Feel the pain

How much time do you spend avoiding discomfort?

Perhaps you're delaying a difficult conversation with a loved one? Avoiding the doctor because you're afraid of what she might tell you? Not playing tennis today because you don't want to be sore tomorrow?

I would say I've spent a good portion of my life avoiding discomfort and inconvenience. This shows up in a variety of ways, from bringing an umbrella every time there's even a threat of rain to avoiding events to prevent traffic frustration to not having difficult conversations that would definitely be beneficial to everyone once we got through them. Often when I have painful thoughts, I push them away, forcing myself to think only about the positive.

I'm reevaluating this approach in part due to what I'm learning from an interesting book called The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living. The subtitle says "A guide to ACT: the mindfulness-based program for reducing stress, overcoming fear, and creating a rich and meaningful life." Here are my notes from the first few chapters:

  • One definition of happiness is "feeling good." But according to author Russ Harris, "a life spent in pursuit of those good feelings is, in the long term, deeply unsatisfying. In fact, the harder we chase after pleasurable feelings, the more we are likely to suffer from anxiety and depression."

  • The other far less common meaning of happiness is "living a reach and meaningful life." "When we take action on the things that truly matter deep in our hearts, move in directions that we consider valuable and worthy, clarify what we stand for in life and act accordingly, then our lives become rich and full and meaningful, and we experience a powerful sense of vitality. This is not some fleeting feeling--it is a profound sense of a life well lived. And although such a life will undoubtedly give us many pleasurable feelings it will also give us uncomfortable ones, such as sadness, fear, and anger. This is only to be expected. If we live a full life, we will feel the full range of human emotions."

  • The reality is, life involves pain. "Although we can't avoid such pain, we can learn to handle it much better--to make room for it, reduce its impact, and create a life worth living despite it."

  • "The things we generally value most in life bring with them a whole range of feelings, both pleasant and unpleasant."

  • While we have much less control over our thoughts and feelings than we might like, "we do have a huge amount of control over our actions. And it's through taking action that we create a rich, full, and meaningful life."

  • "Often our attempts to avoid unpleasant feelings get in the way of doing what we truly value.... When your primary motivation is the avoidance of unpleasant thoughts and feelings, this drains the joy and vitality from what you are doing."

While I continue to read this book in the months ahead, I'm going to start telling myself when I'm feeling uncomfortable emotions: "I'm living a full life, so I will feel the full range of human emotions."

Feel the pain.

Photo by Hyttalo Souza on Unsplash

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