Frequently, unhappiness is the main way we justify our biggest decisions in life.
“Why did you get divorced?”
“I wasn’t happy so I left.”
“Why did you quit your job?”
“I wasn’t happy.”
“Why don’t you speak to your mother/father/sibling?”
“I always end up feeling unhappy so why bother?”
We shun unhappiness. This is a trap and here’s why.
Unhappiness is our unconscious admission that something “out there” is in control of our happiness. It is the bad spouse/bad boss/bad family member. They trigger something deep within us that we call unhappiness. We feel a disturbing set of emotions – sadness, anger, frustration and annoyance. We anxiously want to escape these feelings as quickly as possible.
The trap appears as avoidance. Avoiding situations and people that make us unhappy leaves us stuck in our unhappiness.
It is a commonly promoted mythology on Facebook and other social media that we should drop the people in our life who ‘drain’ us. The negative ones who leave us feeling worse, not better. We are exhorted to hang out only with ‘the good guys and gals.’
I respect one aspect of this advice. We often get sucked into a vicious cycle where we think we can fix that irritating person. The more we try, the worse it gets. Finally, we walk away in failure or we become doormats, accepting behaviour that is not acceptable.
You have a motive that causes the unhappiness trap: you want to be happy! Fixing that irritating person would make you happy. Or at least, happier! In reality, you were trying to make yourself happy by changing what’s out there. If you avoid it (after failing), you haven’t solved anything. It is like having a bad pain in your body and merely taking painkillers so you don’t feel it anymore. The malady is still there, uncured and toxic.
This is how you escape the unhappiness trap. If you want to be happy, you must move towards that which makes you unhappy, not away. That irritating person? He or she is offering you a gift. Their behaviour is triggering a quality within you that is the actual cause of your unhappiness. Here is an amusing example:
When I was a kid, a retired farmer lived across the road. His retirement home was perched on a hill. Every day he sat on the front porch and watched the comings and goings around him. My father found this annoying, saying he was a nosy neighbour who wanted to know what everyone was doing. Today, 40 years later, my father is retired. He built a nice porch on the front of his house that looks upon a busy street. In walking with him down a dead end street the other day, he commented how he would not like living on that street. I was surprised and asked him why. He replied. “It’s too quiet. I like being on a busy street where I can see people coming and going.” At that moment, the memory of his previous disdain for our neighbour flashed into my mind.
“So what!” you may say. No harm, no foul in this. I challenge you however. Every time that someone’s behaviour annoys you, you are given opportunity. In your annoyance lies a biblical truth.
“Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” Ro 2:1
When you avoid people who irritate you, you are avoiding your true, inner self. You are avoiding getting to know the core of your being. You are leaving yourself powerless to the vagaries of how people treat you. This habit forces you to live inside a small prison, shutting out the irritants. In so doing, you are locking yourself in a prison cell of your own making.
The path to peace is to move towards that which upsets you. When you do, you conquer the root cause of why you were unhappy. When you succeed (and you will!), you become powerful within. A person can call you a name, criticize something about you or hold a belief you find repugnant (like the US election is demonstrating). When they do, you are fine. You are not unhappy. You are at peace. And in your peace, you respond more wisely. Sometimes, they actually hear you and reconsider their behaviour. In those moments, you realize that your peace has power.
For me, Jesus is the role model. He was a radical who upset the establishment. He won some to his side. Others plotted against him. This is your reality too. Some people will be your biggest fans. Some will be against you. Jesus told us to love not just those who love us (anyone can do that, he said), but to love those who are our enemies.
Anyone who upsets you appears to be like an enemy, in the moment. In reality, that person is God knocking at your door, begging you to let love in to the deepest part of your being. Your reward? “The peace that surpasses all knowing.” You are good enough as you are, even if others don’t think so because God loves you exactly as you are now.
As you do, your personal character changes. Your character impacts your leadership style at work and at home. Go to http://kuypersleadership.com to learn more about our coaching, books and courses. Oh, and enjoy this short video on how I help clients get people to do what they don’t want to do: