Sunday, November 27, 2016

The road to happiness through suffering, surviving, thriving, and personal empowerment


Sorry for the overly feel-good almost "elitedaily" type title for this particular piece.  I ruminated for a while on what I would call it, but nothing snappy enough really came to mind.  So I just went with it.

The last few weeks I've read a lot about life improvement.  Mainly because the last few years doing so has been such a huge priority of mine, and I've taken a lot of steps and implement measures and habits that would improve the quality of my life.

By no means does implementing these measures mean you are going to avoid suffering, trials, struggles, and setbacks in life.  In fact, in a lot of ways, those are the very things you need and the stimulus that serves at a catalyst for pushing us forwards into making changes that can create a higher quality of life.  When the pain of staying the same ends up being greater than the fear of change is usually the crossover point where we often make dramatic life changes.  Sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worst.  Or let me state this, sometimes the change feels like the worst choice initially, but usually we need to let enough pieces of the future puzzle fall into place before we can adequately judge the quality of our choices, or what they truly manifested in our life.  It's not like eating at Chipotle and realizing 90 minutes later that the outcome of doing so had negative consequences.

Possibly the worst choice we can make, is to avoid said pain and suffering because by doing so we end up with very fragmented lives that feel incomplete and unrewarding, sending us into a downwards spiral that we don't often recognize is even happening until we've landed at rock bottom.  Along the ride into that seventh circle of hell, we often develop coping mechanisms so that we can avoid fixing the very things that unstich us.  We love avoidance.  We love rationalizing.  These two things enable us to emotionally survive temporarily until doing so is no longer enough to make up for the "loss" we live with day in and day out.

Pharmaceutical companies make billions a year off of these mechanisms in the way of Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, and Paxil.  As a society, better "living through chemistry" has become our life motto when adversity hits us the hardest, rather than using said adversity as a means for personal growth.

Our most difficult times in life are the ones we need the most as the stimulus for embracing change, conquering fears, and evolving into the very best version of who we want to become.  That can't happen if we numb ourselves down through drugs, rationalize the putting off of making choices, and allow these times to bring out the very worst parts of who we are.

Even worse, using SSRI drugs are eventually going to make our depression worse.


A recently released scientific study published in the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews claims that the entire theory behind the usage of SSRI’s is completely backwards, even going as far as to suggest that SSRI’s actually make overcoming depression more difficult, especially in the first weeks of taking antidepressants.

‘”Those serotonin-boosting medications actually make it harder for patients to recover, especially in the short term, says lead author Paul Andrews, an assistant professor of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour at McMaster.’

This new research gives us an explanation as to why so many people do not improve once they begin taking SSRI’s, offering evidence that taking SSRI’s may actually make it more difficult for people to heal depression, as the medication interferes with the brain’s natural processes of recovery.


“When depressed patients on SSRI medication do show improvement, it appears that their brains are actually overcoming the effects of anti-depressant medications, rather than being assisted directly by them. Instead of helping, the medications appear to be interfering with the brain’s own mechanisms of recovery.”
The mental health industry is founded on prescribing mood-enhancing drugs rather than uncovering and confronting the physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual and environmental root causes of depression, anxiety and attention deficit ‘disorders.’

The other studies are just as alarming.  Linking a high rate of suicide to those on antidepressants, that often begin with shaking, consistent nightmares, withdrawing and isolating oneself from friends and loved ones.

There's a few things that really jump out at me there.  The first is that our brain, much like our body with training, has the ability to help us heal and become stronger through emotional, psychological, and environmental trauma.  And much like how stress in the gym serves as the catalyst for building us a stronger and more robust physique, going through times of stress and dealing with it appropriately gives us the emotional and mental ability to forge through future times of stress and discomfort far more easily.  We have the ability to tap into these measures with the proper help, the right support systems, the right attitude, and the right choices so that we can heal properly from the toll life often takes on us.



