Which habits build happiness, and which habits are actually just “fillers”?
We go through times in life when the world feels all doom and gloom, and due to this, the prospect of healing seems like a galaxy far, far away. To help deal with the drudgery we turn on Netflix to binge on Bridgerton, grab the thin mints, avoid ‘so and so’s’ incessant texts, and then wake up feebly ready for the next day. We do this over and over again, with little to no results.
Healing does not happen overnight, and wellness builds little by little.
Now don’t get the idea that I am saying Netflix and thin mints cannot boost happiness, because they can! Moments of happiness stack up, leading to wellness and healing. When I ran therapy groups for an outpatient treatment center the members would ask, after a bit of Self-Care 101, “So I gotta get off my ass and avoid the t.v., right?” I would vehemently say, “No, not at all!” If ___ makes you happy, engage in it; be aware too though if ___ takes on the appearance of “happy” but is actually just a filler. (A “filler” is something that we things brings joy, happiness, peace or contentment, but soon after engaging in the filler we feel depleted/depressed/low again.)
The point is, “Do what makes you happy”, but don’t forget to add the caveat, “As long as it does not lead to self-destruction”. Self-destruction can be loosely defined as anything that makes you feel badly. A self-destructive behavior makes you feel badly after-the-fact. I don’t mean, “That salad was so healthy, ugh, I’m sorta hungry still…” but I do mean, “Two boxes of thin mints….how could I have let myself eat all of those?! I feel so gross.” Or, “Handmaid’s Tale is enthralling to watch, but it puts me into a weird mood after”.
If the thin mints, Netflix, or avoiding your mother/friend/lover’s texts only makes you feel good in the moment, avoid these behaviors. If these activities make you feel good in the moment and beyond, go for them! Momentary happiness builds into wellness when the feeling lasts longer than the experience in which you were engaged.
It is also helpful to remember that sometimes the task we want to avoid, like eating the healthy salad or texting whomever back, while difficult at that time, can actually be good for us. When we realize that what we are dreading is not quite so dreadful, we build the capacity to face other challenging situations in the future. Feeling even minutely capable to face difficult situations boosts confidence, and that boosts wellness, and that boosts healing.
So, let’s get back to this business of “healing”.
How does one find healing? That, my friend, is up to you. What I can offer is the knowledge that healing feels different and happens differently for each person, but I believe that overall, healing is when we feel at peace in our mind, body, and heart for a prolonged period. Wellness is when we feel at peace in these same areas for a shorter period of time. Because life does a dandy job of throwing us off course, simply knowing that we can get back to that feeling of peace is a healing mindset in itself. If in a near panic the thought, “This won’t last forever,” or “I can do this,” or “WTF is happening? I will not let my life be like this!” can come through, you will be just fine. You are back on the road to wellness, and thus, back on the road to healing.
So we ask the question again, “How does one find healing?” For some people, seeing a therapist or counselor is a fantastic start, because what we need in order to heal is connection. Connection happens between two or more people when someone feels understood, seen, or heard. Your story matters. Your experience matters. You are not being judged or given unsolicited advice. You are not being minimized and no one says, “Well at least you…(whatever they think is “worse” about their lives)”. When you feel connected, you feel valued. From this connection, even if it is only for an hour, you feel stronger; you feel more capable; you are more willing to try, to learn, to grow.
A healthy and safe connection can be one of the most powerful forces in your life.
Right now, right at this very moment, you can tell if you are longing for connection. Trust that feeling within yourself. Those inner thoughts and feelings are sometimes the brightest truth we face all day long. Call a friend, or your mom, or that lost long college roomie that you spent countless hours talking to each night. Talk to your kitty, your fish, or your dog.
Or, call me.
Well Heart Psychotherapy