Are you waiting for the next shoe to drop? Do you find yourself experiencing positive feelings only to catch yourself and start to worry about when your happiness will all end? You know you have had highs and lows before and neither type of feelings can last forever. Are you tired of comparing yourself to the other twenty and thirty-somethings you are friends with on Instagram who post nothing, but happy photos or posts on Facebook where their statuses exclaim success after success. People in the millennial generation, those going through early adulthood (20s-30s), share a common experience of trouble sitting with any emotions, positive or negative, that stems out of the pressure to do be successful in every area of your life right away, and the torcher of impending mediocrity.
The benefit of your tendency is that it brings you back down to rational thinking. Being realistic helps you acknowledge that everything cannot be awesome forever. Realism also keeps you reaching for more and pushing yourself towards growth.
A main neurotransmitter in impacting positive emotion is dopamine. The chemicals reacting to happiness in your brain cannot fire forever or you would run out. We like what dopamine does for us naturally. It is motivating because it provides a reward system. Are you responding to external or internal rewards? External rewards could be a job promotion, winning something, or receiving positive affirmations from others. Internal rewards come from your self esteem and positive self talk. Exercise, coffee, relationships, alcohol and drugs all impact the reward system in your brain as well.
However, if you are pushing away positive feelings faster than natural you are doing yourself a disservice by accepting a lower quality of life. The low points may feel more comfortable for you because you are used to feeling negative. Maybe you do not think you deserve more or you see so much of the world struggling that it does not feel fair for you to feel different. Perhaps in the past you have let yourself finally feel happy only for something bad to happen teaching you to push it away.
Instead of fighting this urge to bring you back towards a neutral emotion, use the anxiety to your benefit by actively trying to allow happiness into your life and be present with it as your area to grow. You can shut down wondering if you will feel low again because it is inevitable that you will.
EXERCISE: Accepting Happiness
Take 10 minutes to complete these three steps to tap into your feelings about the past, present, and future that are interfering with you accepting happiness. The purpose of the exercise is to help you sort your thought processes, feelings, and motivations that bring you back to a negative space rather than positive.
Make a list of all of the things you have done in the past to get to help you feel happy now
- What work did you put in?
- Have you been exercising to take care of your physical health and as a result have a better body image, energy, or sleep habits
- Did you take a risk and change jobs?
- Save a lot of money on a budget to feel more financially secure and reduce stress?
- Finish up school despite the financial and time costs
- Any other lifestyle choices have you sacrificed? Limiting alcohol, marijuana, or unhealthy foods
- What challenges have you overcome?
- Did you experience health issues that you have learned to manage better?
- Loss of a job or person close to you
- Have you been oppressed (race, gender, economics, age, looks etc) and overcome the disadvantages you were born into?
- Broke an intergenerational family pattern of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, alcoholism or abuse?
- What choices could you have made to change the degree of happiness that you are experiencing now?
- How did you get through the events that have happened to you?
- What have you made happen?
- What problems did you let go of to feel happy?
- Have you accepted a situation you cannot control?
- Learned how to deal with a difficult coworker?
- Forgiven someone who hurt you in the past to let go of resentment that was keeping you stuck?
- How did you take responsibility for your past choices?
Take note of what and who is around you helping you feel this way about yourself.
- Where are you in the moment?
- Are you outside in the park, mountains, or beach?
- Are you active or productive in Center City?
- Relaxing on the couch swarmed by blankets watching movies?
- Do you need to be alone to reenergize?
- Or do you absorb the energy from social situations?
- What is different about the place you are in now from other times?
- Where do you feel happiness in your body?
- Who are you are surrounded by when you feel happy?
- What did you do to allow yourself to connect with them?
- How did they give you permission to be happy? What stops you from accepting this gift of happiness?
Write out every negative message you have heard or told yourself to stop you from accepting positive feelings of happiness. Examples include:
- If I let myself feel happy, I will be let down later
- If I have everything, I have everything to lose
- Having the job, house, or family is not enough. I won’t be happy until I have it all
- If I relax now, I will miss my opportunity to achieve more
Keep these 3 lists somewhere for you to reflect back on to center yourself in the present moment, when you are ready to work towards the next step for your future happiness, or when you inevitably start feeling down again. Going through the steps of young adulthood may appear to be easier for others when in reality the difficulty is pretty normal, especially in the millennial generation. If you find yourself still struggling to feel happy, or other positive feelings, you may be dealing with more significant mental health symptoms you will need more than this exercise to work towards accepting happiness. Contact the Center for Growth/ therapy in Philadelphia for a consultation today. Our therapists are here to help.