The Unhappiness Rut

07 Jul

I feel as if I must explain. My previous post sent shockwaves across my audience, “Oooh, did you hear? Cory is depressed.” That’s not the case. I’m sure I suffer from a certain amount of depression — I won’t deny it — but this isn’t about a clinical diagnosis and how I can cure chronic sadness with a drug. Depression is a very real and serious mental illness, and I lack the academic authority on such a matter. Unhappiness and depression are not interchangeable terms and cannot be treated as synonymous (certainly, depression can be an element standing in the way of one’s search for happiness).

I may not even be authorized to speak on behalf of happiness. But finding happiness doesn’t require the use of big words and a philosophical debate. It, or the need for it, is something woven into the human fabric of us all. As I have lived life, I have also recognized my need for happiness and what it means to me.

Unhappiness isn’t clinical, something that can be diagnosed and treated. Happiness, for lack of a better term, is abstract, not entirely based on factual evidence. In that light, it is different for you than it is for me. And unlike depression, the cure for happiness is attainable, not through medication and treatment but through action, meaningful change, and a better understanding of oneself.

So there’s that word again: happiness. You might call it fulfillment. Others might refer to it as contentment. However you relate to and describe it — again, I think one’s perspective of happiness is mostly subjective — that’s the word at play here. It’s the view we have of our lives when we step outside ourselves and look at everything as a whole. Happiness is multifaceted; it’s the sum total of your relationships, career, religion, adventure, health, finances, and even a bit of genetic and cultural influences.

I think if we step back and survey life, most of us will find a semblance of unhappiness. Or discontent. Or a desire to do more and get more in return. Or something that stirs deep within.

That something can cause you to say, “I wish I traveled more,” or “I wish I could just pack my things and go, like so and so does.”

It can be the catalyst to volunteering more because, doing so, makes a difference and adds life fulfillment.

Or it can make you second-guess a meaningful relationship in which you’re stuck. He/she may not be the fairy-tale romance you dreamed about, but it’s not all that bad either; could be better, could be worse.

That something can be fuel to seek another career opportunity because you’re no longer challenged, leaving your happiness in a constant state of mediocrity.

Something is whatever causes you to wonder if you’re really all that happy and what you could do to be happier.

Is happiness a state of being that can be attained through effort and change? Right now, even my own definition of happiness is in flux; I’m not quite sure how to explain it. But I hope that by writing this, by looking inwardly, by making small, concerted changes, I’ll soon be able to give you a better answer. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll play along, searching within yourself and discovering what happiness means to you. After all, we all deserve the happiness that we’re seeking. For some, it may be closer than for others.

As I began writing this, I also flipped open the first pages of a book Excess Baggage: Getting Out of Your Own Way. I always have reservations about self-help books, but I am a silent fan of author Judith Sills. I had zero intentions of that book being fodder for this blog entry, but the first few chapters are applicable to my quest for happiness.

Sills describes common characteristics in people and the “excess baggage” that often results. That excess baggage prevents us, as the subtitle suggests, from getting out of our own way. The first such characteristic is our need for control. Control is more than having a firm grasp on life, plotting your course, and knowing (even achieving) your goals.

Control can be the need to always be right. Control can be the reason for your perfectionism.

The latter two are me to a fault. The author doesn’t outright say that those can lead to unhappiness, but getting out of our own way means we’ll continually stumble over our own feet, which will prevent us from being who we want to be, setting up frustration and disappointment, rather than peace and contentment.

Control is a deep subject, one that I won’t get into here. But it justified the thought that happiness is partly inward. It’s our inner selves, some of what we’re born with (nature) and some of which is developed over time (nurture) by way of life choices, environment, upbringing, career, etc. That which we’re born with is harder to change because, genetically, it is ingrained in us.

By nature, I’m a left-brained individual. Characteristics include logic, reasoning, and critical thinking, to name a few. Those characteristics come with strengths and weakness, and understanding and harnessing them can be beneficial to development. For example, my profession as a marketer and writer requires a great deal of rational thinking, fine attention to detail, and an analytical approach; therefore, being left brained suits me (or perhaps my career suits me being left brained).

On the flip side, being left brained comes with control. It is why I keep lists. It is why my calendar is always planned, minute by minute. It’s why I can’t seem to allow myself to deviate from a schedule, even if I know more fun is to be had by doing the alternative. It is why I’m not spontaneous. It’s why I won’t deviate from my agenda and take that dream vacation, even though I know, deep down, that I won’t regret it. It’s the reason I over think everything, right down to a simple grocery purchase. And it’s the reason I all too often struggle to have fun but too easily fall into a deep rut.

I’m masterful at keeping myself busy, filling my time with a busy agenda. In the grand scheme of life, that agenda is not really all that important, but it makes me feel like I have purpose. I have no wife and kids, no house, no pet, nor anything that might deter me from my rigid routine. But I have structure and control, and in those things I find solace; however, they have bred obsessive-compulsive tendencies that whisper into my ear, “If you don’t follow your schedule, you’re a disappointment. You won’t be normal. Today is a failure if you don’t do XYZ.”

A majority of the time, I’m a prisoner in my own head, held captive by my own thoughts.

So why entertain those whispers? Because I feel lost without them. It comes down to control. I feel fulfilled when I have mastered something, particularly a to-do list. There is comfort in knowing that my day is planned and that I have control over my day. Even an enjoyable activity somehow gets turned into a competition or a conquest, something on a bucket list that can be crossed off. I will allow myself to have fun, as long as I plan fun into my day; otherwise, wandering outside my comfort zone is a very scary thought.

I’m a perfectionist in need of control because control allows me to live day by day and to feel “normal.” It also provides a false sense of fulfillment, sinking me deeper and deeper into a rut, a state of boredom, and, ultimately, unhappiness.

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Posted by on July 7, 2013 in Happiness, Lifestyle


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