What’s your “BIG PICTURE?”: From Gloom to Joy

Hello folks, joyous 2016 to all!

What’s your “big picture?”

 As the buzz of the holiday season fizzles down and the first month of the year gets on its way, it is natural to want to regain perspective of our lives, find the “big picture” and readjust our bearings sort to speak. In my own family, marriage of 20+ years and in my work as a couple’s therapist, I am constantly challenged to do just that for both, clients and I alike: to find and live from the “big picture” first, down to the details, later. Making this simple mental switch, gives us meaning, direction and purpose, miss it and you will probably feel grouchy a great deal of the time.

As a breathe deeply and take a step back, the popular concept of achieving “happiness” as the “big picture” comes to mind and how in itself, brings misery to the most enthusiastic and keeps creating cynics out of otherwise, smart people (“man, if you are married, say goodbye to happiness!”).

In marriages, this constant longing for feeling “happy” as a goal, translates into relationship hell, mainly, because it is misguided.

When we stop to repeat what sounds cool and familiar and dive head in into our lives, we find joy, the ability to experience every moment, feel a range of emotions, learn from it and share it with all our hearts with whom matters most.

Gem: You create and keep what you feed.  

So, as we launch this year and I keep proudly sculpting my way and leading couples into living joyfully, here is my humble but compelling contribution to setting a ”bigger picture”: Decoding gloom into joy: going from “blah” to “aah “.

 The “Blah”:

Since our mood changes often, sometimes from one minute to the next, shifting from happy to angry, making a pit stop on sadness and hopping back to happy can all happen in a matter of minutes, sometimes less (ever had to pick kitchen tiles with your opinionated spouse?). If you understand the volatileness of emotions, that would be a passionate encounter, maybe with a learned lesson or 2 about you or both, and cherished it as another experience. If you have been hijacked by a virtual belief of “happiness”, you probably concluded that that trip to the tile store was a bust (or you used it to question your whole relationship). Individuals in marriages are particularly vulnerable to this, given the realities of living together.

Gem: Troubled encounters erupt to teach us something about each and both. They MUST exist and used as opportunities.  (The only coupled people that don’t have arguments are dead, boring or liars).

We, as a consumer culture, have been set up, actually, seduced, to find, mimic and keep this unsustainable feeling of “happiness” as if it were a secret stash at the end of some magical rainbow and the ones that are lucky to find it, get to (always) be orgasmically belly-laughing kings of the world!

The concept of “everlasting happiness” gets romanticized in songs, revered in films, hyped up in half hour TV sitcoms and offered bottoms-up-dopamine-shot-style in 30-second commercials. And…we take it.

Gem: This “you’d–better-get-on-this-happiness-wagon- frenzied” longing to match the images and experiences of song lyrics and the world of make- believe, is like quenching your thirst with ocean water; it will wet your lips for a few seconds and make you see demons soon after.

So, while the marketing/make-believe world gets richer as it (smartly) messes with the part of our brain that gets lit up like a slot machine, we become less enthusiastic about the richness of our lives. (Ever took a brand new car home with the almost naked model attached to it???)

Some of us, look and (yikes!) live, as if we lost the “there-goes-my- reallyhappy-life- balloon” on a windy day: “oops, there it goes, no, no, there it goes, wait, more to the left, shoot!, stuck in a tree…no, no, wait, there it goes again…” We run after it, hoping to catch it and miss the joy of seeing a very grumpy husband shift into tenderness after a serious conversation, the honor to rock our baby to sleep… for 4 hours, the hug of our scared wife, the really loud laughter of our carefree teenager…at 3 in the morning, the squealing of our brakes, a broken pipe, a needed argument, a long shower…. Or, we see it and think: this CAN’T BE “IT”!

Things to watch out for: we may be more vulnerable to longing for an idealized world when we are experiencing unexpected, unpleasant or new things in life. Some of the most common are:

The birth of a child, a new decade birthday, the death or illness of an elder parent, the loss of a job, empty nests, anniversaries, mid-life, your children reaching an age that mirrors a significant life event for you in the past, significant financial changes and aging.    

