Thursday, October 24, 2013

Finding Happiness When I Am Overwhelmed with Humanity

Last week, I experienced some "off" days driven by my perception of humanity. I was tired of the news. I was tired of mean people. I was tired of hearing depressing things from the media. I was tired of people always complaining or arguing about what would be best for our country. I lost faith in government. I questioned goodness of the human race - where are all the good people? Pretty intense, huh?

After I was done having all these negative thoughts, I started to think about why. Why was I reacting this way to all this doom and gloom? How could I drum up my happiness by avoiding doom and gloom, and how could I be happy in spite of it? 

While I am not still experiencing these feelings with as much intensity, the feelings of last week are lingering, and I know I have experienced them before. Over the course of this week, I have come up with ways that I can defeat these thoughts should they happen again.

Actively Seek the Good Stuff

I work in an atmosphere that is intimately connected with the media. Last week, the televisions were blaring all the 'bad news' and I felt like I couldn't escape it. In a way my perception about the world/humanity is influenced by media because I am surrounded by it. That is when I realized that in order to defeat media, I needed to search for the happy in media. Searching for the pearls before swine is active. The danger of this attitude is the overexposure of the 'bad stuff' in order to find the 'good stuff', but I had faith I could find something....anything to restore some of my faith in humanity.

And then I saw this: Students Recount Terror Amid Nevada Middle School Shooting, and Nevada School Shooting Victim Was Trained to Help by USA Today. While the details of the shooting are horrific, I was tearfully grateful for a couple things. 1. In the first story, the boys crouched in front of the girls to protect them. 2. There are people out there like Michael Landsberry who stepped in front of the gun to protect students - heroes - just like the school bus driver who protected his school bus kids from a shooter. 

We are surrounded by heroes...who mostly go unnoticed because of all the other 'noise' in the media. I recognize that actively seeking the good stuff is not just media-centric, but last week I had to be creative in how and what I could do to drown out the negative world news I was surrounded by.

Writing Life Down

In the talk O, Remember Remember by President Eyring, he talks about writing things down as a way to remember. Perhaps for him at the time it was something that helped him document his daily activities, but he explains that it became so much more saying, "My point is to urge you to find ways to recognize and remember God’s kindness. It will build our testimonies. You may not keep a journal. You may not share whatever record you keep with those you love and serve. But you and they will be blessed as you remember what the Lord has done."

I recall having similar gloom and doom feelings when I first began this blog. In my post Crossing to Safety I wrote about how hard it was for me to find good things in everyday circumstances. I had an incredible experience where my faith in people was restored. I said, "I happen to know that no matter what surrounds us people are innately kind in nature. BUT this kindness is soft-spoken and doesn't boast. This kindness does not stand out the way unkindness does. This kindness is hidden until one day we look up at the stopped traffic and realize that even the most random act is full of goodness and life." 

I have no doubt that being able to recall times of frustration and how I was able to get over it then, will help me overcome my feelings now. Recalling those times and reading about them to see what I did then, made me feel better.

King's Council

I recently had an enlightening conversation about involving others in order to make decisions that contribute to overall happiness, and about the basis of common ground. Because I was in my "mood", I explained my theory that people like to commiserate about bad things in their life - meaning, people like to complain - in order to find common ground. I shared that being surrounded by whiners and complainers all day only contributed to my loss of faith in humanity.

Example: I live in diverse neighborhood. Most of my neighbors speak limited English, but we are still able to communicate. All of my neighbors are SUPER friendly and amazingly nice. I can tell they are the kind of people who would do anything for anyone. I also noticed that their conversation revolves around everything that is "wrong" at our apartment complex. Just by saying, "Dryer broken" shaking their head or tutting their tongues, I understand and reciprocate by nodding my head thinking, "I can't believe the dryer is broken for the fifth time this year."  These small complaints have allowed me to connect with my neighbors. It is a shame though that our one way of connection is about what isn't working as opposed to what is. Hence my theory that misery loves company and people like to commiserate about bad things in their lives.

My coworker had another thought. As I shared in an earlier post, sometimes talking about things that aren't working is super important, and we should mourn with those that mourn, and therefore express our 'not so awesome' life stories.

I do think there is a balance though between commiserating too much. I have a rule at work: if my employees come to me with a complaint they also have to give me three solutions - otherwise I don't feel like their complaining is an effective use of time. Some of my employees hate this exercise, and most really don't observe it since I don't strictly enforce it. But if I could, I would.

Just like the adage expressed earlier 'misery loves company' I also feel like it is important to be careful about our goal of expressing our concerns. If our goal is to whine, we are most likely to continue to be down. 

The NBC News article Quit Complaining - It May Make You Feel Worse, talks about how venting to friends is unhelpful and unhealthy. The article gives an example of a woman who when faced with a problem vents to her friends. It states, "Her goal is to get it off her chest and feel better about the issue. But often, Merydith finds that venting about her problems has the exact opposite effect. “It makes you more amped up about the problem,” says Merydith, of Charlotte, N.C."

I realized that the goal of venting, expressing, or sharing should be about trying to resolve the issue, or else it just turns into a whine session that makes me feel worse.

After thinking about this for a while, my coworker told me something about the King's Council. He said that instead of complaining, whining, or genuinely trying to figure out what to do to be happy when we are in the dumps, we should establish our own personal King's Council. He suggested that I write down a list of persons who I trust and who I can go to for various troubles. 

For example, if I am having having issues with trying to understand how to be better to my sweetheart, and really feel like I need advice, the best person to chat with might be someone who has perhaps experienced similar situations in their own life. It is also important that my King's Council is made up of those persons who know me best, and who motivate me to be a better person. 

Having limited people on the King's Council can also be challenging. I remember only having one person on my King's Council before, and ended up exhausting them with all my problems and forgetting the main goal to only complain if I have a solution. But I also noticed that even if I had solutions to my problems, I was still causing emotional drain on someone else. We have to be careful not to overload our council members with too much or they won't be able to help.


What a great opportunity share life experiences with a coworker and hear what works for him when he is feeling overwhelmed by life and pessimism. By completing some of these exercises I realized how much I have felt overwhelmed like this in the past, and what I can do to when it hits me in the future. I am still trying to figure out how it can be prevented. 

In general, I think it it is quite normal to lose hope. When it hard for me to find solutions to my problems, I know know that if I want to be happy, I have to be active in making it so. Happiness is more than a choice, it is a way of life (and can be a fantastic journey), and if anyone has ever tried to change life habits, they know that it takes a lot of work. I am just glad I get to keep working at it!

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