The second thing is much more obvious - Drugs aren't going to fix your problems because once you become numbed down, how on Earth are you going to be able to make logical decisions about changing your life when you feel nothing?  There is a hand shaking mechanism between logic and emotion that we need to use in order to arrive at a decision that we feel is best for our life, and offers us up the highest quality of it.  Even if that means we have to endure wave after wave of adversity for a while.  

To quote a close friend of mine who battled depression for a while and was using anti-depressants to cope, was told by the psychiatrist "you don't have clinical depression.  I'm taking you off of all anti-depressants because you need to FIX THE PROBLEMS IN YOUR LIFE!"

The truth is, it's hard to get good help these days.  Doctors numb people down and get them addicted to drugs because it lines their pockets.  Most therapists don't really push for people to make for life changing decisions because it behooves them to have them on their couch each week talking about "how they feel".  If they were good at their job, and forced people to move, rather than sit idle in their life, they don't have patients for years on end, helping to increase the size of their bank account.  

That's right.  The medical, big pharma, and the therapy community for the large part doesn't really have your best interests at heart.  People who are suffering from normal life problems and adversity (I'm talking outside the scope of legitimate chemical or physiological issues), don't need therapy for years on end.  They don't need drugs.  They need to embrace the small, uncomfortable confined space that life has put them in, and summon the strength to break free from it.  That is where personal growth happens.  That is the wellspring from where creating something anew begins.

I think that a good therapist can give you the tools to do this; but they also have to force you to examine your life and instead of asking you the question of "how does that make you feel?", and instead ask you "and what are you going to do to change it?" and hold you accountable.  More importantly, you need to hold yourself accountable for personal growth, and have a loving and sincere support system that does so as well.

As someone who suffered from severe anxiety and panic attacks for years (at one time to the point of causing irregular heart patterns that landed me in the hospital) I was told by many to see a doctor about getting on "something" to help me.  

I refused.

I knew that dealing with it was within my control, and that I needed to learn how.  And over time, I did.  And I've had fewer anxiety attacks as I learned my own personal coping mechanisms to deal with them.  When they have happened again, I learned how to shorten the time span in which they lasted.  Not a single drug was ever taken in order for me deal with this.

I'm not a doctor, and I didn't stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night (I'm way too snobby for that), but I can write a little bit about how to find some personal empowerment, and some steps you can take that will eventually set you on the course to alleviating stress and personal grief.  Maybe you don't need this, but maybe someone you know does.  Maybe my advice doesn't help at all.  But if it helps one person, then writing this is worth it.

Seek happiness through positive selfishness -

The word selfishness has a very negative connotation.  It invokes the idealistic view of someone doing things that only serve themselves, at the expense of hurting others.  And that is a TYPE of selfishness.  It's negative selfishness.  But there's also a thing called positive selfishness that should be a part of your ideology if you actually want to be the best person you can be for the people you do love and care about.

Servitude can be exhausting.  Doing for others is a great thing, and is something I will expound on later.  However when your efforts are constantly centered around making everyone else happy, especially at the expense of your own happiness, it will leave you depleted.

There is a saying about training that goes "fatigue masks fitness."  In other words, if you are tired and/or exhausted then you will not be able to perform to the best of your abilities in the gym, or athletic field.  No one ever told an athlete that resting was selfish, or that it wasn't a part of an intelligent training program.  It's an integral part of becoming better.

Likewise, how do you expect to be at your best, when you don't take time out for personal recovery?

Treating yourself to the things that make you happy is something you should learn how to embrace without feeling guilty about it.  You need the things that exist outside of everyone and everything else that you can immerse yourself in, that invigorate you and restore your emotional energy.

I often refer back to my oxygen mask metaphor.  When you're on a plane and they talk about safety procedures, they tell you in the case of an emergency if you are with a child or someone who cannot take care of themselves (like an elderly or handicapped person), to put your oxygen mask on FIRST.

Is this selfish? YES!  It's a form of positive selfishness because unless you are of sound mind due to getting adequate oxygen, you cannot take care of the people that need you the most.

Put your mental, emotional, and spiritual well being first, and you will be at your best in regards to making choices that better your life, and those you intend to keep in it.

