happiness

Choose Constructive Emotions (And don’t forget your greatest asset) (3)

Approaching Shadow, 1954 by Chinese photographer Fan-Ho born in Shanghai, in 1931.

“Don’t be so negative! Think positive!”

— positive thinking evangelist


Reading time: 15-18 mins

How many times have you heard the above smiley command from people who have joined the positive psychology bandwagon? Apart from being a tad self-righteous the proclamation might also mask the person’s inability to process the negative realities of this world.

This “pursuit of happiness” tightly bound with numerous affirmations and fixated beliefs intent on to forcing happiness into being doesn’t deliver. If we do not achieve those heights of impossible joy then we sow the seeds of re-occurring resentment.

As we have explored, positive thinking is an important part of self-betterment, but it is literally only half the equation. There’s a huge caveat that goes unnoticed in the drive to cultivate a better outlook and a happier life. Deny the vital role of negative emotions in this process and and we court serious trouble.

In fact, this blind spot is probably one of the primary reasons for many of our global woes and needs to be fully understood before we immerse ourselves in the positive thinking belief system.

Success in cultivating positive emotions lies in the nature of the methods we use to attain them as much as it does the reasons we embark on such a discipline. If the methods and reasons are faulty, then success may be fleeting and come at a cost.

But “the optimism of the action is better than the pessimism of the thought” right?

No. Not always. In fact hardly ever.  If the pessimism of the thought is grounded in the reality of what is, then you can guarantee that the “optimism” and good intentions of the “action” will inevitably create more chaos than order.

As Barbara Ehrenreich described in characteristically blunt terms:

Americans have long prided themselves on being positive and optimistic — traits that reached a manic zenith in the early years of this millennium. Iraq would be a cakewalk! The Dow would reach 36,000! Housing prices could never decline! Optimism was not only patriotic but was also a Christian virtue, or so we learned from the proliferating preachers of the “prosperity gospel,” whose God wants to “prosper” you. In 2006, the runaway bestseller “The Secret” promised that you could have anything you wanted, anything at all, simply by using your mental powers to “attract” it. The poor listened to upbeat preachers like Joel Osteen and took out subprime mortgages. The rich paid for seminars led by motivational speakers like Tony Robbins and repackaged those mortgages into securities sold around the world. [1]

This distinctly American obsession with positive thinking tied to a delusional neo-liberal brand of capitalism means “to get what you want” in as little time as possible and with minimum effort; a lifestyle which has permeated virtually every social and cultural domain.

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Choose constructive emotions (and don’t forget your greatest asset) (2)

 

“Everything can be taken from a man but …The last of human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

— Viktor Frankel


Reading time: 10 mins

What is it you can tell yourself and that will ensure that every time you get in a negative loop you have constructive thoughts and actions which bypass that habit? Think of it as building new houses of emotion imbued with positive feelings in every wall and every beam. Make sure that you are not in an environment, relationship or work situation that continually places you in that loop. And if you are, ask yourself how much of those negative triggers are under your control to diminish? You’ll not be able change everything externally in your life but you can change how you react to these pressures and head off the kind of habitually negative thinking that harms you. Then you are laying the foundation for your life to change naturally. (Yes, really, you are). That requires faith and not a little persistence. But if you are able to cultivate feelings and emotions that work for you that’s when reality begins to change, even if it seems like a pipe dream.

I struggled with many things in my youth and beyond but passive aggression and an overly critical attitude were high up on the scale. This was due to intermittent depression rooted in a poor sense of self. It was only when I found constructive channels for release which took me away from my inner stress was I slowly able to heal. I could indeed choose positive emotions instead of wallowing in resentment and projected angst. In fact, we are choosing all the time, even if unconsciously.

Remember the two sets of unconscious thinking: system1 (instinctive and emotional) and system 2 thinking (logical; deliberative) and what Daniel Goleman called the “high and low roads” of emotional intelligence. We are literally a complex, tangled mass of biases and mechanical processes which make a mockery of free-will and independent thought. But we can get closer to those ideals. Our job is to ease into the marriage of the two and make them work for us. And to do that we need to be both internally considerate of our own experiences, pains and fears whilst affording the same external considerations to those with whom we live and work.

Learning to exert proper control over the wild horse emotions and chaotic feelings isn’t a bundle of fun but like unruly animals they be gently tamed so that they begin to love their master rather than follow the bad parent of the ego who let’s them do anything at all for the next tasty treat.

