Can You Still Be Happy?
by Mary Russell, M.S.
Bad things happen – there’s no way around it. Jobs are lost, relationships end, hearts are broken, people fall ill. Traditionally, REBT would encourage us to examine how we’re thinking about these situations. When we label things [in not so many words] as catastrophic we inevitably experience intensely debilitating emotions. Anger, depression, guilt, or anxiety can render us helpless when we tell ourselves that something is so awful we can’t possibly go on. If we can catch ourselves “catastrophizing” it can be helpful to examine the situation and decide if it is truly awful or if it’s more accurately unfortunate, sad, irritating, but merely part of life which is not always fair. While it certainly wouldn’t be realistic nor accurate to label our hardships as “no big deal,” a more accurate description of an adversity would certainly empower us to problem solve and cope in spite of difficult challenges.
But what about events that truly are (at the risk of committing REBT blasphemy)… HORRIBLE? To name a few, wars are fought, people die, natural disasters happen, and innocent people are abused. Sometimes it’s simply not appropriate or helpful to tell someone else or yourself that things “could be worse,” even if this is technically true.
It can be helpful to acknowledge the simple truth that “horrible” things happen and are unfortunately part of life. Certainly it’s hard to move forward if we spend our time telling ourselves something shouldn’t have happened. The truth is that something you’ve wished so much to have not happened HAS happened. Accepting this (as hard as it may be) is a first step to moving forward and coping with less than ideal circumstances.
Next, a critical but difficult question to ask yourself will be “can I still be happy in spite of these difficult circumstances?” It can be easy and quite understandable to focus almost exclusively on bad or truly horrible experiences. Nonetheless, maintaining a narrow focus may lead us to lose sight of the things that have not gone wrong and that continue to bring us happiness. These other things will be critical for moving forward. Make a list of these things. Read it every day and remind yourself that even though one thing may have gone horribly wrong, perhaps it may be possible to be happy – though maybe not as happy as you ideally could have been.
In reality, dealing with horrible events is clearly not so simple or easy. Nonetheless, empowering yourself by accepting the situation, dealing with it as best you can, and reminding yourself that happiness may still be possible will be a first step to feeling better.
Source: Albert Ellis Institute