By Bruce Barbour
Part 2 - Happiness
Emotions and Happiness
Happiness itself is an emotion. There are many other
emotions however most of them can be classified as
happiness inducing or unhappiness inducing. For example
anxiety is a persistent apprehension or dread of what may
happen in the future. This is often accompanied by
physical symptoms such as heart palpitation and sweating.
It may also be accompanied by stress. Excessive anxiety
will induce the emotion of unhappiness for two reasons.
The first is that anxiety is unpleasant to experience and
is therefore a cause of unhappiness. The second reason is
that anxiety may prevent a person from doing something
that may enrich their life. Therefore their life is
lessened to an extent and therefore not as happy as it
Before I go on I have to caution against the use of
Conscious Awareness to concentrate on unhappy emotions. It
could accentuate them. When using Conscious Awareness
typically you are concentrating on sense awareness
information, which are largely happiness inducing creating
emotions on the positive side of the Happiness Continuum.
These positive emotions should displace the negative
emotions and the associated negative Self Thoughts from
the Consciousness Vessel. As I stated earlier the one
significant disadvantage of Conscious Awareness of sense
information is that it limits thought which is necessary
for the pursuing of value based goals. So it is necessary
to have an additional way of handling negative emotions.
ACT offers an approach.
ACT accepts that negative emotions, like negative Self Thoughts, are going to occur during life regardless of how well you live. People who are close to you may die or leave. You may loose a cherished job or other things may go wrong in your life. That is the nature of life. All these things and many others will make you sad at various times throughout your life. You may experience anxiety when you are required to do, or wish to do, certain tasks. You may experience fear and anger.
You also need to know that Emotions, like Thoughts, cannot harm you, at least in the short term. It is usually only when an emotional state goes on for a very long time that it may impact on your health (18). The negative effect of long term stress on health is well known (19).
Consequently ACT proposes that instead of fighting the emotions using Thought processes, that a person observes the emotion, using awareness and then "makes room" for negative emotions in their consciousness. In other words you should simply be aware of the emotion, accepting it as the way it is at the present (20). This is not a process of blocking out the emotion so you don't feel the pain of the emotion. Once you have accepted the emotion as the way it is you can then move on with doing the things in your life that are important to you.
In ACT this process is variously called Expansion or Acceptance or Willingness. All these terms indicate an aspect of what is required when dealing with negative emotions. Expansion means you need to make space for the emotion, to observe it but then to let it be. Acceptance means that you accept that the emotion is the way that it is at the moment. Willingness means that you need to be willing to feel the emotion.
ACT doesn't attempt to get rid of the emotion, and the emotion will still be there when you become Aware of it. So what is the point of that? I hear you ask. ACT, as its acronym implies, is all about doing. ACT methods, if successfully implemented, allow you to move on with your life rather than being debilitated by the emotion or thought process. By ACTing, the rest of your life continues and the negative emotion or thought will subside over time, probably a lot more quickly than if you had stayed in your room curled in the foetal position with the negative emotions continually being reinforced by your thought processes.
One of the processes that ACT proposes to handle emotion is to simply allow yourself to observe the negative emotion. Notice where it seems to be sitting in your body and its size and its shape. Then visualise making a space around that negative emotion. And just allow the emotion to be there.
Part of the process is the development of what is called "Willingness". It is often in the form of a question that you need to put to yourself. In order to gain a better life how willing are you to experience this emotional discomfort and also the discomfort from thought processes? How much negative emotion and thought would you be prepared to put up with in order to obtain the life you have always dreamed?
Although the question may not have been put up front like this in your earlier life many people have effectively answered the question by the way they have been living their life. The answer up to this point is - not much. ACT urges you to question that unconscious answer and through the use of the various techniques proposed to change it to a positive answer - that in order to gain the life you really want you may need to be prepared to endure an amount of emotional discomfort.
Memory and Happiness
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