3 minute read
Want to feel happier?
Think about spiders.
Weird, we know, but stay with us.
A lot of people hate spiders because they’re creepy and gross. They wish they didn’t exist. Maybe they were bitten by a spider once. Now they avoid them at all costs, even if it means missing out on something worthwhile. Like camping. Or vacationing in Hawaii, where there are spiders the size of human hands.
Other people are fine with spiders. That doesn’t mean they love spiders and want spiders all over their bodies all day. They just accept them as being part of life. They know they can do certain things to limit their spider-exposure (close windows, clean cobwebs, etc.), but that they ultimately can’t control the outside world. They might run into a spider out there. Maybe even a really big one—though it’s usually worth the risk.
If they do happen to see a spider, they can tolerate the situation. They might freak out a little, but they can figure out a course of action. They know there’s a way to move forward, spider-free.
Think of “negative” emotions as spiders.
Negative emotions can be scary. They can cause pain. They can seem outside our control. They can show up in unexpected places. They aren’t exactly what we plan for or want to have around.
They are also inevitable and completely necessary to the functioning of a larger system. Most important, their presence is temporary.
If I’m afraid of being hurt in a relationship and then avoid relationships, I’m not avoiding pain. I’m trading in the pain of relationships for the pain of isolation. There will be pain either way.
One path is in service of my values, goals, and meaningful pursuits.
The other path is in service of avoidance, which eventually causes more pain and only takes me further away from what matters to me most.
Like spiders, negative emotions are part of life.
When we acknowledge that pain, for example, is an unavoidable part of life, it doesn’t mean we are resigning ourselves to lives of pain. It means we recognize it as a part—a necessary part—of a bigger system.
We can try to minimize and limit our exposure to uncomfortable feelings, but inevitably an uncomfortable feeling will present itself. If we can tolerate that discomfort in the moment, then we open ourselves up to pursuing more of what we value and find meaningful.
If we convince ourselves that the possibility of pain would be too much to bear, and the prospect is just too scary, then we arrange our lives and take action from a place of fear as opposed to a place of value or meaning.
What happens then? We don’t feel connected to what’s meaningful to us, and we will be in pain anyway.
Like spiders, negative emotions don’t control us.
Negative emotions are understandable given the contexts in which they are experienced. And in those contexts, they are appropriate. What’s more, their presence is impermanent.
Instead of running away from or avoiding uncomfortable negative emotions, we can learn to:
- Sit with them
- Work through them
- Tolerate them
- Distract from them
- Connect with them
- Grieve over them
- Write about them
- Breathe through them
- Cry over them
- Cope with them
And then they don’t have as much power over us.
In turn, we are free to more openly and intentionally pursue what actually matters to us—and that can make us happier.
Midwest Counseling & Diagnostic Center can offer support. Our extensively trained, highly skilled therapists are down-to-earth, non-judgmental, and committed to helping you find the path forward on your journey. For more information, please contact us.