' Meaning' can be found when we do something for the greater good.
Some find it in giving back to society, for others it can be being there for their family, friends, community or country. It gives us a sense of belonging, a sense of connection. When we know we are contributing to something bigger, and if we are in awe of it, then the mundane problems become less important and we can deal with personal disappointments much better.
Relationship with life and others
Our happiness not only depends on the nicer aspects of life but also on our ability to make peace with disappointments. People often disappoint us, so does life. Making peace with disappointments does not mean we submit to whatever is wrong or unfair; it simply means that we take responsibility and give our best to improve the situation, knowing that the outcome is not in our hands.
In the face of these disappointments, if we learn how to look at whatever we feel is wrong as wrong and yet don't judge the people or life in general, if we can also appreciate the goodness, we can be fairly happy.
Dr Sangbarta Chattopadhyay and Dr Namita Bhuta are medical practitioners, psychotherapists and life coaches