NOTE: In this article the author uses the word self frequently. Self is used to refer to a person’s most genuine identity, who and what a person truly is. So, the term “your self” has a different meaning and should not be confused with the word yourself.
In the first installment of this blog series, we began looking at the idea of happiness, one of life’s most fulfilling experiences. It is something almost everyone wants more of in their lives. I commented, “Happiness is experienced when people cultivate a confident and fluid expression of themselves in their lives.” Let’s look at some key points in this idea.
First, is the word cultivate. This is to point out that happiness and the ability to express your “self” (who and what you genuinely are) is something you develop . It is a habit or trait that grows stronger over time. It is a perspective that takes work. It is not having every opportunity to have the things you enjoy.
Second, is the word confident. Confidence is, without a doubt, the number one characteristic my clients tell me they want more of in their lives. I am willing to wager most people reading this agree. You want to be more confident. You want to be more confident living life thinking, feeling, saying, doing, and being what is most in own true nature. You know a lack of confidence dams up the fluid expression of self. So, what is the big inhibitor? What causes the lack of confidence? The answer, in a single word, is FEAR.
Fear Has Many Faces
Fear is an insidious adversary in our efforts to live as our best selves and to experience happiness. One reason is because fear has many faces. Each face tells us a different message, more convincing than the last at keeping us discouraged, unconfident, or complacent. Fear does not always show up as the “shaking in your boots” feeling of terror that we might think. Fear presents itself as anger, hate, jealousy, apathy, doubt, etc.
We may feel anger towards someone because of something they said about us, but that anger may be an expression of our fear that they don’t like us or our fear other people will think less of us because of what was said.
Sometimes we experience jealousy about the things people have or the recognition they get from others, but fear that we are unable to achieve what they have, or we are not as appreciated as they are, could be the real source of these feelings.
Very often we experience apathy about doing something. It may really need to get done and we would be better off when it does, but we procrastinate. We tell ourselves we just don’t feel like it, but if we dig down deep enough, we may find we are afraid of facing our own insecurities about attempting something with which we don’t have a lot of experience.
At the root of what we identify as the “negative emotions”, if we dig deeply enough, we will find fear. We unconsciously transmute fear into these other feelings because they are more comfortable for us to accept than admitting to being afraid. We don’t feel any sense of control with fear, and it is viewed as a product of weakness. In essence, we are afraid of being afraid.
“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Why do we fear so much?
Have you ever had a great day when everything went really well? Your coffee was perfect. People were easy going at work. Your boss gave you a compliment. As you leave work, though, somebody cuts you off in traffic. You almost hit them. They had the nerve to honk their horn and flip you off and referred to you with a term that brought the wholesomeness of your relationship with your mother into question.
What were you thinking about that night as you tried to get to sleep? You had a hundred and one positive things that happened that day to think about, but if you are like most of us, you were thinking about the jerk who cut you off, the negative thing. Why do we tend to recall and hold onto the negative memories more than we do the positive?
There is a beneficial function to holding on to negative things that upset us more than we do the positive things. It helps keep us alive!
Our nervous systems have evolved to be sensitive to the impact of dangerous, emotional, negative events. We have developed the fight or flight response, a function of the sympathetic nervous system which prepares us physically and psychologically to come into conflict with perceived danger or to escape and avoid it. We human beings also have a great capacity for memory. It is to our advantage to easily remember the things that could harm us. It helps us recognize and avoid danger and to predict similar situations in the future. This ability is a blessing and a curse.
The world has changed greatly, and we are not facing wild beasts, harsh environments, or ruthless enemies determined to kill us for our food supply. We now live in a relatively calm and soft world. Modern humans, however, still have nervous systems primed to recall, seek out, and react to threats. Our gift of memory begins to work against us because we are primed to remember the negative experiences and feel the same fear-based emotions. We become very good at what we repeatedly do. So, if we are thinking and feeling negatively more often that we are thinking and feeling positively, we are conditioning our minds and bodies to operate most efficiently in a state of fear, and remember fear can be experienced as several emotions, anger, sadness, apathy, depression, etc.
When fear is caused or reinforced by our pattern of thinking, a common reaction is doubt. We doubt ourselves and our abilities to overcome the source of distress. At these times we often default to the flight aspect of the fight or flight response. We avoid, we contract in our thinking, and we retreat to our Comfort Zones. Comfort zones are prisons with no bars. They are dangerous places that, if we don’t become aware, we will never escape.
Join us for The Art of happiness Part III when we will discuss comfort zones, the power of conscious choice, and finding purpose.