Happiness Is A Cultivated Ability...
C.G. Jung wrote, “…the world is empty only to him who does not know how to direct his libido toward things and people and to render them alive and beautiful.” (CW vol. 5:253). Happiness interests me because it can be so lacking. People seek depth therapy, the treatment of the unconscious mind, in order to heal. However down deep, they want to be happy. You want happiness, I want happiness, and happiness lies in potential within each of us.
As Jung noted, happiness is a cultivated ability. We have to set our heart on it and work toward it. It doesn’t just materialize out of thin air one day after a lifetime of sick living, thinking, and feeling. As we set our minds on well being, we can find our way to the treasure of great price, happiness and well being.
Happiness is an attitude. It begins with knowing it’s there and is accessible. Soon it moves from attitude to feeling and then living. What we have on the inside eventually makes its way to the outside.
Pete, a solitary man, consulted with me in depth psychotherapy due to persistent anxiety. It disabled him at times and was of mild to moderate clinical proportions, lingering in his life like a “bag of rocks I carry around on my back.” He couldn’t eradicate it no matter what type of meditation, exercise, or self-help programs he attended.
Pete’s dream life was active enough that a number of nightmares finally propelled him to find professional intervention. He knew I worked with dreams, called me, and we scheduled an initial consultation. When we first met, I liked him immediately. His manner was straightforward and sincere. I thought we might be a good match as therapist and patient.
He entered my consultation office from the reception area and immediately commented on a large painting. It is of two eagles in flight, one older, the other learning to fly. He commented, “Ah…doctor, I see what we might be about here.” Needless to say, he impressed with his potential for self reflection and insight. Simply shaking his head without commenting further, he sat down and began to tell me about his suffering and his life.
After over a year of working through emotional and spiritual conflict, he began to experience a measure of happiness he had never before experienced. But, it didn’t last. Repeatedly he sabotaged his well being. “I go from doing one thing after another to get myself miserable. I’m used to misery and go back to it like steel to a magnet.”
I had to agree with him. He seemed, as are many individuals familiar with being unhappy, to return to his old state. This happened time and time again. As a psychotherapist this was one of my many ways of learning that the past calls us back over and over again because we are familiar with it. It is home and we want to go back.
Pete finally grew to the point of being able to insightfully admit, “I’m addicted to misery. I need to break the habit. It’s going to take time and patience. I hope you can stick with me. I’m determined to do my work and kick the misery habit.”
Patients and I do dream work together. Pete was, by this point in his therapy, having regular dreams. He dreamt of a little boy crying when suddenly someone presented him with a basket of jellybeans. This stopped his tears and he was happy. To this he associated the psychic fact that he believed suffering and happiness were entwined. He had to suffer before he could earn happiness; so, once he was happy he then, as an adult, had to generate misery so he could once again be worthy of happiness.
After a long while longer in depth treatment he dreamt that he lived with two men inside of him. One was well, the other had an illness but it was in remission. They both were there to stay. We understood this as meaning that his past could not be eradicated. He had to live with it. But, it need not be inflamed. It was in remission and would stay that way as long as he did not return to old ways of relating to self or others.
There was a sense of having coming to terms with himself with this insight. He knew that he was no longer disabled by his illness. Also, he wasn’t a “picture of health and perfection” either. He was a man, a mixed bag of emotions who needn’t be perfect to cultivate happiness. He could keep growing and changing, using depth therapy to help him, knowing that happiness is a cultivated ability.