A concurrent theme that appears throughout this whole blog is that we need a good social network present to keep us nourished. For example, snaps shots of positive social memories is an effective way to bring you back from the negative maelstrom. In combination with breathing this can help to re-connect with the biochemical component of that remembered reality. [1] 

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6. Choose constructive emotions (and don’t forget your greatest asset) (1)

By M.K. Styllinski

“The benefits of positive emotions don’t stop after a few minutes of good feelings subside. In fact, the biggest benefit that positive emotions provide is an enhanced ability to build skills and develop resources for use later in life.”

— Barbara Fredrickson
.

Reading time: 15 mins

Our emotions flow through everything we do and every personality type on show: from the “coldest” intellectual academic to the athlete striving to be the best. How we emote, whether we express negative or positive emotion depends how well we know ourselves and if we are prepared to find the balance between too much positivity (yes, it’s possible) and the more well-known excess of negativity.

There is no question that we can choose to have more constructive emotions whilst understanding that negative emotions are not “bad” just in need of balance so that the positive/negative polarities work as a team. It’s the distortion of our emotions which wreaks the havoc. There is nothing instrinsically wrong with us other than allowing our feelings to run wild, often to the point of pathology.

This is especially true of those suffering from trauma and/or the effects of childhood adversity as both tend to make emotions supercharged to threats via a hypersensitive parasympathetic nervous system. Pain, unconsciously expressed becomes the primary interface between reality and the self. We become a walking “pain body” geared to survival and the multitude of triggers from any real or perceived threat to our armour of “protection.” Regardless of whether we have unresolved pain and trauma to cultivate conscious awareness over our emotional mind is the key to regulating our life toward a happier and more constructive state of affairs.

I used “constructive” in the title instead of “positive” for this reason. The latter is frequently promoted whilst ignoring the benefits of regulated negative emotion. Like the word “spiritual,” positive thinking has become a loaded phrase for a number of reasons which we’ll get into later on. Suffice to say, understanding our own particular make-up of feelings and emotions and how they are channelled into every day life is crucial. Without a more harmonious interaction with situations and people with whom we interact (or more probably inter-react) imbalance can only get worse or we remain paralysed in an uncomfortable stasis.

Our emotions determine how we perceive the world, what biases and preferences are operating and what decisions and choices we make. Emotions are what make us human; they are an essential part of our nature without which we would be a robot or the iconic Vulcan Mr. Spock from the Star Trek series. But even he had cracks in his hyper-logic because he was half-human, half-Vulcan. As it stands, Mr. Spock did pretty well in navigating through the problems he and his crew encountered. He was efficient, incisive and highly adept at solving those obstacles. But he found human sensitivities beyond the rational perplexing, since overreaction and over-identification was literally alien to him. He wasn’t exactly the life and soul of a party as a result. Nonetheless, we need Mr.Spock’s laser-like logic to sit comfortably alongside a sense of humour, compassion and intuition if we are to achieve a steady balance in the face of the unknown.

So, what are emotions as opposed to feelings? Is there a difference? It would seem so.

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Have an Aim / Objective (2)

© Rostyslav Zabolotnyi | Dreamstime.com

“A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as
something to aim at.”

— Bruce Lee
.

Reading time: 20-25 mins.

This is a long post finalising our look at aim and objectives. I hope it will provide some food for thought as you go forward. Remember, that all the 31 suggestions exist as an essential part of each other. None of them come alive in isolation and all play a part in self-transformation.

***

Your aim must align to the best in yourself. It must ignite enjoyment over pleasure.

If you are an artist then your art must be deeply personal and passionately part of your being. When that happens, you will affect people. There are implications from your dedication to your aim. It will mean connections which initiate expansion for yourself and others. If you build your own narrative – genuine and sincere – it will click with others and they will play a part in the development and evolution of your aim.

Without that self-belief – because your aim and your objectives are you, if you’ve chosen correctly – the momentum is absent and the rotten fruit of failure will drop into your lap so many times that you’ll be forced to re-evaluate your plans. As long as the aim remains true, the distance and objectives along that trajectory can be adapted as many times as necessary. Failure is the whetstone upon which you build a razor-sharp aim that cuts through anything. This occurs by virtue of the fact is that it is TRUE and reflects the light of your intention.

