Do you know someone like this?
Well, here I am, as always, trying to make everyone happier and more at peace. Which ain’t easy these days! So in the interest of your being happy and at peace, I want to ask you if you know someone like this (feel free to include yourself if the shoe fits):
This person frequently says things like...
“The world is a dangerous place.”
“There are social, economic, or political forces that are right now taking our lives in directions that are wrong, and there seems to be little we can do about it.”
“It’s a dog-eat-dog world and you have to fight if you want to get ahead.”
“I often feel targeted, hurt, slighted, attacked, or marginalized for being who I am.”
“I more and more feel my world is divided into people who are for me and people who are not for me.”
“We’re on the verge of a catastrophe due to...”
“Mistakes are generally very costly.”
“The person I can rely on most is myself.”
“Life is more fair than not fair.”
“Well, you’re just wrong about that.”
Now of course any of us might say something like this on occasion. But when you get inside the world-view of someone who says things like these a lot, and says many of these things, you see a person who is generally
not at peace
You also see a person who sees his or her world as spinning out of his or her control. Which leads to one of two responses.
One is they become a control person. If you feel someone you know is always trying to control you, behind that is someone who is not happy, not trusting, not at peace, resentful, angry, and anxious. And behind that are the 10 beliefs that I listed above. Control people are, tragically, prisoners of a world-view. And like all world-views, because of what we call confirmation bias, it’s endlessly self-reinforcing. Once you fall into any belief system, you just keep piling up evidence that confirms it.
The other response, paradoxically, goes in the opposite direction. Control people are, most of the time, trying to control the uncontrollable: teenagers, spouses, national political trends, social preferences, Uncle Harry’s voting preferences. So what we see all too often—maybe not often enough in some cases—is that control people exhaust themselves and flip over into passivity and abdication. They sideline themselves. They delegate themselves to being nothing more than bitter complainers, no longer fierce campaigners.
So what does all of this have to do with being happy and at peace?
Well, it’s pretty simple.
First, try to stay away from control people. They’re neither happy nor at peace, but they’ll make it feel like they won’t be happy or at peace until you’re as churned up, miserable, and mistrustful as they are. Who needs that!?!?!
And you have to be careful of them because they march under the banner of noble causes (“How could YOU even THINK of not joining in??”) and in the guise of trying to make you a better person (“Don’t you want to climb out of the sinkhole that is YOU!?!?!”). Don’t fall for it. They won’t feel safe—and safety is everything for a control person—until you’re completely under their control.
Second, go back over the 10-item list above, and ask again how many of the items on it apply to you. Hey, I don’t want to change your mind about anything. I’m not a control person! But I’ll be honest. I had a new patient recently who came to me saying his main goal was...PEACE. Fine. There was a lot of stress and anxiety in his life. But you know that 10-item list? He checked off every item. On top of real things going on in his life—lots for any person to deal with—he was (is!) filled with attitudes and beliefs guaranteed to bring him misery even if some of the stressors go away.
Who needs that? Who needs imaginary enemies when there are quite enough real enemies? We don’t need attitudes, causes, mindsets, thought patterns that have the net effect of creating frustration.
So what do you do, you might argue back, if you see the world as being in trouble? Maybe you think I’m trying to just get you to take a happy pill.
No way. I’m just trying to get us all to stop taking unhappiness pills.
Let’s immediately agree: both a) the world and b) our personal lives need fixin’. Fine. Got it!! But guess what? You and I are gonna die and both the world for sure and a lot of our personal lives will still need fixin’. So...should we just kill ourselves now??
I just don’t see how panicking and catastrophizing and wanting to make things perfect and pure is ever going to be a recipe for anything but more misery.
But you know what works to BOTH make things better AND help us find happiness and peace? Pick a do-able task and do it. Whether it’s your home or your health, or racial issues or climate issues, do what you can do and don’t worry about the rest. It’s a good recipe. Don’t worry about what’s outside your grasp, and don’t grasp for what’s outside your ability to effect real change.
And then tell yourself you’re okay. You’re enough. You’re fine. And let yourself go be happy and at peace.