Self

The Counterintuive Thing You Must Stop Avoiding In Order To Be Truly Happy

Photo: Andreshkova Nastya / Shutterstock
Embrace Pain and Heartbreak to be Happyy

Christina was considered very accident-prone when she was a little girl. She scratched herself climbing trees, scraped her knees roller skating, bruised her body in gymnastics, and even need stitches from a cut from a wayward hockey stick.

Her father grew so weary of her endless list of playground battle scars, he equipped her in every kind of safety garb imaginable — helmet, knee and elbow pads, shin guards, and padded gloves.

She was so accessorized she could barely move. But in his mind, she would be safe.

Safe, but insulated. Unbruised, but stuck in a bubble. 

But did it really keep her safe? 

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Managing Pain & Heartbreak 

You're taught from a very young age to guard yourself and to avoid risk and pain: "Don’t touch a hot stove! Don’t cross the street alone! Don’t talk to strangers! Don’t play with matches, or run with scissors, or swallow your gum!”

These cautions all come with valid reasons and good intentions.

However, instead of how to avoid pain and injury, how about learning the importance of accepting that pain is inevitable and learning how to manage it?

As you get older, your injuries go beyond scraped knees from falling down on roller skates.

Your life experiences evolve. You learn from relationships with others, as well as how you feel about yourself.

You encounter undeniable injustices, paralyzing insecurities, situations beyond your control, painful loss, and profound heartbreak.

The typical advice in response to emotional risk and pain comes in generic cliches: "Don’t get too close. Don’t let your guard down. Don’t get your hopes up. Don’t take it personally. Don’t let it get to you."

Since no helmet or safety equipment exists that can adequately guard you against heartbreak, you learn how to avoid and escape pain by making yourself emotionally inaccessible.

You erect a metaphorical wall to keep potential threats away. Safe inside, you numb out, distract yourself, and refuse to acknowledge any painful, uncomfortable, or undesirable emotion.

You think you're protecting yourself from the risk of sadness, disappointment, or rejection.

Yet, you fail to recognize you're also preventing yourself from developing the genuine confidence, peace, and relief that comes with allowing yourself to be vulnerable, honest, and real.

The Pursuit of Emotional Experience

Think about the thrill of your first romantic crush, the disappointing blow of a missed opportunity, the tenderness of an infant’s hand wrapped around your finger, the sucker punch of betrayal, the joyful pride of hard-earned success, or the gut-wrenching pain from the death of someone you love.

Psychologists refer to the vastness of a human’s capacity for emotional experience as "emodiversity."

Research indicates that the greater your range of emotional experiences, the better your physical and mental health.

Diversity implies variety — the proverbial spice of life.

The more you understand the world and yourself, the more you discover the critical role diversity plays.

In nutrition, diversity means consuming a wide variety of healthy foods that benefit your body through a multitude of important vitamins, minerals and proteins.

Ecological diversity — from sandy, Saharan dunes to lush, tropical rainforests — helps keep the planet in balance.

Cultural diversity exposes you to different types of people, inviting us to learn from and appreciate various perspectives.

Similarly, emodiversity allows you to open yourself up to the emotional continuum — from elation to desperation, contentment to agitation, pride to embarrassment, curiosity to fear, lovestruck to heartache — you expand exponentially.

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Your emotional bandwidth widens and as it does, you increase your capacity to experience life more fully.

Christina was not merely accident-prone. She was adventurous and inquisitive. She was undeterred by the bumps and bruises she picked up through her mishaps.

In fact, the challenges, struggles, and hard knocks she encountered helped her to develop a genuine sense of confidence. When she got knocked down, she found new ways to get back up. She discovered and cultivated her resilience.

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Building A Growth Mindset

Likewise, when you take emotional risks — opening up your heart once again after a painful breakup or applying to your dream college even when the competition is fierce — you invite courage, perseverance, and other valuable growth mindsets, which not only supports your future success but your overall health and well-being.

In his book, "The Sweet Spot," psychologist Paul Bloom explores how suffering and sacrifice can enhance our sense of meaning in life.

He argues that sometimes people will even seek out physical, mental, or emotional pain in order to experience the pleasure, triumph, and accomplishment on the other side of the struggle.

By overcoming hardships, we gain a sense of mastery and appreciation for the difficulties we inevitably face throughout life.

Happiness is not the absence of suffering, nor is it a narrow, one-way street.

Emodiversity means recognizing the wide range of your emotional experience. Different emotions interact with and impact other emotions.

Like most feelings, happiness comes from opening ourselves up to the fullness of a rich, diverse experience and all the lessons and discoveries you encounter along the way.

Your point of view may shift as you acknowledge your capacity to experience multiple feelings at once. You develop a greater sense of awareness and appreciation.

This emotional proficiency also enhances your ability to connect with others in their respective emotional journeys.

Just as you learn new perspectives from different cultures, the various emotions also have something to teach you

Moments of disappointment or discouragement offer the opportunity to fully experience the rush of excitement following a victory. Glimpses of loneliness help you realize why deep, genuine connection is so significant.

By allowing feelings of love, anger, acceptance, rejection, hope, and heartache to reside within you, you tap into something greater than superficial happiness. You realize the broad scope of the human experience.

When you embrace challenge, accept suffering, and move through life’s struggles, you have the opportunity to transcend your perceived limitations, access resilience, and experience life authentically.

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Erin Mason is a licensed psychotherapist, certified yoga instructor, and published writer. In therapeutic practice, Erin works with her clients to identify and cultivate innate resources, inspiring positive change and a more meaningful, rewarding life.

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