A Different Way of Framing the Problem

I have to learn to be happy.

This is not news to me. It is not news to anyone I know well, I think. It is a different way of framing the problem, though.

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For some people (I am guessing), happiness is a thing you experience regularly. Maybe it falls into your laps, triggered by something small; serendipitous meetings with old friends, sunshine on days it was supposed to rain. Maybe all it takes is a little reminder that life is good, some free time to enjoy the fruits of your labour, and a big smile creeps across your faces. Your cups runneth over.

If that paragraph sounds like it is tinted with a little jealousy, that’s because it is.

Happiness doesn’t come to me easily. There are days when I’m not even sure that I’m using the same definition of it as everyone else. I know that I don’t feel good about myself, or my situation, even though I have many of the good things happen to me that happen to others, and many more than that. But I’m pretty sure I don’t feel happy the same way other people do.

I have to learn to be happy. It’s going to take a lot of work. And that’s ok.

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Does that sound bizarre to people who are happy?

(Are you?)

What are your experiences of happiness like? Are they momentary respites from the shitstorm of life? Are they feelings of well-being? Of wholeness? Of hedonistic pleasure? Of rewarding accomplishment?

This is a part of my learning process. It’s a part of everyone’s learning process. Please chime in. You never know when something you say will click with someone, when they will have that “Eureka!” moment. You might have the power, in just a few words, to help someone else learn to be happy(er)!

Fuck being able to fly. That’s a superpower.

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I had a “Eureka!” moment today in the shower. I am going to stop blogging about being depressed. I am going to stop blogging about being anxious.

I am going to start blogging about learning to be happy. I am going to start blogging about learning to be calm.

It’s a different way of framing the problem.

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I’ve traveled a lot of places. I’ve taken the occasional photo, and I think I have a good eye for them, but I never really make a point of it. After my first few trips to Europe, people asked me why I didn’t take any photos. So I started taking more. It was one of those things people are supposed to do. And I’m people! So I did it.

There is beautiful art in photographs, sometimes. A picture that can tell a story, that can capture layers of emotion in a single moment and stir them in a viewer, is a beautiful and splendid and pretty thing. I tried to find ways to do that. 

But the awful truth of it is: photographs bore me.

A photograph can capture one scene, one action or one moment. It can have many facets and be profound and technically complex and a lot of admirable things.

But have you ever stopped to consider how truly and completely superior a human being is to a photograph?

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We are not static. We are not a state of being. We can’t be because we are constantly changing. We are always different than we have been before now. That is beautiful. That is incredible.

Depression is something that has happened to me. Learning to be happy is something I am doing. Anxiety is something I can’t control. Learning how to be calm is something I can.

It might be harder for me to learn these things than it will be for some people. It might be easier for me than it will be for others. It doesn’t really matter where I, or you, fall on the spectrum. It doesn’t even matter that our ceiling, the pinnacle of how good things can possibly get, might be lower than our neighbours’. 

We are not defined by the challenges we face in life. We are defined by how we face them. Whatever you are facing, whatever name it has and whatever pain it causes you, don’t ever let it make you feel helpless. You aren’t. You might have a hard path, and the learning curve might be steep. But those circumstances are not who you are.

We are not what happens to us. We are what we do to make our lives, and the lives we touch, better.

It’s a different way of framing the problem.

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14 thoughts on “A Different Way of Framing the Problem

  1. Sometimes you can’t control health issues in life. However you do have a choice how you respond to these things and in my experience those responses are pretty crucial for happiness for anyone who suffers from a chronic ailment.

  2. I really appreciate how you are going about this. Changing a mindset is not an easy thing, but it is definitely possible. If you are willing to tackle the issues head on, you will succeed.

    One thing that really helps put me in a happy mindset, is putting a positive spin in the language I use. It doesn’t take any extra effort to say something is “good” rather than “not bad.”

    Instead of focusing on the negatives of situations, you take the positives from them and that is what you bring to the forefront. This blog can be a powerful tool for you, think about the people you are reaching that may be going through some of the same issues. Your voice is out there and they know they are not alone, they have someone that they can empathize with. That alone can be strong enough to help pull people out of a down state.

    Let those you love and appreciate know how much they mean to you. Do this every day, multiple times a day. It can be difficult to get in the habit of doing this, but constantly talking to those you care about and realizing the positive effects they have in your life go a very long way.

    Hope any little bit of this can help.

    -Respect

  3. Thanks for sharing this. It makes me know you more and makes me hopeful for that the problem of achieving happiness is not beyond your reach. Despite the tough, traumatic stuff I have faced, I had have an abundance of it and would gladly give you some of mine. I know I am just wired that way. I also know that despite having equal blessings others don’t have the same reserves and never have. Whatever your baseline, I find the more you make a conscious effort to embrace opportunity in all forms and truly connect with people the more joyful life will be.

  4. Hey Ben,

    Yes by ceasing to blog about your issues you will stop giving it energy, what you resist persists, blogging about the opposites as you have decided to do is absolutely a great way forward, also have you heard of The Sedona Method? or the Release Technique? they are actually both the same thing and the are about reframing situations and releasing negative energies.

