July 16, 2017

Happiness = Things X Meaningful ^ Repeated

You know how in movies or on television, people in psychiatrist's offices are always lying on couches? That has never been my experience in real life. Although, technically, I guess I've never been to a psychiatrist.

When I refer to therapy or counseling from my own experience, I'm talking about psychologists. I just wanted to make it clear in case you were wondering.

During adulthood, I have seen a handful of counselors and they have always been psychologists, which means they can't prescribe medication.

The first time I went to a therapist was with my mom. It was during my teen years and I think she was worried about me because of some things that were going on with my biological dad. I don't remember much about the counseling session, but mainly just that I was pretty guarded seeing as how I was a teenager and my mom was in the room.

After college when I found myself working for a university, my employer's health insurance included something called an EAP, or employee assistance program. It provided six sessions with a counselor, chosen from an approved list. I took advantage of that for awhile and saw a couple of different counselors but never really felt like I connected with either of them.

Before our wedding, my now husband and I had a few short counseling sessions with our pastor. It was all well and good, but our time was limited and it was mainly to get a discount on our marriage license.

It wasn't until our second year of marriage when things had gotten, well, frankly quite challenging that we decided to see a couple's counselor. It was probably the best decision we could have made. Our counselor was a really great guy, thoughtful with a calm demeanor. And he helped us work through so many important things. Our marriage is stronger and happier thanks to his input and wisdom.

We've been fortunate to get our counseling through a local university clinic, whose staff is made up of students doing their clinical work in the PhD program and payment is on a sliding scale. If you have always wanted to seek counseling for one reason or another, please don't let cost be a reason not to. Whether you have an employer provided EAP or maybe there's a college in your area with a similar program to what we have, there are options out there.

And please don't let shame or fear keep you from seeking help. Sure, people might judge you. People judge each other for all sorts of ridiculous reasons. That shouldn't stand between you and the possibility of getting help.

Last year I was diagnosed with Scoliosis and now I go to the chiropractor. There are plenty of folks who think chiropractic care is all hooey and snake oil. But it has helped me.

There is no shame in seeking help of any kind. And that includes counseling.

I'm sure there are people, maybe even some who know me, reading this thinking they would NEVER go to a therapist, let alone tell anyone about it.

Well you just might be surprised how much it could help you.

Case in point...

I was talking to my therapist this week about an experience I had with a local nonprofit. I saw a call on Facebook that this organization was looking for volunteers and I was available and decided to pitch in and help. It was no big deal and I am not trying to brag on myself but I was amazed at how happy I felt during and after the time I spent.

Like this feeling of being able to do something small and make a difference in someone's life. It was incredible.

And my therapist said that it made perfect sense. He said it's common for people to think that in order to be happy, we have to focus on making happiness our goal.

But you can't just try to be happy. It doesn't work that way.

Then he said something I know I'll always remember.

Happiness comes as the result of doing meaningful things.

How many times have we tried to do less than meaningful things with the end goal of happiness? But those things didn't produce the desired feeling we had hoped to achieve. And we end up feeling like our efforts, or even worse...ourselves, are a complete and total failure. This can be kind of a kick in the gut.

So what's the secret to happiness? I'm becoming more and more convinced that it's simply finding out what those meaningful things are for each of us. And doing them.

What's meaningful to me might seem silly to you and what's meaningful to you might seem like a chore to me. But we all get to have our own unique brand of meaningful. Whether that's self-care, doing for others, creating, physical activity, travel or whatever. And maybe (probably) it's a combination of all these.

I've always said that one of the things I love most about the south is that we put a lot of meaning into everything we do. And exploring that meaning, including telling the stories of those who are no longer here to tell them, is one of my favorite things. It has meaning to me. This blog is my meaningful thing. Not because of post clicks or unique visitors but because it's a small way I can add something encouraging to the world. It's a way I can spill the beans and remind people (maybe you) that we're not alone here. We're all in this together.

If you've found yourself lately in the pursuit of happiness, maybe change your focus. Consider embarking on a new journey....in the pursuit of meaning. And I'm betting that along the way, happiness will find you.