Everyone has monsters in the closet. Everyone.
Mental health has been in the news and all over social media for a couple of years now, and most recently as a consequence of several high-profile suicides. There are many good things happening ~ more and more people are talking openly about mental health, mental illness, and the stressors of life that contribute to the development of mental distress and disorders.
It’s time to talk about something that often isn’t specifically addressed. Even with all these positive changes there is a truth in this equation that cannot be ignored.
Happiness is an inside job.
We are led to believe by the dominant social discourse that when we are healthy, wealthy, beautiful, successful, [insert measuring stick here] we are guaranteed to be happy. Not so.
Mental health is not guaranteed no matter who you are, where you live, whom you know, whom you love, what you do, or your socio-economic status. None of that matters when it comes to depression, anxiety, or any other form of mental illness you care to mention. The prevailing myth that having some sort of external status is inoculation against being unhappy doesn’t reflect how life actually works.
Statistically we all know that someone who is struggling with mental health issues. In reality, no matter where we fall on the “health & wealth scale” there are monsters in the closet. Everyone has monsters in the closet. Think about that for a moment. There is nothing external that guarantees happiness because happiness is entirely dependent on the quality of our thought life. External circumstances are experienced through the lens of an internal belief system which means the largest single influence on our internal state is what we believe about ourselves and by extension, about the world.
Beliefs are the foundation of thought habits which cause feelings which produce behavior.
Notice what’s missing in that equation? Health. Wealth. Beauty. Successes. A partner. Children. A career. Really, anything external is missing. We can experience an internal state of happiness in the most trying of circumstances and we can experience excruciating unhappiness in the best of circumstances.
If health and money (and all they represent) don’t guarantee an emotional and psychological sense of wellbeing, what might?
Recognize that if you’re not happy, you need to do something about what’s going on inside. The end result may be that you change something outside but start with the inside.
Understand your own internal belief framework. If you can’t articulate what you believe about yourself and your place in the world spend some time with a personal coach defining your values, anti-values, and core beliefs.
Balance work, leisure, and play so that life is equally about you and others. Altruism is emotionally rewarding.
Cultivate a habit of gratitude. Nothing does more to change our internal landscape and thus our perspective of our circumstances than to be habitually thankful. Sometimes, all we can be thankful for in the moment is that we’re breathing. Start with that, build from there.
Accept that every human being on the planet has ‘monsters in the closet’ and if they get loose, we may need help to slay them. When your thoughts go dark and stay dark for more than a week make an appointment to talk with a counsellor. Don’t let the darkness take hold.
There is so much research supporting the reality that how we think is the primary factor in our sense of happiness that it just can’t be ignored. Being healthy won’t make you happy. Being wealthy won’t make you happy. Being unhealthy doesn’t mean you can’t be happy, and poverty may be difficult but doesn’t actually have the power to destroy happiness.
Your internal landscape is yours to care for. If that space is uncomfortable, dark, wounded, or unhappy, ask for help to make it better.
Dr. Susannah-Joy Schuilenberg, RPC, MPCC-S, DAAETS, ACS