Happiness Oversite

Conscious Happiness

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Part 1 What is Consciousness
Part 2 Happiness
Happiness and Awareness
Happiness and Thought
Happiness and Emotions
Summary of Approaches to Happiness
Part 3 The Happiness Strategy
Suggested Reading
About Site

By Bruce Barbour
Version 1 - April 2016

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 could be.

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 and Dealing with Negative Emotions - Expansion, Acceptance and Willingness

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

Memory is a tool of the other aspects of consciousness. As such it is not used directly. Memories are drawn into thought or into emotion that can then elicit an emotional response. Memory can be used to recall happy events and sensual experiences in life and therefore has happiness potential. The benefit of memory of happy events is that it can be recalled any number of times to get the emotional response however it is likely that the emotional response from the memory will be less intense than the real experience. Solely living on memories of events may be less happy than living those events again.

It should also be remembered that memory can be used to recall unhappy events and experiences, and therefore lead to an emotional response on the negative side of the happiness continuum.

Next Page - Summary of the Approaches to Happiness


18. There would be exceptions to this, such as heart attack brought on by a sudden stressful incident. However this would usually only occurs when there were underlying health conditions in the first place.

19. Refer to Wikipedia - Chronic Stress

20. ACT also suggests it is helpful to use defusion techniques to defuse any negative Self Thoughts, often in the form of judgements, related to an undesirable emotion. For example if you have to do a public talk that is making you very nervous. While you can use expansion techniques for the emotion there may still be associated judgmental thoughts, such as “I can’t stand this feeling of nervousness”. This type of thought can be defused using the ACT techniques already discussed.

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