Dear Dr. Norquist:
Sorry for asking such a trivial question when others are struggling with much more severe problems. I know you’ve written on this topic before, but unfortunately, I didn’t save the article. My problem is that I’m not enjoying my life, even though I’m blessed with a wonderful life. I have a husband who loves me dearly, a teenage daughter who, despite her mood changes and ups and downs, is a normal, healthy, relatively happy teenager. I have a career in the arts that is very satisfying, a lovely home, and good friends. What more could a person ask for?
Maybe I expect too much. I just don’t feel happy very often. I don’t want to end up like my mom – so busy worrying about every little thing that I end up sick. The time has come where I can slow down a little and focus on these things a little more (like how to be happier in my life), rather than just rushing around trying to get everything done. What do you suggest that I do to enjoy my life more?
Dr. Norquist responds:
This is a question I often ponder myself. Did you know that you can consciously create the experience of joy in your life? Mostly, in life, we focus on problems, and how to overcome them. But remember, you become what you think about all day. Most of our experience of dis-ease in life comes from being overly focused on our thoughts. You can experience a measured increase in your enjoyment of life, just by practicing moving your consciousness from your head to your heart and your body. Slow down. Breathe deeply. Take time to fully experience each moment (in your heart and your body). Stop to feel. Stop to observe. Stop to love. There is great truth in the saying that “the peace of God passeth all understanding” The peace of God is experienced in inner stillness. Stillness refers to a stilling of our constant mental chatter. This inner stillness is an experience that is found within the heart. Don’t let worries, time demands, and the need for accomplishment rob you of your life. Learn to embrace each moment.
It is no wonder that addictions plague our society. In our harried, outer-focused world, we have lost sight of this grounding, life affirming experience of inner stillness. Instead of cultivating this inner experience of the divine, we search the world for stimulation, accomplishments, acquisitions, or substances to change our inner experience and we expect this somehow to bring us joy. It doesn’t occur to us that we can learn to change our own inner state. We can create our own plan of action to bring more joy into our life.
Remember, where you focus your attention determines what you create. I’d suggest that you start by taking some time each day for the next week or so to notice where you direct your attention each day. This means observing not just what you physically do with your time (although this is very important as well), but where your mental energy goes, what emotions you habitually create for yourself, and how you breathe and live in your body.
With a clear vision of what you would like your life to feel and look like, use this information to determine what you’d like to change. Work on eliminating that which brings you down and is not in alignment with your vision of your life. Make a plan of action, focusing on one thing at a time. Practice letting go of these mal-serving behaviors and habits in your life. Try to do this with an attitude of kindness and acceptance. Hating something in yourself keeps it in your life. There are many ways to facilitate these changes. If you have a question about a particular change you need to make, please write to me for a more detailed answer. In general, change agents can include: correcting the error in your thinking, creating a corrective experience, diverting your thoughts, cultivating particular experiential states, using affirmations, focusing on truisms that are meaningful to you, and changing your perceptions of yourself.
Our experience of life is like looking through a kaleidoscope. It looks different depending upon how you turn it. You can consciously learn to change how you view, and therefore how you experience your life. James Carse, in his book Finite and Infinite Games, describes life as a game. We can view it from the finite perspective of trying to control, acquire, win or build a reputation. Alternatively, we can approach it with an awareness of the infinite, and learn to laugh, love, dance, sing, and enjoy life as a gift we’ve been given. Ultimately, life is not understandable or controllable. His recommendation is: don’t take the finite game seriously. Learn to play.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns.Ó 2017 Chaitanya Counseling Services