Self-help, psychotherapy, life coaching and the industry of (un)happiness


"The world is a beautiful place
to be born into
if you don't mind happiness
not always being
so very much fun
if you don't mind a touch of hell
now and then
just when everything is fine
because even in heaven
they don't sing
all the time."

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

How did we as a society decide that happiness was not only deserved but a requirement?

When unhappy, we spend a lot of time thinking about our (un)happiness, looking for quick fixes and solutions to regain "the happy". Not unlike a druggie chasing a high.

If you never struggle or feel discomfort, how do you recognize real happiness or real achievement? How do you grow? Why is life, which is arguably difficult and a totally up-and-down affair, so much about finding and keeping elusive happiness? Or, in any case, why do we believe it is? (I would argue that some people don't expect or want to grow or change – they are equally able and welcome to choose the path of least resistance and will probably be happier for it.)

There is nothing wrong with looking for things that will make us feel better or happier. It's just a strange pathology that it should be the driving force behind all of our choices and decisions. Of course, an entire self-help industry, that ranges from life coaches and "positivity" cheerleaders peddling BS on late-night TV to quite well-qualified medical professionals in the psychiatric/psychotherapy industries, and a media that pushes the happiness theme like a pill we should all want, makes it difficult to avoid. It is as though there is a layer between us and the mechanisms we would normally use to think for ourselves. (Some people relish this – it is as though there is then something external to assign blame to, and an entire industry propping up the idea that we "deserve" or are "entitled to" something.)

All these thoughts came flooding into my head this afternoon, packing up for a trip and cleaning the house, I stopped and read an interview with life coach, Matthew Hussey, that got me stirred up. I nodded along with most of what he had to say, particularly, "We live in a very mollycoddled society where the slightest bit of discomfort is seen as wrong, but that discomfort is there for a reason. It’s supposed to trigger some form of action, some form of change, a realization of a truth—something, and I think the self-help world has you believing that you should be happy all the time."

This struck me in particular because I have always been someone who has lived as an individual. It has not always been easy or happy, and I would never actually go so far as to say that I consider myself a "happy person". I have happy moments and experiences, as we all do, but I don't think it is fair to our life experience to classify ourselves as "happy". I have never felt that I was living fully or authentically if I strove solely for happiness. It is a competition that can never be won, thus leading to feelings of inadequacy, and possibly anger or resentment… all because we cannot accept the reality of how life is.

As the interview – and most of my own experience – states – we will never make everyone happy or satisfied, not everyone is going to like us. One thing we can do right away to boost personal happiness is embrace who we are and how we feel truly, really and honestly without fear of judgment and live it. I have never really cared deeply what people thought of me and my lifestyle/choices, and as such, have never been held back by external things that just don't matter.

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