Again, your aim and objectives will probably need work and will likely morph into something quite different depending on your field and focus. Go slow, step by step, that way you are much less likely to get disillusioned and/or create unnecessary obstacles. Often it is our anticipation and obsession with our aim that creates emotional static within which will repel constructive responses. Again, planning is about preparing the internal resonance so that the right response arrives in the outside world.

Do every objective for its own sake not for the perceived rewards. Even if your long-term aim keeps floating in front of you like a carrot on a stick, try to put it out of your daily mind while carefully arranging the system of objectives toward that aim. Every objective IS the aim. That way, instead of becoming impatient and miserable about your perceived lack of progress every completed action becomes part of that fractal process and overall vision, each giving birth to the other.

The manifestation of one’s final aim can’t happen overnight but it will happen.

In this post we’ll explore the notion of a personal system of consciousness and the process of objectives which can bring us creativity and flow, aligned to our primary aim.

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2. Respect Yourself (1)

By M.K. Styllinski

“Above all things, one should maintain his self-respect, and there is
but one way to do that, and that is to live in accordance with
your highest ideal.”

— Robert G. Ingersoll


Reading time: 15 -18 mins

“He doesn’t respect himself much if he can carry on like that.”

Did you see her last night? She’s got no self-respect.”

Have some respect for yourself for God’s sake!

Such judgements and admonishments are unlikely to install the kind of respect those persons are looking for. The very notion of self-respect is highly subjective. One man’s accusation of poor hygiene, grungy dreadlocks and disrespect for authority is another man’s expression of a “free spirit”. What matters however, is whether you have the kind of respect for yourself that makes your life worthwhile and makes you a pleasure to be around.

It reminds me of my time as a bewildered twenty-something who gave an air of self-control and ease but was struggling to make sense of life. The recurring theme of that period was a battle between dissociation and reality, creativity and sexuality, perfectionism and surrender. When one has the feeling of persecution and guilt embedded in one’s very being it means that making a mistake is the end of the world whereby great horror, ridicule and even annihilation awaits should you err in the slightest way. Way over the top of course, and a form of compensatory narcissism that makes you retreat into a smaller and smaller bubble that you deem navigable, where everything is micro-managed to shield oneself from anymore pressure. Ironically, that only makes such a bubble more prone to bursting, since embracing objective reality becomes a threat to that congealed mass of ego-masks built to protect, yet a barrier to growth. Bloody conflict ensues between one’s fears and the promise of change. Thankfully, I did break that conflict, but not without cost, which is as it should be.

Self-respect never arrives when we shield ourselves from life and do everything we can to avoid failure. The latter is how we learn and there is no other way to build success – be it in business, relationships or the growth of self-awareness. You will err, you will fail and that’s okay. The information that led you to failure offers knowledge for next time. And provided you don’t give up, then such bad experiences become useful for the future you wish to create – they are needed grist for the mill.

Without self-respect it is hard to achieve what we desire. It is even harder to sustain any success should we manage to block out that doubting voice which is intimately linked to self-sabotage and victimhood. “Better to scuttle one’s ship now and face an even bigger disaster” says that voice, Better to protect myself from that kind of pain and suffering.” Yet, it is precisely this fixation with future “disaster” and the debilitating voice of unreason that is asking to be analysed and thereby integrated. (see no. 1 Heal Your Past).

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31 Ways To Grow Your Life

By M.K. Styllinski


Courtesy of Zahir Zag | http://www.rep.appscase.com/


Reading time: 8-10 mins

After this series on why a sense of meaning, purpose and happiness is absent for so many of our younger (and older) generations, we come to some practical solutions to this malaise. The following 31 suggestions are from my experience and intimately tied to various stages of my life. That is not to say I’ve mastered them all. Not by a long way. Let’s call it work in progress. I’m therefore not seeking to set myself up as anyone other than a fellow climber struggling toward that mountain peak.

As you’ll no doubt see, these principles and qualities of character are as old as the hills. They will not magically lead us to a Holy Grail of happiness, but if we persist we might be led to a state of being that transcends the interminable duality of “like, not like”, “happiness, unhappiness” etc. The simple truth is that we human beings have a psychology that is fundamentally no different to how we were thousands of years ago: we are still looking for that elusive Grail in the material world and through the nature of our genetic biology that pushes us to act on impulse and instinct, offering gratification and fleeting relief. That’s normal of course, our evolutionary nature is powerful and our consumerist culture equally so. But we can strive to regulate and overcome those sometimes addictive drives and desires. This is where applied knowledge comes in. With discipline, persistence and constancy, you can change your life for the better. Without practical application however, knowledge is merely words floating in the ether or ideas on paper that offer only food for the hungry intellect.

