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self expression
current journey through life. We all desire happiness--that
much we have in common--yet how does one achieve
a regular state of well-being or happiness? This has been
the basic desire of our human psyche since our time on
earth began.
The study of human behavior and the mind is generally
thought to have begun with the philosophical tenets of
the ancient Greeks. Socrates believed that discovery of self
was important, Plato proffered that identifying a deeper
meaning to life was central to well-being, and Aristotle felt
that a complete life stemmed from living in accordance
with moral excellence or virtue. Pre-dating the Greeks,
evidence of the study of human behavior has been found
in the ancient civilizations of Persia, China, India and
Egypt. Through the ages, the quest for identifying and
acquiring happiness has been a constant. Religions have
tried to define it and offer a faith- and moral-based method
to achieve true enlightenment, either in this life or after
death. Entire cultures and governments have structured
systems to follow to live a secure, productive, and happy
life. Science has studied, measured, tested, and theorized
to find a verifiable explanation. So what works?
The primary debates have been: Is it about individual
happiness, or is it about the good for all of humankind? Are
we born with a genetic set of traits that enable happiness,
or are these traits learned through our environment?
Psychology became a dedicated scientific discipline during
the 1870s. The primary goal is to understand, identify and
establish general principles as to how and why we think,
feel, and act as we do. This massive science has many
layers of theories, from psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and
humanism to gestalt, cognition, and existentialism, just to
name a few. Psychology uses and overlaps into numerous
other sciences: sociology, neuroscience, medicine, and
mathematics, again just to name a few. Countless studies
and experiments have been done, both short-term and
long-term, spanning years and even decades. Statistical
analysis, graphs, scales, measurement tools, surveys,
questionnaires, and other methods of assessment now
exist. Throughout all this substantial research, a common
denominator seems to be, after our basic survival needs are
met, that it is our core belief system about our individual
self that affects how we think, react, and live in this world.
So many factors and outside influences are involved in
how we have formed our view of ourselves in the world,
and it can become confusing and overwhelming. We all
have our own personal journeys unique to us, yet we are
affected by where we were born, what sex we are, what
race we are, how we were raised, what culture we identify
with, and what religion we believe in, if any. Abuse, grief,
death, betrayal, poverty, misery, fear, illness, and greed all
exist. So do love, joy, peace of mind, fun, laughter, quality
of life, charity, personal responsibility, free will, and hope.
Identifying our personal motivations, intentions, and
agenda and recognizing how our thoughts affect how we
react and interact with others is important. We each have a
different toolbox to work with and have the ability to create
change, either in a destructive, fearful, self-serving manner
or a constructive, ethical, loving way.
Armed with the knowledge that we have free will to choose
each day our personal mindset of how we will interact in
a changeable world with the current set of parameters we
have to work with, we can know the hope of achieving
balance and happiness. We can overcome the obstacles
that have been set in our path. Exploring the many
resources available to help us become the best we can be,
and identifying the ones that resonate well within us, is an
important tool. Major health and mental issues need first
to be addressed with the help of qualified, professional
practitioners. Then, using the wealth of knowledge, tools,
and information available enables us to move forward in a
positive direction.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, CBT, has been useful in
helping individuals focus on their belief systems and
thought processes with the aim of reframing certain
harmful thought schemas. Such thought schemas
include labeling oneself as unlovable or extreme thinking
of all good or all bad with no balance or grey area of
manageability or overgeneralization--if one thing goes bad
it will always be bad. Utilizing talk therapy, journaling, and
various other techniques with a qualified counselor can
help enable individuals identify ways to help themselves.
A relatively new area of study, based in humanism, is
positive psychology, whose primary tenant is to focus on
what works and help us achieve a state of happiness, or
well-being. Based in wellness, education, empathy, and
genuineness, it offers yet another alternative for identifying
our core belief system and what makes us truly happy while
enabling us to achieve balance.
Whichever journey you take, and whatever tools you use,
is up to you. Being in nature, listening to music, exercising
and playing sports, doing community service, spending
time with loved ones, having a purposeful job you are
passionate about--there is so much help readily available,
and there is always hope for positive change. What makes
you happy?