5 Ways to Be Happy Even When You're Hurting

5 Ways to Be Happy Even When You're Hurting

“What’s the point of getting upset?” This is a question I frequently hear within the walls of my therapy office.

It’s a reasonable question. After all, if you want to be happy, counting your blessings seems like a better idea than crying in pain, whether it be sadness, hurt, anger, or any other distressing emotion. But when it comes to problems bigger than momentary setbacks, the human psyche cannot be easily distracted or deceived.

There is certainly a place for trying to avoid or minimize emotional pain. Just ask any parent who has distracted their child when they were afraid of getting a vaccine shot. Similarly, people who face tragedy frequently use gallows humor to find temporary respite from their distress. And looking for positives or seeking out feel-good activities can indeed be helpful in climbing out of unhappiness, depression, or anxiety. But consistently being avoidant can cause problems.

To understand this better, consider these five tips for cultivating happiness, all of which include attending to your distress:

1. Acknowledge your emotional pain—it cannot be willed away.

Just as you can force a stoic look on your face when punched in the gut, you can make yourself appear unfazed by an emotional blow. But superficial appearances, as well as efforts to distract, do not change the fact that you feel pain.

Once you acknowledge your unhappiness, the purpose of feeling it becomes clear. To not feel it is to deny reality—and while you might fool others, you can never fully deceive yourself.

2. Stop pushing your pain away and accept it.

It’s understandable that you don’t want to be upset, but denying it will prevent you from seeing the thorn in your heart. You will have a sense that something is wrong, but you won’t understand what you are feeling.

I have often seen this in therapy when patients have told me in earnest that they don’t know why they are so depressed about their perfect life. Inevitably, they are being dishonest with themselves, such as talking around the fact that their spouse is emotionally distant, or that they are missing some other essential for a happy life.

As a result, they have at least doubled their problems. They are sad or hurt, or whatever, about something in their life. But they don’t let themselves know that—so in addition, they are confused by their unhappiness.

3. Get to know what is upsetting you because you can only heal what you can truly see.

The less you know about your unhappiness, the less you will be able to heal it. This means that becoming self-aware is extremely important.

So, attend to what you sense in your body. Take time to consider your thoughts. Sit with your feelings. Observe your actions. And try to understand what these experiences tell you about why you respond as you do.

4. Nurture empathy and compassion for yourself.

As you get to know yourself, it is essential that you do it from an understanding and caring perspective—looking upon yourself the way you might do with a good friend or even a child. This way of relating to yourself is called compassionate self-awareness. (To learn more about compassionate self-awareness, check out my brief video, Healing- Not Fixing- Through Compassionate Self-Awareness.)

With compassionate self-awareness, you can truly acknowledge your pain and have a desire to ease it. This might mean doing things to lessen your hurt, such as making efforts to work through misunderstandings with a sibling. Or it might mean accepting that you cannot change a difficult situation and allowing yourself to feel the pain. For example, as you grieve over a loved one dying, you might share bittersweet memories with others.

5. Sometimes it is important to take a respite from facing your hurt.

As important as it is to acknowledge, accept, empathize with, and have compassion for your pain, sometimes these steps can be overwhelming and exhausting. They can lead to feeling stuck under the weight of negative thoughts and painful emotions. So, pausing to calm and comfort yourself can often help give you the resilience to rebound from a ruminating spiral downward. For instance, rather than continuing to churn and vent about how your supervisor disrespects you, enjoying an evening with friends might give you enough distance to figure out how to effectively address the problem.

When you are hurting, it’s important to keep in mind that cultivating happiness does not mean denying your reality. In fact, to be truly, deeply happy, you must accept and love the person you are, painful feelings and all. By approaching yourself with compassionate self-awareness, you will find that a sense of wellbeing and the happiness you seek are within your reach.

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