That said, we all have different experiences and there is no “one-size-fits-all”. All we can do is sift the wheat from the chaff and cast a discerning eye over the historical and experiential consensus. Maybe there are some definitive nuggets of psycho-spiritual gold out there which offer a means to walk a coherent and ordered path. If we can tread carefully, step by step, we might create a higher form of happiness not bound by material acquisition or emotional possession.

There are recurring themes and principles which haven’t changed much, be they sourced from the Bible or the Koran, the Chinese I Ching, The Tibetan Book of the Dead or the writings of Marcus Aurelius. Over and over we see the same guiding beacons teaching us about the nature of the human condition and how to live a more harmonious life. Now, in this synthetic age and despite a deluge of mediocrity, the internet has allowed the sharing of ancient and modern wisdom to reach millions of people, possibly in a way that’s never happened before. So, there is much promise and potential in the free-flow variations of perennial wisdom.

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Why Young Lives Are Losing Meaning and Purpose VII: Getting the Ball Rolling

By M.K. Styllinski

Logan Zillmer | www.loganzillmerphoto.com

“What a curious phenomenon it is that you can get men to die for the liberty of the world who will not make the little sacrifice that is needed to free themselves from their own individual bondage.” 

— Bruce Barton


Reading time: 8-10 mins

The idea that we can be happy in a world that seems to veer from one chaotic clusterfuck to the next appears to be a tall order. How on earth can we be happy when there is so much suffering out there? Easy. Just pretend it isn’t there – something the majority of us do most of the time. Hence the reason we are where we are – in the proverbial pig sty.  Seeing things realistically and refusing to bounce through life in a “happy” bubble has consequences, but they are far less damaging spiritually than if we deny, deny deny.  The latter effectively accepts the lies we are fed on a daily basis and covets willful blindess and its sham of normalcy.

Conversely, we’d short circuit if we took the pain of the world onto our shoulders. Feeling guilt and pushing the altruistic envelope in a bid to save the planet isn’t the answer either. This is most disasterous when thwarted desires are funnelled through ideology and a slave to group consciousness as we are seeing. It’s always about finding the fulcrum, mediating between the extremes and digging for the gold of one’s true individuality.

The truth is, if we want to see reality and ourselves as objectively as possible, warts and all, the inner tension and friction created from such a choice may offer an opportunity to embody an entirely different order of happiness, borne of honouring reality as it is. This is transcending the happiness seesaw and building a strong centre within, capable of withstanding any storm at any port. In effect, rather than seeking to increase our happiness quota by insulating ourselves from reality and blocking attempts to go deeper into our own programming, we can attempt the high road to a happiness that’s a byproduct of what is essentially, a spiritual practice.

Of course, if you think there is nothing more to life other than what you can see in front of your own nose, then that’s fine. You can still obtain stability and some contentment, though the dimensions of inspiration and support may be more limited. Nonetheless, to achieve a different order of happiness and peace is to live in truth – despite and due to the darkness, that is also part of light. And to live in truth means to live as you really are.

What else is there?

Things may get even more existential here, so bear with me…

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Why Young Lives Are Losing Meaning and Purpose VI: The Universe Doesn’t Negotiate Or “Welcome to the Matrix”

By M.K. Styllinski

Kazuakai Tanahashi | brushmind.com

“‘Soul-making’ needs to be re-imagined and reintegrated into our societies. We need not go back to animism or alchemy to find soul-making. We can find it here, in the everyday Now. …The interior life should be recognized as an inherent human need, and it should be socially acceptable and encouraged to direct part of our gaze in its direction. After all, if the outer sun rises but the inner sun does not, then nothing has been gained.”

~ Kingley L. Dennis


Reading time: 20-25 mins

This exploration of happiness seems to have morphed into that which underlies the seeking, namely what it really means to change ourselves and if there is something deeper to access. Change is about leaping into the unknown and battling with the dark recesses of our unconscious mind which have so far evaded detection yet continue to sabotage the promise of a life of meaning and purpose. Even if we have attained a semblance of peace and success in this world, depression and inner dissatisfaction continue to arise. This suggests something much deeper is going on and that exhortations to find happiness will only paper over the ever-widening cracks in our psyches.

