counselling, psychotherapy, life coaching, supervision

On wanting happiness

‘All I want is to be happy.’ – That statement and variations of it crop up again and again in counselling sessions. It seems clear and reasonable and a completely understandable motive for coming to counselling, but it’s a can that usually does not contain what it says on the label. We open it, expecting something nice to eat, and find it’s a can of worms – which is probably not our first choice for supper! Forget supper and go fishing!

How does that work? When someone says “All I want is happiness” they are rarely thinking about how happy they are or even how happy they could be. On the contrary, they are focusing on not being happy… which probably means that they are leading themselves in precisely the opposite direction to the direction they long to take. (See the comments on ‘Attention feeds‘.)

To feed happiness, pay attention to happiness. That sounds all neat and logical and straightforward, but it’s hard to do when we’re starting out from unhappiness. It involves finding a starting place in ourselves that is deeper than our present mood, a hunch that change is possible. Are we really willing to allow ourselves to be happy? Do we see ourselves as a victim of our moods, tossed about like driftwood on a sea of sorrows, hoping for someone to come along and fish us out. If we’re lucky that might happen, but must we wait? Waiting can last a lifetime. And, if we are rescued,what if we fall back in?

There’s a crucial inner step called for here. To start with, it means taking responsibility for our feelings, and that’s a challenge if we’re experiencing ourselves as victims of our feelings.

Excitement, happiness, and joy are real alternatives to isolation, anxiety and depression. Usually there is a journey to get from one to the other. There is a principle of movement to be discovered in us. It doesn’t usually lift us up and deposit us at our ultimate goal. Often we can’t even begin to name that goal except in the vaguest way anyhow, so how could we buy the proper ticket? But we can begin to move, even if the best we can do for the moment is walk around the block.