Your Personal Happiness Meter
by Dr. Valerie Allen
January 2017: There are no good or bad emotions. Our emotions are simply a response we experience when faced with various situations. Problems arise when you allow yourself to become emotionally overwhelmed. You may then engage in maladaptive behavior to the point you cannot function effectively in your day-to-day life.
At times, life might be a struggle and you feel weary. You have given up hope and feel your world is falling apart. Every problem becomes a crisis and trivial things cause exaggerated responses. You feel lost and alone, and no one seems to care. You may have learned how to exist without living.
How did you arrive at this awful state of being? Some of us are able to pinpoint the exact event that triggered the physical and emotional turmoil we suffer. Others simply can’t remember life any other way.
- You may think about your childhood, your family, your spouse, your ex-spouse, friends, and significant others. You talk about love and marriage, bitterness and breakups, heartbreak and rejection. You weep about children and step-children, the disappointment of having no children, and the pain of losing a child. You talk about a great job and no job, financial security, and abject poverty.
- You may harbor family secrets. You recall living with Mom, Dad, or Grandma. You experience growing up in foster homes or on the streets. You may recall the rejection of parents, siblings, friends, teachers, or co-workers. You hurt from being used and abused by others. You suffer cruel betrayal. You re-experience the pain and the fear of medical problems, your own and others. You know about rejection: feeling unloved and unwanted.
Yet somehow, you survived. Through all this turmoil, you found relief. You began to “feel” again. Fears subsided, you felt secure, and found peace. You experienced renewal, no longer just drifting from one day to the next. You enjoy the quality of life, which has been denied, or missing for so long. Slowly you integrated your past with the present and begin to look to the future with hope. You come back to life!
What miracle brings about such change? What phenomenon takes place? Our past has not been reconstructed, there has been no re-write of our personal history. There hasn’t been a drastic change in our current circumstances. Instead, you took charge of your life with a new found ability to change, adapt, and perceive differently. You set a goal, made a plan, and took action. You empowered yourself to create the life you wanted and deserved. You found happiness and a way to enjoy inner peace.
Up and Down You Go
At times life seems like a gigantic, emotional roller coaster, moving fast and in unexpected ways. However, emotions prompt you to think, feel and take action. To maintain emotional balance you must:
- Pinpoint how you feel: anger or rage, loved or tolerated, hurt or humiliated and so on
- Know the exact trigger for your emotions: a person, a task, a situation
- Respond in an effective and socially acceptable manner
Let’s look at an example. If you are miserable each day at the thought of going to work, you need to listen to yourself. What is your exact emotional response? Are you angry, frustrated, or afraid? What part of “work” is making you feel bad or ill at ease?
Break down each step of “work” and explore which ones you find problematic. Stay in touch with your emotions as you think about each of these steps:
- Getting up early; coming home late
- Driving a long distance; driving through heavy traffic
- Unfriendly coworkers; critical management; ineffective administration
- Mandatory dress code; uniforms
- Unpleasant or unsafe work environment; inadequate parking
- Specific job skills; task performance requirements
- Meeting deadlines; unreasonable demands
- Boring work; no incentive for high quality job performance
- No career growth; no hope of advancement; underpaid
Identify which step was your emotional trigger. Instead of generalizing such beliefs as, “I hate going to work,” or “I can’t stand my job,” specify what aspect of your employment upsets you the most. After identifying your emotional response to each step, you will be able to focus on the exact source of your discomfort about work. Now you can focus on and work to resolve the specific problem without generalizing excessive emotional distress toward your job.
You can use this same strategy in other aspects of your life where you find yourself overcome with negativity and frustration. This could be about your relationships with family, co-workers, neighbors and so on. It could be your finances, your job, your health, or your spiritual self. Take each situation and break it down into steps, decide which is the most problematic for you and identify the emotion you experience. Now consider your alternatives. What do you realistically have control over? Which things can you change to make your happiness meter move in a positive direction? Gain insight, be realistic, make a plan, and take action. Take charge of your life!
* * * *This is an edited excerpt from a book by Dr. Valerie Allen, Beyond the Inkblots: Confusion to Harmony. Dr. Valerie Allen is a licensed school psychologist and board certified rehabilitation counselor and case manager. She has taught students from elementary school through graduate studies in the fields of education and mental health. She is a popular author of children’s books, short stories, fiction, and non-fiction. Amazon.com/author/valerieallen