Regardless of your beliefs discovering meaning and purpose is a spiritual quest. By “spiritual” I mean the will to obtain balance and creative flow with life, living in the Tao, or honouring the Divine in our thoughts and actions. The eventual result is more harmonious relationships and a constructive daily life. We create something unique in that exchange because we have made the effort to achieve it – it is our contribution borne from an accumulation of experience; a struggle that eventually bears fruit and from which everyone can be nourished. Happiness results, as a byproduct of observable results, namely, the effects we have on others. When that begins to occur, our state of Being radiates and effects whatever social unit we find ourselves embedded. But we have to cultivate resilience from a centre of calm within to let such dividends arrive. This process comes from simple understandings and life lessons which haven’t really changed much for thousands of years.

If you are skeptical that one person can change the world then we’d be in agreement. But one person who changes their inner world positively must logically cause ripples of change in the outer reality. We are wired to cooperate and to adapt to tumultuous circumstances. If your intent and consequent effort remains consistent you’ll connect with others doing the same. Being alone in daily life is not a good survival tactic as our ancient ancestors realised. This is the nature of real-life social networks: a contagion for good or for ill can spread in a non-linear bursts of transference, given enough key connectors. So, there is no reason we can’t transform ourselves, and by extension, our family life, the neighbourhood and local community, if we form or tap into the right kind of networks. As discussed throughout this series, applied knowledge/spirituality should be useful – useful to our own aims and to those of others, otherwise, what’s the point? As author Kurt Vonnegut, reminded us: “Find a way to be useful; if you aren’t useful you are useless.”

That doesn’t mean we seek global transformation because that very desire tends to run up against hubris and the consequent road blocks of ideology. Reality simply isn’t designed to be second guessed in that way. But we can start small and build seed-visions of quality that have tangible results in our lives. These seeds of change determine the quality of all that follows and sends a signal to the information field that we choose to join and augment the creative dynamics of reality, rather than enforcing our visions onto people and situations which, though well-intentioned, often add to the chaos commensurate with the law of unintended consequences. (Good intentions divorced from self-awareness and critical thinking – but satisfying for the emotions – always makes things worse).

The will to change from what is clearly not working to other more harmonious possibilities may not lead to spectacular revolutionary fireworks but then, constructive change seldom manifests this way. Usually, in terms of inner work, it’s just hard drudgery and a battle we must do alone even when surrounded by intense social interaction. (No one knows our weaknesses quite like we do). In the beginning, depending on the level of transformation you seek, sticking with it will eventually cause minor to major changes to your environment and the people with whom you associate some way down the line. In the short-term, you might have little to show for it, but when you keep going, step by step, day after day, month after month with incremental victories you suddenly realise that you are positively different and your life signals that change.

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Why Young Lives Lives Are Losing Meaning and Purpose V: Faking it to Fit in

By M.K. Styllinski

The Wallflower or Attention Seeker?

“The fraudulence paradox was that the more time and effort you put into trying to appear impressive or attractive to other people, the less impressive or attractive you felt inside — you were a fraud. And the more of a fraud you felt like, the harder you tried to convey an impressive or likable image of yourself so that other people wouldn’t find out what a hollow, fraudulent person you really were.”

— David Foster Wallace


Reading time: 10-12 mins

Another aspect to consider in this overview of happiness is the introvert/extrovert poles and the mix of both, classed as ambivert. This is a useful starting point from which to guage how imbalance can manifest and impressions start to depart from who we really are, to become camouflage rather an expression of our essential nature. The trick is to become internal auditors of our self-awareness – an introspective quest of self-observation. With the help of others, we begin to employ an objective analysis as best we can, which is where Eurich’s “imaginary therapist” comes in.  Equally important is an extrospective quest or external auditors to increase our self-awareness with other people and to discover how they really see us. Once we have both introspective and extrospective quests covered then we are in a good position to start the climb toward greater awareness and a bigger vista from which to make further progress.

