With the recent terrorist attacks and Grenfell disaster, coupled with an uncertain political time, we can start to feel quite disillusioned about the world we live in. It can lead us to question everything we thought we knew as we strive for (an ever more distant) state of happiness!
Perhaps we are inherently optimistic – what’s happening is at odds with that. Perhaps we are already low and each terrible news headline feels like another nail in the coffin of our sadness.
Previously, I’ve written about the dangers of forced-positivity, gratitude and glorifying happiness in my article ‘Gratitude is not about a silver lining’. I explained how it’s not wrong to be positive but sometimes a sense of exploring our sad feelings and not substituting them for blind optimism, can be more helpful especially if we’re feeling low. We are awash with articles on being positive, but sometimes that’s not possible or helpful.
Unhappiness and the discrepancy monitor
As humans, we are constantly monitoring how we’re doing, how happy we are and whether things could be better. We are constantly judging things as good, bad, boring, interesting, amazing, stupid, and so on. In the Mindfulness world, we call this ‘the discrepancy monitor’ – the distance between where we’re at and where we’d like to be.
The discrepancy monitor is a process whereby we continually monitor and evaluate ourselves and our current situation against a gold standard.
Whatever is going on, the discrepancy monitor is the root cause of our unhappiness.
When we are a long way from where we want to be, we can be unhappy. Maybe we’ve read a recent news article that made us sad. We wish things were different, that we hadn’t read it and that we weren’t feeling that way.
An alternative to striving for happiness is ‘radical acceptance’
Radical acceptance is about saying yes to life just as it is. It differentiates between pain and suffering. When we push away from a situation and say ‘it’s not fair’ or ‘it shouldn’t have happened that way’, we add suffering to our pain.
Pain is inevitable, suffering is not – it is what we do to ourselves.
The news article may have caused pain but it’s what we do next that counts. What does our internal voice say? For example, we might have catastrophising thoughts such as ‘why do these articles make me feel so sad’, ‘I’m not cut out for this world’, ‘I should always avoid the news’. This is rumination and is suffering.
“Pain is not wrong.
Reacting to pain as wrong initiates the trance of unworthiness. The moment we believe something is wrong, our world shrinks and we lose ourselves in the effort to combat the pain.”
~ Tara Brach
This example about the news is small but some of us are quite sensitive to such things. It doesn’t mean that we should avoid it at all costs (perhaps ration it) but it does mean we can allow those feelings of sadness to be there and offer ourselves some kindness. The recent terrorist attacks, along with the Grenfell Tower fire, have been truly saddening – happiness may not be possible for a little while. Often, we are empathising with those who have lost loved ones, which is a hugely compassionate thing to do.
See what happens
This rarely stops it being painful, but can we actually allow it to be painful? Can we put happiness aside?
Why? Because the opposite often doesn’t help, it doesn’t make us any happier.
Can we explore and nurture this pain just as it is – perhaps by taking extra care of ourselves and by noticing if the inner critic starts? From here, we can adopt a friendly curiosity to our experience seeing that voice for what it really is. That’s when the change starts.
It can take time and practice to shift to new ways of being.
Radical acceptance isn’t about condoning what happened or being weak or passive, it’s an active and radical act to shift from striving for happiness and to be with the pain of your experience, however big or small.
If we can support you or your employees on your pathway with Mindfulness, please contact us to discuss.