What is the number one thing I get asked as a psychologist?
What do I get asked most as a psychologist? Besides whether I’m reading your mind on initially meeting you, or whether I am analysing you (both of which I don't do, I'm human) - the number one thing I get asked by friends and family is – “What type of people do you see? What type of problems do people have?”
It’s interesting to us that, as humans, we find solace in hearing that someone else may be going through what we may be going through or that maybe someone has worse “problems” than we do. We find hope in hearing about other peoples’ problems and we have this strange interest in who psychologists see and the type of problems they see because maybe, just maybe, that other person’s problem is so weird and crazy that we don’t have to feel that we need to see someone.
So, what type of people do I see and what type of problems do they have?
Normal. Normal people. Normal problems.
During my short but extensive time as a psychologist I have realised that the number one thing that all of us are intrinsically seeking, is happiness. We have these external stresses that rise up in life that make it difficult for us to find true happiness, or to see happiness through the fogginess of our situations. But in the grand scheme of things, is that not the ultimate goal for all of us? Happiness? It is the one goal that consistently comes up in my therapy/coaching sessions. Normal people with normal problems with a goal of overcoming difficulty and being happy.
Doesn’t matter what type of problem a client comes in with, whether work related, life related, relationship related, at the end of therapy, are we not hoping to walk out a happier person? Is that not the core goal for all of us in life?
SO - how do we find happiness, then? Firstly, happiness isn’t this mythical creature that we are going to stumble onto. Happiness is not something we are going to bump into or ‘find’ out there. You can search your entire life for happiness and not find it. So the real question here isn't how do we find happiness, it is: how do we MAKE happiness? It is the very first thing I tell my clients, we have to work for happiness. It is not ingrained in us, we are not born with it, our brain is wired to survive, not to be happy. Our brain is on a constant lookout for danger; every second of every day we are making value judgements on millions of stimuli, we live in a world where worrying is a constant state.
It is difficult to believe that happiness does not lie in our circumstances or that some have it and some don’t, or even that it is either a given or not. Because believing this would make the alternative easier to live with. But these are myths we have created. The reality is that the elements that determine our happiness, past and future, are with us right now, right here. Changes in our circumstances, no matter how positive and stunning have little bearing on our overall happiness and well-being. To understand that circumstances and situations only have a limited effect on our happiness, allows us to appreciate the promise of the great impact that we can have on our own lives.
So, happiness is not out there for us to find or discover, rather, it’s INSIDE of us. It is the process of making our own happiness through INTENTIONAL strategies that we can implement. Some of us can do this easily, some of us can’t, and sometimes we end up in a very difficult landscape where things are too foggy to see beyond. So, we need expert help. Does unhappiness or even seeing a psychologist mean that we are clinically diagnosable? No. But sometimes we do just need an expert guide to help us navigate this foggy landscape.
Here are some intentional strategies I give my clients that may help you:
1. Starting a gratitude journal. Research has indicated that some of the happiest people devote a great amount of time to expressing gratitude for all they have and savouring life’s pleasures.
2. Practice forgiveness and acts of kindness. This is an age-old belief and notion that true happiness consist in making others happy. And if the old ‘wisdomfuls’ believed and trusted in this – why should we not? I also tell clients to remember, forgiveness is not a type of reconciliation or even the equivalent to pardoning or condoning the hurt, it does not minimise the hurt and it does not mean we excuse the harm, it does not involve forgetting. It is simply internally forgiving, whatever that may be for each person.
3. Ever hear of "fake it until you make it”? This is my next tip. Look at the bright side. Constantly seeking out the silver lining on a dark cloud allows us to cultivate optimism. Alternatively, also called "face it until you make it", face the fact that you may be negative and that you have to make a constant effort at looking for the positives. Face the fact that you have to work at being positive.
4. No comparing! Upward comparisons usually leads us to feelings of inferiority, distress and loss of self-esteem. Downward comparisons leads us to feeling guilty, and gives rise to fears of coping with resentment or failure.
5. If you are going to spend money, spend it to maximise your happiness. Something I try to live by and which I always suggest to my friends is to use your money to buy experiences and not things.
6. Nurture social relationships. This one is really important. We get side-tracked sometimes – we get caught up in this thing called life. Maybe you are very busy at school, university or work, maybe you have been caught up in your own personal time. Pick up the phone, call a friend or family member. Make time for people close to you. Spend more time with family, partners and significant others. Also – try hugging more, its proven to alleviate stress and make us happier.
So, next time we get caught up in thinking we can't be happy, or wondering whether other people are worse off, or worrying about the fact that we may need expert help to coach us through difficult phases of life - let's remember we are normal people, with normal problems. And we deserve to be happy, we deserve to do whatever it is that we need to, to find our happiness and work through our difficult, distressing times.