Lean Into the Pain or How Avoiding Unhappiness Won’t Make You Happy

Avoiding UnhappinessI was having dinner with a friend of mine and her parents a couple of weeks ago and they were asking for advice on quitting smoking that they could pass along to their son who is a smoker.  The only thing that I could really think of to tell them was to lean into the pain.  A couple of days later I was watching a movie with Funky called Hector and the Search for Happiness (which is completely awesome I highly recommend it) and there was a line about how avoiding unhappiness is not the road to happiness.

The thing is, unhappiness is just a part of life.  Without unhappiness how would we appreciate happiness?  How would we even know what happiness is?

Having a risk averse way of looking at things gets in the way of being happy!  Why would you pursue a route that is hard but ultimately rewarding if avoiding struggle or moments of unhappiness is your main goal?

In fact, I would even go so far as to say that surviving unhappiness is one thing that can make you really happy.  When I look back on my own experiences I see this play out over and over again.  If there was a project I was dreading because it seemed really difficult or I was insecure about my ability to handle it, I would put off dealing with it.  I was a classic procrastinator.  The result of this, was that I went around with this thing hanging over my head and in the back of my mind, worrying me.  Then I would put the thing off so long that some kind of deadline would pass and the situation would get much worse and much more complicated.

When I finally disciplined myself to take care of the dreaded thing right away, no matter how much it sucked, I would be rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and renewed faith in my own abilities.

Here’s another way of saying the same thing.  I was watching a show called The Mentalist and the main character on the show told someone that they would be a lot happier if they didn’t think so much about what they do and don’t like.

I completely agree.  Just by saying, I don’t like being unhappy, you are ensuring that you will be unhappy.  It is a self fulfilling prophesy.

For example: people think, “I don’t want to quit smoking because it’s going to be really hard and I won’t like that.”  Then they finally talk themselves into quitting and they think “yep, I was right this is hard and I don’t like it”, then they start thinking “Is it worth it?  I’m so unhappy and quitting smoking is supposed to make my life better but it’s making it worse because it’s so hard and I’m so unhappy.”  Then they start smoking again and guess what?  They are still unhappy, because they are doing something that they know they shouldn’t be doing and the cycle starts again.  The only way to free themselves from the cycle is to lean into the pain, to just accept it and go through it and pursue their only chance at happiness which lies on the other side of unhappiness.

I’m not saying people should pursue unhappiness for it’s own sake or that they should wallow or obsess over things that make them unhappy.  I’m only saying that sometimes unhappiness is unavoidable and in those situations it might be better to submit of your own free will and truly experience it and then move on, instead of avoiding it and thereby allowing it more control over your life than it deserves.

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