September 26th, 2013 15:46 EST
How to Be Happy In An Unhappy World
I have two friends who came out to their families. Both were kicked out of their houses and told it would be better for them to be dead than to be gay and embarrass their families. Who can say this to their kids? I routinely read stories of kids committing suicide because of being teased, assaulted and bullied at school and in their neighborhoods. Their taunters tell them that the world would be better if they were not around. What inspires people to do this to others?
Nothing is as valuable as life itself. But if life is so valuable, why is it that so many of us are so miserable to ourselves and to others?
One in 12 teens attempts suicide. The suicide rate among Americans aged 35 " 64 rose by nearly 30% from 1999 " 2010; the suicide rate for men in their 50`s increased by nearly 50%. 1 in 25 teens use antidepressants. Overall, the use of antidepressants increased 400% from the late 1980s to 2008. Approximately 50% of marriages in the US end in divorce. 83% of American workers say they feel stressed out by their jobs.
It doesn`t sound like we value life, let alone celebrate it. If life is supposed to be such an amazing event and each life is really valuable, these statistics seem to show the opposite. What would it take to get back to valuing life and living it like it matters? And whose voice do we listen to that inspires us to act this way?
Our industrial age was a tremendous period of material growth and wealth. In a very short time, our world`s sense of self shifted from living a great and happy life to one of having things to create a great life; we have become owned by our stuff. And when there are interruptions in this (like a recession), we quickly become unhappy; we then look for ways to distract ourselves from our unhappiness. We blame ourselves " we get stressed out, medicate with anti-depressants or alcohol and even threaten to or actually commit suicide. We blame and attack others, get divorced and bully. We seem to have lost the value in life itself and the ability to find joy in the moments of life; we have been encouraged to believe that our stuff will make us happy. And when it doesn`t we don`t know how to deal with disappointment and unhappiness " so we take it out on ourselves and on each other. As an executive and life coach, I routinely work with clients who are struggling with some aspect of being disappointed or unhappy in their work or life. In most cases it comes down to living expectations of others because of a lack of clarity about themselves " what they are good at, passionate about and what matters to them. In the absence of knowing our unique abilities and developing a clear sense of what we want in our lives, we let the world tell us how our life is supposed to be for us " how we should live, where to spend our money, what we should have and even what we should believe. And in following these directives, we get stressed because we are now living lives that don`t fit us. We marry for the wrong reasons and end up in divorce. We don`t know our talents, strengths and passions and therefore work in jobs we are not good at or hate. We let society tell us what is valuable, our religions tell us what to believe, and our government tells us how we should treat others and even what we should eat. This is not a list of complaints or a cynical post. Rather, it is simply a review of what the data is telling us. If the goal is to be happy and to value life, others` and ours, then the data is telling us we are missing the mark.
Happiness and valuing life is always an inside job; it is an internal choice, an outlook and an awareness that comes from self-knowledge. Each of us is born unique and amazing with all the right stuff to be successful in life. Because we were not born with an owner`s manual, we have to discover this critical information about ourselves as we live. We see what engages us and what doesn`t; we see what we are great at and what we are average at. To access this critical information we have to be more present and self-aware to each of the moments of life.
As we focus more on what we notice about ourselves instead of listening to others tell us who to be, we start to connect with this critical information. We are reminded of our intrinsic value and that there isn`t one way to do life; the right way to do life is unique to each of us. This reminds us to never let others diminish who we are because we don`t meet their definition of who we should be. The more aware we are of what we are good at, passionate about and what matters to us, the more we are able to search through our world for those environments, opportunities and places that fit who we are; I call this the great life process. Though we are intrinsically valuable, we feel a greater sense of value and happiness as we connect to meaningful places in our work and lives. The more we align ourselves in work and life to things that fit the unique us, the more intrinsically happy we become; life itself feels better. And the happier we allow ourselves to be, our stress responses are fewer; we are kinder to ourselves and to others. We show up larger to our world which amplifies our happiness. Happiness is self-perpetuating. It also eliminates the disappointment that fuels the unhealthy personal and social behaviors that seem to be the hallmark of today`s world.
In this great life process we see the effort it takes and therefore can be more accepting and accommodating of all others who are going through the same process. This gives rise to what I feel to be an updated golden rule: Know yourself. Be yourself. Let others be themselves. This would encourage others to learn how to appreciate the differences in themselves and in others. This would give each of us greater permission to live life in our way instead of trying to live in a way that doesn`t fit who we are, only to be miserable and upset each day, feeling like a stranger in our own lives. And perhaps we would become more aware of the struggle it takes to live true to ourselves and we would cut some slack to others looking to do the same thing. Perhaps we wouldn`t take our unhappiness out on others but rather support them in their process.
I wonder how quickly the alarming statistics shared at the beginning of this post would diminish if we were to focus on knowing ourselves, being (valuing) ourselves and allowing (and valuing) others to be themselves. Through greater self-awareness we can realize that the key to living a great and happy life is locked inside of us and only we have the key to access it. Until we do, we will look for our world to make us happy. And if it doesn`t, we take it out on ourselves and those around us; we all know how that story plays out. Know yourself. Be yourself. Let others be themselves. Simple. Clear. Empowering. Seems an easy formula to be happy in an unhappy world.