image pensive man via www.wiredforhappy.com


By the time you finish this article, you will be 240 seconds closer to death.

 

In fact, with every second that passes, you are nearer to Meeting Your Maker.


The thing about life is nobody get’s out of life alive. Dying is inevitable but living is not.
The irony is how we avoid both: As depressing, morose and painful as death can be, there’s many a person living a depressing, morose and painful existence.


Nobody likes what doesn’t feel good.


When I ask therapy clients about goals, I usually get happiness, better parenting skills, quality family time, less stress, more peace of mind, etc.
These are fine goals, but universal, and frankly, boring as hell. We’re all happy when things are going well, and life is easy. But life is never easy for very long.


And that’s the problem with humans and their mental health. Too many of us are psychologically lazy. Pain-phobic, really.


Few people rise in the morning, roll up their sleeves and proclaim: Today I’m going to steel myself for the struggle ahead, and I’m going to be okay with the pain, come what may. Perhaps that’s our first mistake. Because if life isn’t full of pain, I don’t know what it’s about.


Last week I learned that a colleague’s cancer returned for the fourth time. How the fuck does that happen? was a conversation I started in my head upon hearing the news.


The irony is he’s a therapist specializing in psychological trauma. And that skill set may be one reason he’s still alive. He’s also a great guy, a clinician’s clinician, and from what I gather, a wonderful father and husband.


Why can’t the assholes get cancer?
I know — an immature, gut-reaction thought, and just plain mean.


A few days later, I experienced a different kind of painful event, though downright pleasant compared to my dear colleague’s plight. This one entailed suffering through my son’s 7th grade basketball game. Final score: 48-17.


Afterward we discussed what happened. “Coach says you play how you practice.” Suffice to say, most of the team isn’t bringing the hustle after school.

 

How much pain are you willing to endure every day?

 

One of the misconceptions about happiness is that if you’re just nice, good at your job, you don’t bother anyone, you think positive thoughts, and you try really, really hard, that life will correspond.


But happiness is measured in how you pick your poison and whether you swallow that shit.

 

Differentiating healthy pain from counterproductive pain

 

When I ask clients how much they’re willing to suffer to achieve their goals, they look at me like I’m a quack. “I didn’t come to therapy so we could talk about pain and suffering — I do enough of that on my own. I came here so you could help me be happy,” is typical. However, the unpopular, but essential psychological treatment is to confront pain.


Define what you want in concrete, behavioral terms. For example, I want to find a healthy relationship, or I want to stop raising my voice at my kids. Fine, noble and doable goals, indeed. Let’s stick with the first example, since the second is a challenge for me at present.


wp themes /> In the relationship realm, you decide what actions you will you do differently. If you relied on online dating services previously, try meeting people in public, instead. Tell those around you that you’re single and available. You look online for events in your neighborhood where prospective mates hang out, and you go there. You wake up every morning and remind yourself that you’re not going back to settling, and then you steady yourself for another day of waiting by the phone, which may never ring.


You flirt with that attractive stranger even if this means five minutes later his partner walks up and you’re standing there feeling like an ass. You dress, act, and think like a baller, even though there’s no guarantee of scoring.


You do this over and again until you meet that special someone.


You don’t have to like the risk and the pain, but you have to learn to tolerate them.


How will you know when it’s worked? When that thing that caused you pain is no longer a problem, or less of a problem. And then you move on, and eventually there’s more pain to confront. The beauty is when the new problems arise, you don’t fear the intensity as much because you’ve practiced.

 

You don’t win at life if you don’t play

 

Last week I felt devastated and helpless upon learning my colleague’s cancer returned. How the fuck does someone get fucking brain cancer for the fourth fucking time?


Beats the fuck out of me.


But this I know for sure, my friend — You are now closer to death than when you clicked this link. If you want happiness, practice living with pain, before it’s forced on you.

*****

 

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About Linda Esposito

Welcome to Wired for Happpy, a home for psychologically curious people. If you've ever felt like your mind has a mind of its own, this site is for you. I’m Linda Esposito, the author and psychotherapist of the site. You can also find my mental health writings @HuffPost and @PsychToday. The thing is, we all feel depressed and anxious at times. Knowing you’re not alone goes a long way toward finding peace of mind. In doing my part to help end the stigma around mental health, I share tools, strategies and stories about what’s worked in Therapy and in Life. And we have fun here, too! For information about joining Team Happy, click here.

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