I regularly hear from people that they desire to have more happiness. An understandable desire! But if someone is experiencing flatness the next step isn’t to feel happy, it’s to feel. And rarely (although I can’t say never) do I hear someone say, “Can you help me to feel more sadness, more anger, more fear?” along with their request for more happiness. Also understandable! We all have a history that has shaped our relationship to emotion. Often that history hasn’t included healthy models for how to be with feeling and how to express feeling. Sometimes we have learned that some emotions are okay (e.g., sadness, happiness) and others are not okay (e.g., anger). In some families, emotion has been stamped down and quieted; other times, emotion may lack any containment and be overwhelming.
Emotion, in and of itself, isn’t the issue. It’s all of what we do to avoid, squash, and run from it. Opening to more happiness in one’s life can be a worthwhile focus, but I have found that this is synonymous with opening to more feeling in general. In other words, we don’t get to choose to only feel happy and skip over other feelings like sadness or anger.
But to begin to turn towards the feeling and the life that is inside of us can sometimes seem daunting. Even when people want to feel more emotionally alive, they may not know where to begin. So here is my invitation: begin right here, right now. Rather than looking for a feeling that you want to have, begin with whatever feeling you do have. If you are someone who has a hard time detecting any feeling, begin with sensation. Notice if parts of your body feel tense, tingly, warm, cold, loose, relaxed, etc. Sensations are the building blocks of emotions. And become curious, if you were feeling just a drop of emotion, what would it be?
If you are someone who can be overwhelmed by a lot of emotion, begin with naming whatever feelings are within you in this moment. Get curious about how you know you are feeling different emotions – do the sensations in your body inform you? The expression on your face? The pace of your breath?
As your contact with your feeling develops, this can inform any action you might take. Your feelings let you know what you want to move towards and what you want to move away from. This is an aspect of why contact with your range of emotions is important for opening to happiness. Although this is somewhat simplified: the more you feel, the more you know yourself, the more you live your life in a way that reflects who you are. And that is deeply satisfying.
An interesting thing can begin to happen when you open to more of the range of emotion within you: there is then the potential to be less distressed by a mix of emotion and consequently less desperation to be happy, which paradoxically brings more contentment.
Feeling: this is the starting place for making deeper contact with yourself and deepening your capacity to feel a range of emotions, including of course, happiness and joy.