6. Understanding Unhappiness
Heres a surprise for you: Being happy means that you realize that there are times you will be unhappy and recognize that life sometimes stinks. Whats uplifting in those times is appreciating life and facing the challenges that come with it, realizing that youre facing challenges fellow humans have also faced. Now, lets be clear that were not saying you should lower your expectations for your so‑called perfect life or downsize your goals; we just believe that if you can align your expectations with reality a little more by expecting to face challenges, youll be better off in the end. Theres an interesting biological reinforcement for this notion, too: Your levels of C‑reactive protein (a marker of damaging inflammation) have been shown to be higher when you have expectations that are unattainable. Makes sense: You worry when youre not hitting goals, so that makes your body more vulnerable to stress. We need to start learning how to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
Depending on who you live with, work with, or share poker chips with, youve probably heard every lament there is. Unhappy with the job, unhappy with the spouse, unhappy that the TV remote is lost again. These unhappy moments stress us and cause inflammation in the rest of the body and less focus for our brain. While our goal here is certainly to find a steady level of peace and happiness in our lives, we also know that we cant expect our euphoria to last as long as a Wal-Mart week: 24/7. Theres actually some benefit to experiencing some unhappiness. The original survival value of unhappiness: When you were unhappy and pessimistic, you were better prepared for problems that might arise. Today, though, unhappiness still serves an important purpose. Unhappiness forces you to think through problems to help you gain wisdom and perspective, to think about what gives you happiness so you can set new directions and develop new ideas that may actually change your life. Lets take smokers as an example. Part of the reason smokers have such difficulty quitting is that they have developed a misaligned coping mechanism (youre stressed by that boss, so you go out to smoke; but the boss is still there when you return). Smokers often feel that theyre locked into a cycle of unhappiness: When they quit, theyre unhappy, and they feel as if theyre the only people in the world who are, so they get even unhappier, which makes them want to smoke again to feel happy again. But realizing that this cycle of unhappiness is natural could actually help smokers (and others facing challenges) get through tough times. But remember, happiness also correlates with having the health to achieve your goals so getting rid of maladaptive coping mechanisms (like smoking or other unhealthy habits) is important, too. If you cant align your expectations with your reality, youre more likely to experience an inner conflict that gently (and often subconsciously) tugs, gnaws, and claws at you because something doesnt feel quite right. Seems so simple, yet most of us are confounded by even the simplest behavioral modifications needed to course-correct.