By Chris Chandler, MA, LMHC, CSAT-C, Seattle Christian Counseling
Happiness is elusive, temperamental, and fragile. People pursue certain things – thinking they will make them happy – only to find out it did not turn out like they thought it would. Sometimes it is not a matter of seeking contentment in external sources, but cultivating the internal capacity to find joy. Those who have experienced undue sorrow, such as an abusive parent, the death of a child, or persistent mental illness, may find it difficult to be happy in a way others cannot understand.
Contentment as a Matter of Perspective
In his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explores contentment as a matter of perspective. He cites a study involving a group of young people who, usually as result of an accident, were paralyzed.
The unexpected finding of this study was that a large proportion of the victims mentioned the accident that caused paraplegia as both one of the most negative and one of the most positive events in their lives. The reason tragic events were seen as positive was that they presented the victim with very clear goals while reducing contradictory and inessential choices. The patients who learned to master the new challenges of their impaired situation felt a clarity of purpose they had lacked before. (193)
Find Your Own Happiness?
What does this mean for people who may not have experienced such a devastating event, but still struggle to be happy? Every one of us must come to terms with our own limitations. That is what empowered the members of the study to move on with their lives.
Consider Paul’s lesson in I Corinthians:
If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? (I Cor. 15-19, NKJV)
You Have a Choice
All of us have seasons in our lives when it is a struggle to feel happy. Life may not seem that great. Csikszentmihalyi suggests, rather than dwelling on what makes you miserable, choose to focus on what there is to be grateful for and happy about. If happiness seems too far out of reach, try to find something that at least supplies a sense of purpose. You might volunteer somewhere, practice a craft, or throw yourself into your work.
Remember the example of the people who had been severely disabled. We can be sure that they struggled to find anything to be happy about in the wake of their accident. However, they were able to focus on the tasks and exercises necessary to get them through this time, and use that as a redirection from the cause of their unhappiness. Sometimes improving your outlook on life is better achieved through striving for a sense of purpose than a certain emotional state. As Shira Tamir said, “If you can’t figure out what you were meant to do in this life, figure out what you were meant to do in this moment.”
Christian Counseling for Finding Purpose in Your Life
If you struggle with uncertainty, purposelessness, or depression, consider getting in touch with a professional Christian counselor. They will help you understand why you feel so down in the dumps, and what you can do to correct it. A Christian counselor will use therapeutic techniques and biblical principles to help you figure out how to take a more proactive approach to living.
“Woods,” by Jorgeyu, morguefile.com, http://mrg.bz/v7hOPR; “Knitting,” by Jeltovski, morguefile.com, http://mrg.bz/N3SvVm
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