The question of happiness is one of the most important starting points for self-examination. In almost every case a human being will attempt to answer this question by seeking happiness outside of themselves. If only I can obtain the perfect drug, mate, income, career, etc. then I will be happy. However, the brain is hardwired by nature to become bored with the status quo. For this reason, we quickly find ourselves dissatisfied with the external objects of happiness that we so ardently sought. The drug wears off, the perfect mate is not so perfect after all, an increase of income requires more time and energy to maintain, and the ideal career is a minefield of competition and frustration. At this point we may become bitter and caught up in negative patterns of thinking and feeling. We might start saying things to ourselves such as “What’s the use in trying to be happy? It never lasts anyway.” This unhelpful mantra leads to suffering that quickly spreads in all directions like ripples in a toxic pond. Relationships can suffer and our health and wellbeing decline. In time we might lose all hope of ever finding true happiness.
I believe that the desire to be happy is an important step in healing and growth. Depression can be defined as having a strong belief that happiness is forever out of reach. This is an example of having faith in the negative outcome. Another word for this state of mind is hopelessness. Therefore, the goal of therapy is to restore faith in the positive outcome by providing tools and insights needed to be happy. In my weekly Mindfulness, Skill-Building (MSB) group we practice and explore a variety of intentional behaviors that work to lift us out of negative emotional states and to maximize positive states. I call these intentional behaviors coping and thriving skills. The value of the group experience is in seeing that our personal struggles are really quite universal. It might even be the case that another group member is dealing with issues that are even more challenging than our own! The end result is to put our suffering into a larger perspective and to learn from the experiences of our fellow group members. Through this process ordinary suffering becomes the fuel for transcendence – not just for ourselves – but for others as well.
When we grasp at happiness we only push it away. Modern psychology and ancient wisdom are in agreement on this point. The trick is to relax our grasping by cultivating mindfulness, non-grasping, and non-resistance on a moment-to-moment basis. The weekly MSB group is designed with this premise in mind. I have seen this born out through my work with Native-American men in recovery at Three Rivers Lodge in Manteca, California. The MSB group has become one of the most highly praised by the men at the Lodge. The benefits of learning to take charge of our personal state of wellbeing cannot be overstated. When we focus on mindfulness, non-grasping, and non-resistance we align in a very natural way with our innate wisdom and inner peace. It is then, and only then, that happiness is drawn to us. “Every thought vibrates, every thought radiates a signal, and every thought attracts a matching signal back. We call that process the Law of Attraction.” (Ester and Jerry Hicks, Ask and It is Given: Learning to Manifest Your Desires, p. 25, 2004).
Brian Ford, Marriage Family Therapist