Treat your relationships like entities / Build a dynamic support system -

A few weeks ago I had a great conversation with someone who specializes in this area.  And he gave me a great way to look at the various relationships we have in our life, and how they either create a strong or weak support system in it.

To paraphrase.......

There is an identification process embedded in creating your relationships.  No different than running or owning a business.

"If you run a business, you hire the most qualified people, and eliminate those not qualified.  You don't keep unqualified people employed and then hate the job they do each day as the company loses money.  You identify they can no longer do the job or are not qualified for it, and let them go.  The company benefits and grows by replacing them with someone who can.  If you view  your love life or other relationships as an entity, which it is, then you only hire the most qualified persons so that it can prosper and grow.  If a company isn't growing, it can't serve its customers to the best of its ability.  It can't function efficiently.  People don't often think about how their romantic or personal relationships transcends into other parts of servitude in their life.  Fulfilling relationships will strengthen all the other facets of your life no different than a company works at a more efficient capacity for its customers when it has fantastic employees and managers."

This should lead you to some easy conclusions, and probably some hard questions to ask.

"Do the people I keep in my support system, and the ones I share intimacy and love with help our "business" to grow, or are they leading me into emotional bankruptcy?"

 If you know the answer to the bankruptcy question is "yes", then why are you keeping them "employed?"

Change or create a new support system.  The people in your life should make you feel empowered, strengthened, loved, supported, and cherished.

If they don't, then I can promise you they are robbing you of your ability to cultivate the life you're trying to carve out.  Your support system has momentum built into it.  And here's the thing about momentum; it goes both ways.  The wind is either at your back, or it's blasting you in the face.  Which one is your support system doing?

Give back -

A few weeks ago I decided on something that had been on my heart for a long time.  I have given to charity and participated in various outreach programs, but for quite some time I had wanted to create something that was genuinely part of me.  To give back to the community, and to those less fortunate.

And that's how the Strength Giving Project ended up happening.  I wanted to put my time and energy into giving to those less fortunate.  I wanted to do the work.  I still think giving money to great charities is exceptionally noble and worthwhile, however it's not quite the same as "getting your hands dirty" and putting your own personal time and efforts into making a difference.

I wanted to get out and talk to people that were suffering from being homeless, and hear their stories, and give them something to smile about or feel good about.  Even if only for a day.  That's one less day of their life that was spent in depression or sadness.  That was something I could help give them and I had the power to do that.

Putting in that time, money, and energy to do so was exceptionally rewarding and has given me an outlet for a passion I've had for a long time, but didn't enact upon.  Now it's something I will be making one of the priorities in my life, and something I hope grows into a program that helps people all over the world.

Which brings me to.....

Set powerful goals -

Let me preface this part with something about happiness as well.

Goal attainment should not ever be looked at, as something that will make you happy.  Yes, achieving goals will most certainly make you happy, but the problem is, that happiness is fleeting.  It's very impermanent.  And yes we can later reflect back on those achievements and be proud of them, but most of us have come to believe that attaining something or achieving something is where happiness lives at.  And then we spend all the time in between attaining that "thing" (whatever it may be) in a state of unhappiness, or a feeling of being inadequate.  We believe if we can squash the phrase "if I could only..." that suddenly personal completeness will arrive.

It won't.  After we attain whatever that thing is, there's assuredly something else we inevitably find we believe we are missing for "more happiness."

This doesn't mean you shouldn't set powerful and meaningful goals in your life.  You should.  But along the way the work to that achievement should be something that gives you happiness as well.  People often cite the phrase "live in the moment", then fail to do so because they are so focused on goal attainment.

Aerosmith wrote "life's a journey, not a destination."  Create a magnificent destination you are traveling towards.  But make sure you don't miss all of the wonderful things on the drive there that really make it worth while.

I have huge plans for the Strength Giving Project.  I hope more people want to get involved with me in this outreach program.

Empower others through your experiences -

Over the years, I've gotten asked by a lot of people how I ended up with...I guess...great insight to navigating through life or offering advice on how to improve..."things" (I hate writing this part because it feels arrogant and haughty and I don't want to come across that way) or themselves.

