Our community is the epitome of mainstream America. We have deeply rooted family values, safe streets, moral standards, and most families stand guarded against outside influences that threaten our happiness. Recently, however, Utah achieved the 7th highest drug overdose rate in the nation. How can a community named Happy Valley have some of the highest rates of adult mental illness and teenage suicide in the country?
Treating addiction is clearly a necessity. However, explaining these alarming and confusing statistics may also come down to understanding some myths, or assumptions, about happiness.
Myth No. 1: I Should Be Happy All the Time
Some aspects of our local community amplify and reinforce the well-intended message that “good people” or “my kid” should not or would not encounter pain. At times, we may even feel entitled to getting our way and therefore feel betrayed when we stress and we encounter unwanted but normal life struggles. These challenges show up as: loneliness, divorce, work stress, relationship issues, domestic violence, bullying, prejudice, low self-esteem, and chronic pain to mention a few.
Myth No. 2: If I’m Not Happy, Something is Wrong with Me
For decades, mental health symptoms have been twisted and misunderstood to the point that painful or overwhelming thoughts and feelings are now presumed to be products of weak, faulty, and unworthy minds. Labels like ‘Anxious’, or ‘Addict’ are now used so frequently and in such negative ways it distracts us from the real issue at hand. Those labels not only build a wall but also mask the reality that we all struggle in similar ways. Combine these objectifying terms with a competitive culture this myth grows more powerful and exponential.
Myth No. 3: For a Better Life, I Must Get Rid Of Negative Feelings
Every single one of us experiences self-judgment, fear, and shame of not measuring up. It can be overwhelming and discouraging. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that promotes numbing and hiding as the solution to any pain or discomfort.
Anger, over-working, blaming, over-booking schedules, and isolation has been dependable sources of distraction for years. Some argue how safe and how little impact these behaviors have on themselves and others. Ironically, they assume that dependent or ‘addictive’ thinking and behaviors are only appropriate if describing illicit drugs and alcohol. Recently, more camouflaged options like sugar, caffeine, over the counter medication, smoking, power drinks, and trendy diets have become legal and justified ways to remedy unwanted thoughts or deal with social pressures. All of these behaviors, and others, are designed to alter reality, enhance social performance, and reduce stress. Unbeknownst to us, we end up trading one form of addiction for another.
Everyone considers himself or herself an unwilling and/or unaware accomplice and each would avoid the road of undue suffering if possible. Here are three practical take home ideas that can help you start breaking yourself free from the shackles of these myths and identify and strengthen your core values so you can stay connected with reality.
- Take time and energy to notice core values that you have and may share with others. Write down and/or share thoughts, feelings, and memories that help identify and strengthen your core values. Yoga, meditation, and other quiet activities will improve focus and self-awareness.
- Compare less. Look for opportunities to learn about and accept the uniqueness of others. Admitting and accepting our weakness and vulnerability to others actually creates meaningful emotional and social bonds.
- React less. Take a deep breath and refocus values that you can practice today.
All of us long for acceptance, empathy, and connection from others but sometimes get stuck in the attractive web of addictive behaviors. If help is needed, reach out to others or professionals. Enjoy the search for happiness in the everyday pursuit of values, not distractions.