Of course, you can excel at one and not the other. That means introverts may be better at seeing what many of us miss, but suffer when it comes to externalising and applying those discoveries. For instance, they might have a harder time establishing that supportive circle of true friendships that can house the creativity for community, although they harbour a greater understanding of the covert psychological strategies at play, mostly due to their bid to remain under the radar and away from the spotlight. Generally, extroverts will have more difficulty with sufficient introspection since they are often more comfortable with an external focus. Such people usually have no problem creating social circles but they will a) likely have friendships that enjoy their charisma and entertainment value but seldom have friends that get close enough to access their real nature outside of that “larger than life” persona, b) the large amount of friends they may have is due to the possibility that these contacts can only stand them in small doses c) imbalanced extroverts tend to suck the energy out of a group or gathering in their bid to be the centre of attention which ultimately leads to friendship fatigue and/or accumulated tension, jealousy and conflict. (Unless of course, their behaviour is due to the Dark Triad which is a whole different ball-game).

For the imbalanced introverts who are immersed in a culture that unfairly values extroversion, such people often feel lonely, anxious and depressed. The imbalanced introvert will likely believe she does not have the courage or the likeability to engage sufficiently with others and will think that people would probably misunderstand her anyway, especially if her social skills have atrophied. Acute shyness seldom recedes if these fears aren’t addressed. Many introverts who are concerned about their personality type (whether such an expesssion is natural or artificial) place too much importance on what others might think of them and are locked into erroneous fears about the impressions they might engender should they have the courage to properly exchange. Social exchange is harder for those naturally preferring solitude, peace and one-to-one relationships but the sensitivity and perspicacity that often goes with introversion is much needed in our culture. Imbalanced introversion can lead to the kind of self-pity which produces the Damsel-in-Distress or Little Boy Lost Syndromes which seeks to ellict attention in manipulative way. Neither ploys evoke long lasting relationships.

The imbalanced extrovert doesn’t place enough importance on the art of exchange and may place great stock in his own perceived value – or at least, his need to operate in such a way that delivers what he needs i.e. required energy through attention – which may or not be in synch with others’ needs. His or her self-concept can be limitless and they can thrive in situations of pressure, risk and responsibility. They can be the life and soul of the party or a heavy jack-boot on true exchange, hogging the conversation and dominating all those in his presence whether at a board meeting or the pub. God help us if he isn’t entertaining and charismatic. Behind all that bravado however, they can be as insecure as the timid introvert, preferring to use a different mechanism to fill up the emotional tank of the ego. Obnoxious behaviour with minimal social skills will gradually deliver the extrovert to the same place as the introvert who is busy wallowing in her own shadow. The only difference is that the imbalanced extrovert will refuse to believe it and attempt to “entertain” amid uncomfortable smiles and polite excuses to catch the last taxi home.

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Why Young Lives Are Losing Meaning And Purpose IV: Impression Management

By M.K. Styllinski

“The only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open.”

Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters


Reading time: (10 mins)

Studies published on life satisfaction in 2016 by economist Hannes Schwandt were based not on future situations, but on how young people felt about where they would be in five years. The gap between the optimism of the early years and the disappointment at the end of those five years was extremely clear in the graphical data. As a result, by their thirties realism had kicked in and expectations had levelled off and conformed to the well-documented U-shape trajectory of happiness for their fifties. So, there is reason to be hopeful. Meantime, the curve downwards in twenties and thirties appears to be getting steeper and the parameters and focus by which happiness is defined appears very narrow. i.e. equated with material possessions and employment. As discussed before, while the latter is important, they are not reliable indicators of happiness, the very concept of which is highly ephemeral and quite different to core, creative joy. Jonathan Rauch wrote in The Happiness Curve (2015) about the nature of a natural, U-shaped curve, a mid-life transition rather than a dead-end crisis: “This transition has a direction: something you could even call a purpose…The upslope of the happiness curve has an emotional direction, which is toward positivity. But it also has a relational direction, which is toward community….This is a social story, although we rarely experience it that way.” [1]  Why is that? Perhaps because we are programmed to fabricate our own personal islands on a sea of perceived separation from our fellow humans. After all, it’s a dark world out there and society is designed to actively limit pragmatic and constructive cooperation outside the State.

