In the wake of devastation, research shows we need to prioritize our own happiness
...even if it “feels wrong,” happiness is always right.
In the past few weeks, Turkey and Syria have continued to get rocked by devastating earthquakes. The successive aftershocks have not only shaken up those directly affected, but also those indirectly affected.
In times like these, feelings of grief pull on our heart strings…overwhelming amounts of despair take over…and existential, critical questions fill our minds…
Am I allowed to be happy with so much suffering going on?
Isn’t it selfish to be having fun while others are suffering?
Clearly, I don’t deserve to be happy right now…
Research shows that many people believe they’re not allowed to feel happiness while other people are suffering or in pain. Of course it’s natural and expected to feel sadness and empathy when witnessing a devastatingly, horrible loss.
But our misconceptions about how and when we deserve happiness are leading us astray. They act as mental obstacles that deprive us of our right to be and grow happier during troubling times. And I would argue that the latter is actually exactly what we need to be doing.
The active practice of happiness makes us the best version of ourselves so that we can make a difference in the lives of others.
You see, research proves that when you intentionally practice happiness you become healthier, more creative, and resilient—all helpful traits during times of crisis. More so, when we’re happier we’re not as emotionally depleted, leaving room for us to take action outside of our own lives/problems. And when we find ways to help others who are struggling, we derive self-meaning in the process and provide comfort to those who need it most.
Right now, Turkey and Syria need more happy people both on the ground and on the other side of the world. They need you and I (and everyone in between) at our very best so we can provide the aid, relief, and sense of security they require in this dark moment.
As it stands, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is most relevant here, with physical needs such as water, shelter, rescue etc. at the forefront. But there are also basic psychological and/or social needs that need to be met (like connecting survivors with resources, loved ones, etc.). So whether you’re part of a paramedic team on the ground or someone looking to donate their time/money — it’s important that you’re happy.
Without your own happiness, how are you supposed to effectively support others?
Today’s quote is from Mary Oliver: “May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful." I felt it related well to the topic well. To me it means that each of our small contributions can make a world of difference…especially if those contributions are about increasing happiness :)
Next steps for happier beings
When other people are suffering and in desperate need of attention, do not neglect your happiness practices. If you truly want to help others, you have to continuously bring the best version of yourself to the table.
Remember that even if it “feels wrong” in your head to be happy in such troubling times, it will “feel right” being able to help others in the way you wished you could.
Repeat this mantra: someone else's suffering doesn’t take away from my own. Nor does my suffering diminish someone else’s pain.
Choose happiness. In whatever shape that takes. This could mean donating what you can to help, sending well wishes, or educating yourself on the best ways to create a better future for all.
Content for happier beings
As you’re repeating that mantra mentioned above, consider doing some breathing exercises as well to calm your nervous system.
I love this simple illustration for how to deal with feelings and emotions.
More and more schools are now teaching classes on happiness. I am ecstatic to see this! When asked if happiness can and should be taught in school, one leader said: If I may ask back, what do children really need? Do they need algebra? We want the best for our children, and for me, this means giving them the best resources to go through life happily…Core competencies such as regulating emotions, gratitude or self-mastery can be taught.
I recently wrote an article about how focusing on posttraumatic growth can help you heal for the online psychology publication, Psychreg.
That’s all for this month. What would you like to see in next months newsletter? What questions do you have about mental health and happiness?
As always, I’m here for you.
Dr. Tal Leead, Psy.D.
“May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful."
– Mary Oliver