Friday, March 24, 2023

If I had a dollar for every time I overheard someone say, “I just want to be happy and healthy.”

As if these two words were simple: one is happy or one is not, one is healthy or unhealthy.

This perception, this dichotomous thinking, is what leads to the ultimate trap, the false belief that one can achieve a permanent state of happiness.

Many people believe they can achieve happiness by pursuing wealth, achievements and investing in their bodies. Others believe it can come from a sense of gratitude; by reflecting on what we are thankful for we then feel happy. But those individuals may feel confused or disappointed when this gratitude does not seem to last. The myth of permanent happiness or happiness as a general state of being is endorsed by the smiles and “perfect” images we see—and compare ourselves to—on social media. We tend to overhype how great things are, or lean into the complaints about what is not going well, consistent with our all-or-nothing, dichotomous nature. This black-or-white thinking perpetuates the idea that happiness is on the other side of what we’re feeling—that it’s a way of life.

Life is complicated and stressful and so many of us, based on learned behaviors and patterns, sit in this stress. Rather than having the goal of happiness, what if we recognized the goal as feeling, managing and expressing all of our feelings? What if we moved away from judging some feelings as bad—though they may feel uncomfortable—and instead provided and sought out validation and comfort, ultimately learning from these emotions and recognizing our humanity?

Perhaps if we—and life—weren’t complex we would be able to recognize more easily the way that our minds and emotions shift within moments. Maybe we would not put such stress on one emotional state, but instead feel all of our feelings, recognizing them as the building blocks of our experiences in this world. Sure, we’d all rather have more joy than pain, but what if we moved away from stacking the chips in piles of good and bad emotions, and instead connected to our moods, reflected on our needs, communicated with others, and knew that overall these moments are the ingredients that build the recipe of our lives. Instead of chasing a mood, hoping that this mood will last forever, we can connect to the moments and the way that all of our experiences shape the life around us.

It is about the moments. It is about recognizing when help is possible and when we can experience gratitude, grounding and joy. We wish for a perpetual state of happiness especially when we may experience such pervasive sadness. But no state is truly permanent; we can recognize that we are content with what we have without feeling that emotional high of happiness.

There is room for shifting our mindsets, feeling our pain, asking for support, sitting in happiness when it comes. There is room for alternative expectations and for the awareness of just how many emotions we have—rather than thinking in such all or nothing terms.

We can experience contentment and also feel sad. We can feel intensely disappointed and also be connected. Feelings can be fleeting or they can feel never-ending.

To define ourselves as healthy or happy would be limiting. Because we can both feel happiness and have goals for growth. We can be healthy in many ways and also have ailments. I am not encouraging you, dear reader, to throw in the towel on goals of being happy. I am instead recommending that you live in the in-between moments, recognizing the fleeting experiences as being your reality, and not waiting for a permanent state of being. We are far too complex for permanency and life is full of too much adventure and too much color to sit around and wait.

Temimah Zucker, LCSW, works with individuals ages 18 and older in New York and New Jersey who are struggling with mental health concerns, and specializes in working with those looking to heal their relationships between their bodies and souls. Temimah is an adjunct professor at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, an advocate and public speaker concerning eating disorder awareness and a Metro-New York supervisor at Monte Nido. To learn more or to reach her, visit www.temimah.com.

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