The tragedy of believing that we are missing out is that we fall into a “blah-feeling” existence; nothing seems to be good enough, exciting enough, rich enough, so we convince ourselves that we missed the oasis. We certainly don’t look half as happy and hot as the women by the pool at that Caribbean resort, our kids probably didn’t make honor roll this year and your partner is not as carefree as Billy’s wife.

So, we go into this shame phase (we all know pretty well) and compare our miserable lives to others, whom certainly have perfect lives…we say to ourselves: “I am not happy”.

Gem: Happy is a momentary feeling, like sad or afraid or angry.

Making being “happy” the “big picture”, is like wanting to be freshly showered all the time.

The true contribution to us, actual humans, of that elusive world of “happiness” commonly shows up as: eating disorders, affairs, risky behaviors, greed, addictions, envy, excessive worry, sadness, anger and despair.

Intellectually, we deny being “bitten” by this “idealized happiness bug” (I have yet to meet anyone who admitted it) but take note of how many times a day you secretly travel in your mind to some seriously “happy” past, extremely unbelievable future, wishing you were in the “right place, with the right people, doing exactly the perfect things”, rather than where you are.

The “Aah…”

There is really no formula or 6-bullet point scheme to living joyfully however I’d like to share with you, what time, learnings, life experiences and all my clients have taught me over the years:

  • Let go of what holds you prisoner in your mind.  To let go of the illusion of an always-grinning-perfect-somewhere-else-scenario may feel like grieving a death, so we avoid acknowledging it. I still remember years ago when I was feeling stuck and angry (and didn’t know why or blamed God knows whom) when I was asked by my very intuitive life-coach, Kathy Caprino, what dreams I was still holding on to and what dreams I had actually let go of. I realized that at that time I hadn’t let go of any, I was holding on to the most ridiculous dreams even though I wasn’t doing a thing to achieve them. I have to say, it was liberating when I actually cut the cord and focused on the things that I really committed to doing. Sometimes, it is that simple.
  • Define your roles and master them. Joy has to do with feeling accomplished too. To succeed in the roles we have created, it requires learning and practice. Parenting doesn’t come easy, nether does intimacy: learn from others, read, talk, observe.
  • Choose to grow up, it won’t make you old. This means, no lying, cheating, being passive-aggressive, aggressive, righteous, distant or manipulative. These behaviors will make you feel powerful but never joyful.
  • Make your home a retreat by creating spaces that nest moments. (My husband built us an outdoor fireplace 3 years ago that became the hub of our many long night talks. Knock a wall down if you can’t see your partner when you are cooking every night. You get the drift.
  • Make noise. Start conversations often, find what interests the other person and ask questions, offer opinions, debate hot topics, whisper in their ear, sing out loud, laugh and cry with each other.
  • Listen and tune in. Don’t just sit there and bobble your head (some don’t even bobble, I hear often), listening requires action, conversation, empathy and patience.
  • Go places. Traveling together has an stimulating effect and if you hadn’t had a chance to learn to be flexible, you will get the chance!
  • Kiss and touch slowly and purposely. No explanation needed here.
  • Balance your personal interests with the rest of it all. This can be tricky at times. There are times when you will have to let go of what you want to do; it is part of belonging to a pack.
  • Show your children, young and old, well. Model intimacy by being respectful, kind, tender, patient, humorous, curious, empathetic and compassionate. Involve them in conversations, games, travels, and every day meals. Introduce, text or email them inspiring and interesting topics and then listen to their thoughts. Be interested in their lives and be in their lives.
  • Find what you love to do and do it for a living or some version of it. Many people reinvented their careers after 9/11. Why? Because it was a wake- up call to doing what was meaningful not just financially secure. Do not wait for a crisis.

 So, when you are feeling a bit lost inside, or sad for a long time or angry for no known reason, take a step back, breath deeply, learn and go by this road map and don’t just shoot for “happy”, go for the “bigger picture” and you will live in joy.

 To a Joyful New Year!