    I’m currently working my way through the RT course and finding it a great help with issues I face. just thought I’d share with you something that’s helping me.
    Good Luck

    Neil

  5. I find the same thing as you. Let me know how this chase for happiness goes. I currently take medicine for depression and it does cut down anxiety some.. but does not make me happy.

    I think I do find moments of happiness like when talking with interesting people, or interacting in close ways. It’s just that those seem to be the outside moments and not the norm. Usually I am just trying to understand people.

  6. Ben! long time no see. I hope things are well. I admire your ability to blog about something so personal. It really is inspiring. On to your post!
    I find my happiness through my decision making about the way I treat people. I feel happy with the things i stand for on a macro-level and my belief system when it comes to living my life on a day to day basis. I strive for a belief system that’s primarily a golden-rule system, but allow for exceptions. Im usually happy with my ability to pick which times I deviate from my overall beliefs. That might be because Im a bad person, but I honestly don’t believe that to be the case.
    Now i am someone who a lot of people (when having met me) would think I shouldn’t be that happy. I graduated from Dartmouth last year but don’t have a job. Poker was good but I got really killed lately. My mom got breast cancer (stage 0 and its treated for now so yay!), and my dads 83 and starting to go down hill. Hes the proudest man ive ever met so that one’s probably the hardest. But I am honestly happy because none of these things I can control, all I can control are the decisions I make.
    As for anxiety, I don’t really know if I know that much about it, but my 2 best friends and girlfriend are all pretty anxious people. 1 of them takes xanex for it. In thinking about it, the reason we all ended up being friends is first and foremost because they all have the best hearts of anyone I know. Thats why I adore them. On a side note don’t fuck with people with bad hearts if you want to be happy. Sometimes you know someone has a bad heart, but you feel compelled to participate with them because you think you can help them change or it would be the right thing to do (golden rule) I can tell you its definitely not worth it.
    Back to my friends… They like me because I push them to be less anxious and not sweat the small stuff. I personally really don’t sweat the small stuff (definitely to a fault) and it rubs off on them. If you can find a way to not sweat the small stuff that will ultimately help. Here’s my rational:
    We’re at the first time in human history we realize how meaningless we are in the grand scheme of the universe. Have you ever seen where we are on a map? Random corner of the milky way that doesn’t have any insignificance. We will live 100 years. That’s 0 time for human history or universal shifts or evolution…. or anything. So how do we find meaning? Its through the connections we form with people. So if you can’t find your wallet for 5 minutes or you have an awkward moment and someone makes you feel bad who really gives a shit? I usually just feel sorry for that guy. What a loser.
    When I look at the big picture, how are our lives defined? Its by the way we treat eachother. How do we treat eachother when we are successful? When we are on a downswing in life? When other people want something from us? When others want to help us? When I was 11 or 12, I was a top 5 chess player in the country. My dad used to tell me 2 things before big games: 1) Everyone takes a piss and everyone takes a shit. 2) All you can do is try your best. If you try your best, you can’t ask anymore of yourself. As a result, I try my best to treat the people I care about as well as I possibly can.

  7. You are one step closer to recovery, my friend. I struggled with depression since I was 10 years old…seriously, 10 fucking years old what is this world? My life was one of a very privileged upper middle class kid who got most of what he wanted for birthdays and holidays up until I was about 6 or 7 years of age. Pops lost his job so no more stay at home mom, I was pretty much raised by my sister, coddled by my mom cause she missed hanging out with her baby and my dad’s interactions were while he coached or remarked on my self taught piano songs. Starting off with that last bit, I was pretty resourceful when given the time to play, you know let intelligence have its fun. But my play was also found in sports, especially soccer and swimming so my dad used his old coaching skills to lead my team.

    When your father is going through the “I will strive to bring my family back to where it was before I was laid off while trying to be the best” mode of life and coaching your soccer team, you begin to lose that fun of kicking the ball around so that you can make room for the “I am a winner” attitude. We all mature at different rates, between this transition of my life, the dual sports while playing cello and trying to fit in at school, I was on a fast track that skipped a few things. Like how to cope with failure or the anxiety that the unknown presents. My inability to relate with the popular kids and the beginning of harsh ridicule at school between kids began a compulsive disorder called Trichotillomania…basically I coped with life by pulling out my hair. It was quite evident any time in my life through almost 15 years now, when I was very stressed because chunks of hair would be missing from my head. My performance in school was exemplary, my artistic and imaginative sides seemed to still be somewhat intact, and sports were still going well so I think besides a few discussions between my parents and teachers, I was considered okay.

