Wednesday, March 01, 2006

It's official, you can have pain, and be happy!


Salon.com posted an interesting article on Steven Hayes, a 57-year-old University of Nevada professor whose new book, 'Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life', says the western obsession with feeling good is preventing us from living well and that (and here's the revelation!) living life to the fullest means embracing pain.

Mr Hayes has pioneered the school of "acceptance and commitment therapy." ACT is an approach to mental and behavioral health that questions traditional cognitive therapy and is being referred to as "third-wave" psychology (following second-wave cognitive therapy and first-wave behavior therapy).

Some excerpts from the article:

'pain is ubiquitous and suffering is normal. If you ask people, "Are you happy?" many of them are going to say yes. But if you ask people, "Is this really what you want your life to be about?" many more are going to say no.

What people mean by happiness is feeling good. And there are many ways to feel good. And many of the ways we feel good actually limit the possibilities for living the way we want to live our lives.

Say you've been betrayed in love. Now, the reasonable, sensible thing to do is say, "I'm not going to be that vulnerable again." But precisely the reason you loved to begin with was because you wanted to be intimate, known, connected. That's the reason it hurt so much.

But because you don't want to be vulnerable, it prevents you from being connected and intimate, even if you are in a relationship. Now, would a person who's living in a relationship like that say they're happy? They might. But do they have the intimacy and connection they so badly want? No.

We don't get good training in how to sit with pain anymore; [we used to have] spiritual traditions of fasting, where you didn't eat even though you were hungry in order to connect with the suffering of other people. Most of those traditions are gone. Now it's only the educated elite who go for 10-day silent meditation retreats who get that kind of experience.

What I'm saying is find a middle path. My work is about a loving posture: Accept your history, feel your feelings, notice your thoughts, and carry all that forward down a path that you value that's neither indulgence nor suppression.

Life is painful... There is a base level of pain: for example, knowing you're going to die. So yes, life includes a big chunk of pain, and it includes a big chunk of living. But if you're not willing to have the pain, you're not going to get the living.
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5 comments:

Jason Clark said...

Great post Brett. Reminds me that Paul talks about joy, rather than hapiness. Hapiness comes from the word hapenstance, i.e feeling food due to circumstances, which seems to be the goal of the western life. How much joy are we missing out on.

Joy seems to come in the midst of pain.

brett jordan said...

'Joy seems to come in the midst of pain'

but not ALWAYS in the midst of pain... i think the important thing about happiness is that the more you chase it, the more it eludes you... happiness appears while we are busy doing other things... often the difficult, boring and unglamorous things...

Can Opener Boy said...

Hey Brett -- I agree with Conrad. Great post!

I'm an RN and I work with people going through Spine Surgery. Many of my patients have been in pain for a long time. I've noticed the ones who do "better" are the ones who decide to move forward whether or not their pain level changes.

At the risk of sounding trite, I like the adage "Happiness is not getting what you want, it is wanting what you have."

And I've learned for myself over the past few years that shutting myself off from others in order to avoid pain works for a little while, but in the end I get so starved for love that I reach for anything I can.

I like your middle ground comment. It helps me see why it works when, instead of waiting until I'm starving, I open myself sooner, and reach for love.

~ Keith

Can Opener Boy said...

Interesting note: Yesterday's, today's, and tomorrow's Oswald Chambers reading in My Utmost For His Highest all have to do with pain.

~ cob

Jan said...

I can live with suffering if it means living with God. If it merely means self-actualization, then I wouldn't stay for the show, I would aleady know the ending;-)

You might want to check my post, "The Syllogism of Life".

Brett, your comment on joy reminds me of the C.S. Lewis book, 'Surprised by Joy'.

 
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