Here's a useful question for this time of year:
- and do your present conditions support you, or limit you?
Apart from just enough liquid refreshment, you might ask:
'What are your conditions for happiness?'
- Quality time with friends or family!
- Not getting (or giving) the 'wrong presents'
- Avoiding the annual argument with Uncle Bob!
So which of your conditions can you guarantee? Even though you can do your best to influence events, things are rarely rock-solid. So it's worth double-checking whether your happiness is 'index-linked':
- To what extent does your happiness rise and fall depending on factors you can't control or influence?
Naturally, we feel disappointed when our beautiful plans are scuppered by the unexpected; when our ideal conditions crumble.... Precious quality time disappears because of travel problems, people inexplicably dislike our presents, or Uncle Bob is more than usually exasperating!
But do we need to lose our happiness altogether when things turn out as we don't expect?
How the word 'should' adds stress ...
One of the greatest blows to happiness is the way our wishes become demands. We don't just wish for what we want or need - we think it should happen. It bites deeper if it doesn't: frustration and upset kick in.
- People SHOULD make the effort to get here on time!
- I OUGHT to know which presents to get!
- I MUST NOT lose my rag with Uncle Bob!
Our should's, ought's and must's put pressure on us because if things go wrong, it's somebody's 'fault'. We blame ourselves or others. Sometimes we do both together - creating a bitter 'guilt sandwich'.
The 'guilt sandwich'!
- We feel guilty - because 'we should have done things better'
- We feel angry with others - because 'they should have done things better'
- We feel guilty again for feeling guilty or angry!
Making room for hidden wisdom
How can we recoup our happiness now? By remembering that our should's, ought's and must's hold hidden wisdom. They tell us that we feel strongly about something. Hidden below the action (what we do), they point - sometimes passionately - towards the needs and values we wish to protect (how we want to be).
- We care about family and friends - for love and friendship
- We want to give (and get) all the right presents - for fun and giving
- We sincerely wish to be kind to our wayward relatives - for peace and harmony
- Deep down, our 'shoulds' protect our needs and values
If you wish to explore your own conditions for happiness:
- Notice if your happiness depends on you, or another person, doing something in a particular way
- Check out if you hold a should or ought about this
- Now explore what needs or values your should or ought is trying to protect
This is how you discover the hidden wisdom of your should's, ought's and must's. But it's still only half the story. You still need to scoop up your 'lost parts'.
Lost parts are the bits that go missing when we judge something as (even slightly) bad or wrong.
So when I said I should NOT raise my voice with Uncle Bob, what is 'lost' here are all the good reasons that I do raise my voice, despite my very best intentions.
Strange though it may seem, those good reasons do exist; it's just hard to notice them (that's why they get lost). When I do something I don't like (such as getting annoyed with someone) I feel my own unmet needs and values keenly - just as keenly, in fact, as when somebody else does something I don't like. I feel frustrated or upset or guilty - because what I care about hasn't happened (here, being courteous, considerate and calm with my irascible relative ...). In this moment, I can't easily see any 'good reason' for raising my voice.
So how do we spot our 'lost parts'?
Recovering our Lost Parts
To recover our lost parts, we need to remember that:
- Every 'bad' action also contains a good reason - the needs we were meeting (or trying to meet)
In your own example, search for the 'lost parts' inside your should's.
- What are the 'good reasons' this 'bad action' happens?
- What needs were you / another person trying to meet?
- When I lost it with Uncle Bob, I was standing up for what I thought was right, and trying to take care of the people he was criticising - because I value integrity, care, and consideration for others.
The same goes for our should's and ought's about other people:
- Those relatives who shouldn't arrive so late - they also have their 'good reasons' ... Perhaps they move slowly than we wish because they are busy, with over-excited kids ...?
This isn't about 'making excuses' for behaviour we don't like. It's about regaining our happiness and equanimity. If we lose sight of these good reasons, we lose vital parts of the picture. That's when we feel angry or guilty - or both.
When we recover the good reasons, empathy magically emerges, dissolving the difficulties, and making forgiveness possible. We support our happiness with kindness and understanding. On every small occasion, we open the door a little wider to true merriment, independent of terms and conditions.
Terms and Conditions for Christmas!
1. In the event of cancellation, exclusion, evasion, invasion - or any other unwonted scuppering of plans - you are still eligible for a full refund of happiness and merriment.
2. Happiness is subject to availability and may be changed or withdrawn without further notice UNLESS:
- Any 'should', 'ought' or 'must' is welcomed in, for its hidden wisdom!
- All 'lost parts' are recovered, and greeted with empathy!
- Any 'bad' action is seen also in the light of its good reasons!
3. No rules apply this Christmas - including this one!
We wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas!
(With Peter Kuklis)