This all ties back into the previous part about using suffering and adversity as the most significant times in your life for personal growth.

I could never sit across from someone, and be able to identify with their struggles or suffering, if I had numbed myself down through drugs, or wasn't introspective enough to look back on my life and own my mistakes, do my best to make amends for them, and ultimately make positive selfish choices that helped me love and listen better.  I could never sit across from someone and possibly help them if I hadn't made a lot of the very difficult choices I had to make in order to improve the quality of my life.  Which is what all of us should be doing, in my opinion.

Yes, I've had a lot of people seek me out in previous years for advice on traversing through the worst parts of their life.  And I hope in those times, I was able to help them in some way.  If I did, it was only because I had walked down similar paths (not the exact ones, because everyone's struggle is uniquely their own), made a lot of really bad choices, and somehow....someway...I found myself searching out the best way(s) to let go of resentment, shame, and anger and learned how to replace them with patience, empathy, sincerity, and forgiveness.

I can almost bet, anyone reading this has a story.  You have your own story about your life, and the hardships it has bestowed upon you at times.  And I can also just about bet money, looking back on some of those times you are proud of how you responded and grew from them.  And there's also a good chance, you've shared that with someone at some point, that learned something from what you went through.  And that in itself, is empowering others through your own experiences.



Being able to do so requires the suffering of course, but it also meant you might have been able to give someone a few encouraging words that helped them get through a period where they weren't sure how to cope anymore.  Or how they would face another day of the personal pain they were experiencing.

I've had times in my life that felt so debilitating that it took all the energy I could muster up just to turn out of bed, and put my feet on the floor so I could stand up.  I've had plenty of days where I prayed to God that I had no idea how I would face another day of agony, and felt completely defeated in life.

If you've ever been there, in that place of loss and despair, and sat down on the cold, damp floor at rock bottom and felt like you'd never have a day in your life again where you woke up happy again, I promise you that when you sit across from someone in that exact place....you'll see it in their eyes.

And if you found the strength to climb out of those places, you'll be a great source of strength and encouragement for the person you are sitting across from who is struggling with all of the same questions you had in those moments.

Make happiness and love your priority - 

In closing, I am going to reference the Grant study.

I have many times before, and will do so again, and probably will again at some point in the future because I think everyone should grasp and understand just how important love and a high quality of life is linked together.

Our life, from childhood to when we say goodbye to this world, the degree of happiness we  get to experience in it, is directly related to the amount of love we experience in it as well.

What is the Grant study?

The project, which began in 1938, has followed 268 Harvard undergraduate men for 75 years, measuring an astonishing range of psychological, anthropological, and physical traits—from personality type to IQ to drinking habits to family relationships to “hanging length of his scrotum”—in an effort to determine what factors contribute most strongly to human flourishing.
  • Financial success depends on warmth of relationships and, above a certain level, not on intelligence.
  • Those who scored highest on measurements of “warm relationships” earned an average of $141,000 a year more at their peak salaries (usually between ages 55 and 60).
  • No significant difference in maximum income earned by men with IQs in the 110–115 range and men with IQs higher than 150.

  • The warmth of childhood relationship with mothers matters long into adulthood:
  • Men who had “warm” childhood relationships with their mothers earned an average of $87,000 more a year than men whose mothers were uncaring.
  • Men who had poor childhood relationships with their mothers were much more likely to develop dementia when old.
  • Late in their professional lives, the men’s boyhood relationships with their mothers—but not with their fathers—were associated with effectiveness at work.
  • The warmth of childhood relationships with mothers had no significant bearing on "life satisfaction" at 75.
  • The warmth of childhood relationship with fathers correlated with:
    • Lower rates of adult anxiety.
    • Greater enjoyment of vacations.
    • Increased “life satisfaction” at age 75.
Vaillant's main conclusion is that "warmth of relationships throughout life have the greatest positive impact on 'life satisfaction'". Put differently, Vaillant says the study shows: "Happiness is love. Full stop."






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