In truth, the myth of the middle age crisis is just part of an overall crisis of meaning that reaches pressure points throughout our lives. Such crises appear to exist outside time and space. It may well be an archetypal/mythical narrative that demands to be heard and acted out so that creative energy can be released. If we don’t consciously address what is lacking then the adaptive unconscious will do it for us to survive. We might see this recognition as a form of recapitulation as described by Carlos Castaneda, whereby we go over our lives with a fine tooth-comb, remembering all we have met, places we have visited and situations we have experienced in order to glean insights and realisations. This focus may create a form of resonance and feedback from the past to aid us in the future. Personal responsibility in this regard and to social interaction in general, could determine how we handle the happiness-unhappiness seesaw and if we can transcend it; whether we become masters of our ship and gain satisfaction from the simplicity of life as much as the dramatic flourishes of success, as defined by our culture. This would explain the common period of discontent at various stages in later life from the late thirties and forties. Rather than a mid-life crisis of lost opportunities perhaps it is a realisation that all that creative energy is not being used as it should?

The emotional and relational drive toward meaning and purpose is intimately tied up with our natural social intelligence that can guide us to connect for the good of the whole and the health of the individual. The desperate ambition and self-oriented focus of youth, a natural egocentricity which has been inflated by our cultures can, through the crises that happen, become a redemptive process when tied to community initiatives. Abstractions and conceptualisations have the potential to become concrete and specific, grounded in real-world solutions and tailored toward our own local needs. Trying to save oneself is transposed to “saving” others. Trying to save the world is transposed to “saving” the community. These efforts outwards, reflect the work taken place inwards, and paradoxically away from self-absorption. This can foster greater authenticity and the slow shedding of the narcissistic traits that we have allowed culture to create for us.

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Why Young Lives Lives Are Losing Meaning and Purpose III: The Happiness-Unhappiness Seesaw

By M.K. Styllinski

Photo: Nathan Dumlao | unsplash.com

[“Happiness is ] the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.”

– Sonjia Lyubomirsky, positive psychology researcher


Reading time: (10-15 mins)

Are you happy?

The answer to this question will depend on your life experiences to date, your culture and your age. But there may be a universal set of principles which we might adopt in order to achieve some level of contentment with our lot.  It won’t surprise you that meaning, purpose and social support are integral to that state of being.  Although there is much to be happy and certainly unhappy about in our world, perhaps there is a way to transcend the weary swing from either pole?

Happiness generally exists as an emotional seesaw between the future and the past, with the present squeezed out of existence. We are constantly told that we will only be happy when we get the girl/guy, marriage, the car, the house, the income, the career. For the young, if ambition still exists, it is tied to relentless consumption and the economic uncertainty that comes with it. Happiness can only arrive it seems, when we are safe and secure or lost in the adrenalin of the moment. Many Millennials and Generation Z have been molded that way so that any kind of contentment is dependent on material gain, identity/image and peer group status. It’s normalised to the point that we don’t pay it too much attention anymore. Sure, it’s been that way for a long time, but the difference is that young people generally do not have the desire, will or capacity to wait longer than the click of a mouse to discover that true happiness might just be gained from something other than social media, porn, computer games and SMART society consumption in general. Why should they? What is there to be happy about when to make sense of reality you are offered a daily diet of lies and misinformation and a 24hr streaming of corporate CEOs, TV/movie stars and gold-toothed rappers as role models?

The message to our youth today is to strive for the gold at the end of the rainbow even if most conventional wisdom keeps telling us it’s a pot-holed road to nowhere. Yet, the technosphere is powerful. Superficial stimulants to engage for the short-term fix are endemic for the young and keep them tied to a variety of cultural addictions, which includes being driven into the opoid arms of Big Pharma and its disgusting exploitation of generations of spiritually disppossessed. Yet, the very state of happiness must be conditional and transitory since it is rooted in the ebb and flow of the personality subject to the above; that is either growing, thus in a state of flux, or undergoing stasis and prone to disintegration. So, we seek that unassailable “happy” state as a means to stave off discomfort (and opportunities to grow thereby) rather than to surrender and embrace the unknown and reconfigure what happiness really means.

Unfortunately, young and old alike are more miserable than ever before. Why is it for instance, there’s been hardly any change at all in the levels of happiness experienced by Americans since 1972? [1] Indeed, loneliness and isolation play a huge part as a product of our woefully value-less economic nightmare we call “progress”. In the U.S., nearly half of all meals are eaten alone; the average American has fewer friends than twenty years ago and by 2008, less than one third of people had socialised with their neighbours compared nearly half that number about twenty-five years previously.  It’s no better in the UK, with folks less likely to know their neighbours or have strong friendships than any other country in Europe. [2]

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