    Eventually, I found some relief in swimming in high school. Kept my head down and kicked on into one of the state’s top competitors while I isolated myself from people more and more. Free time was spent with weeknight shows and maybe video games and at school I was quiet and listened til I started drinking after my childhood friend was put in a coma by a semi truck during morning swim practice one day. If I was not fully aware of what being awake before that moment meant then I knew then. I did not care what my folks would think, I told my buddy to swing by my place we snagged a bottle of booze and went to his and drank til it was gone before swim practice. Best practice of my life! ha Couldn’t feel the pain in my arms and I was a wily son of a bitch with my words and energy. Between the feelings of shock that I could not comprehend and the courage/strength the strong drink gave me, I was unstoppable. The rest of that year was a cake walk. I gave little to no fucks about Advanced Biology, never studied for my other honors classes and managed to get good grades besides Bio up until dissections started and I aced the class. School was dead to me but I still liked the cool stuff when swimming or boozing with upperclassmen wasn’t going on. Somehow, my senior year encapsulated the school’s first state championship, being on prom court, and dating the homecoming queen.

    Go figure, less than four years later I would be an Ivy League dropout who almost killed himself unintentionally and intentionally a handful of times and was battling horrible alcohol and drug addiction. Not only that but a high school graduate I ran into talked about how I was part of the popular group…hell, it was news to me there. As far as I was concerned, I was fighting to be popular since I was reprimanded everyday at school until I was “behaved” in fourth grade. Funny…the urge to fit in and depression/anxiety coincided! That is what became the turning point in my life. I ended up living my life, leading myself down my own path which involved plenty of booze and drugs at times but they were ingested after everyone was already having a good time rather than to have a good time. I ended up going sober for the majority of these past two years because it didn’t seem like a person had to party in order to enjoy life. Getting in touch with nature, quitting nicotine, and taking those random chances of going to a late movie showing in the city or concert when you know you will not sleep before work the next day have been some of my best moments. 8 cross country drives in the past three years have made me into who I am today, that and I will repeat what my Organic Chemistry professor at Cornell said…”If you ever find yourself around psychedelic mushrooms in your life, then take them.” He was right because you never look at the trivial things that ruin our day the same again and you find yourself stopping to smell the roses more than any antidepressant made me.

    To end, three years ago, I pretty much told my old life to go shove it and moved far away to do everything I haven’t and couldn’t in my old world. I jumped out of my comfort zone which led to opening my eyes and heart to those that were different than me, trying new things like Jim Carrey in ‘Yes, Man’ I am a sky-diving, rock climbing, barefoot dancing cycling hippie yoga fiend that is living on richer values than I ever have before because those values involved me being rich.
    I drink in celebration, I smoke em if I got em, and I take a deep breath and smile when shit hits the fan, no matter how big or small. Honestly, I am not happy yet but I for damn sure know I can look shortly back in time and know but these folks told me I was too much fun and seemed ecstatic over the situation so I must not be as disillusioned as I assumed: Life is getting happier as each day goes and at this rate my tombstone will be etched with the words “Died laughing.”

    Be strong, brother.

  8. Hi Ben,

    I remember reading one of your blog posts when you were talking about searching for ‘meaning and purpose’.

    I have found meaning by helping other people to improve their lives and this makes me happy (in a general sense). I am also happy when those closest to me are happy. If Liza (my girlfriend) and Jude (my son) are happy then I am happy; when they are sad I am sad. So I try to do as much as possible to make them happy and I find that it makes me happy!

    In terms of reframing there is a book that deals with that very issue called ‘Wabi Sabi Love’ by Arielle Ford. It’s a book about relationships. I haven’t read it but believe it is a good read.

    Take care

    Lee

  9. Hi Ben! I was a fan of yours from watching you on the EPT (entertaining as well as super-skilled!), but had no idea we had anything in common other than poker. I’ve struggled with the big D for most of my adult life. I’m afraid I have no solution to your problems (everyone’s just got to muddle through life as best as they can), but I think it’s great that you’re writing about them. If only words were enough. :/

  10. Hey Ben, as you can probably speculate I am clearly a poker ethusiast( love it / dont love it at all some times but for the most part I love the never ending challenges of poker. Nothing is concrete with just have common ideas about possible concrete decisions, ideas,.Now reading up on your posts I have thought of messaging you before and today finally decided to do so. I have had ocd for many years and this year has been by far the worse. Almost every moment is an anxious moment for me. I know panic attacks i know depression although it is more anxiety. I know at times the simplest thing in the world for anyone becomes the most complicate, frustrating, torturing experience because my mind likes to fuck with me. Its like im playing poker or chess against myself but my other half of me has a huge edge on me therfore i am a long term loser. Anyway man i admire your intelligence I read your 2+2 posts quite a bit and sometimes i have no idea wtf your talking about lol cause your just at a much higher level but thats ok.

  11. Reading your blog makes me see so many similarities with you. I suffer from OCD with depression symptoms and tons of anxiety and panick attacks. I have my ups and downs , Now being on an up and feeling strong here are some thoughts.
    The man that is happy never superanalyses or cares if he is happy or not. He just is , and when he is not it doesnt strike him either, it goes away after a good fuck prolly. A really happy man is like a happy dog.

    When you constantly fuck your brain asking questions Am I happy? Am I not? What should I do? Why do I feel like shit? Thats when stress kicks in and thats when you lose gg.

    You are probably a great mind Ben but great minds come with great side effects. live with them embrace them .

  12. Pingback: Identity Crisis | NeverScaredBlog

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