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Why do we only discuss our sufferings in therapy?

When you have a headache you realize that not having a headache is happiness, the absence of suffering and well being. But, when you don't have a headache we don't realize that we are happy, without suffering and in a current state of well being.

Suffering is an inevitable part of life as we know it. We suffer from lack of food and water. We suffer from injuries and illness. If we live long enough we suffer from losses and disappointments. Suffering finds us; we do not have to look for it. But joy, joy is also present, we just don't recognize it as easily as we do suffering.

Mindfulness teaches us to find joy in the present moment and to extend its presence in our lives. Mindfulness teaches us to acknowledge the moments we do not suffer from a headache, to acknowledge moments of happiness and homeostasis. When we are not clearly suffering we are focused on the regrets and losses that have passed us by or we are striving for the next future token of what we think will bring us joy. But joy is now, the only moment we have is now!

Suffering keeps me in business. It's sad, but I can identify with my clients suffering because we all suffer. Suffering does not care about how much money you have, how attractive you are, where you live, your race, ethnicity etc. It is a universal truth. So much so that books, philosophies and religions have been formed around it. Buddha wrote excessively about suffering. The third of his Four Noble Truths is that we also have joy and happiness within us just as innately as we have suffering.

“ We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world” ~Buddha

So how do we cultivate the seeds of happiness within us?

1. Recognition

First we must recognize that those seeds of happiness live inside us. But where? Remember when you were young and healthy, when you were stronger and had more endurance? Remember when you weighed 120 pounds and you thought you were fat? Even when people told you to enjoy it while you're young you could not realize what you had.

2. Encouragement

Motivate yourself to find joy. If you want to get good at something, what do you do? You practice. If you want to ride a bike you get on and start pedaling. If you fall off you get up and try again. It is a skill that must be acquired. To cultivate happiness we must practice recognizing that every moment is a gift that was never guaranteed. To sit here now and be able to write this to you is a miracle, a gift. To be 45 years old is a gift denied to many. To enjoy two daughters is a gift denied to many. To not have a headache is my happiness at this moment.

3. Realization

Joy and suffering are two sides of the same coin. If we never experienced suffering how could we know joy. Nothing is permanent. Joy is not permanent and neither is suffering. To have joy we must look suffering in the face to come to the realization that we also have joy. Practice cultivating the seeds of joy in the midst of your suffering and your happiness becomes less fragile.

4. Transformation

As we begin to realize our joy and motivate ourselves to be thankful for the parts of ourselves that are happy, we begin to transform out of suffering. Out of suffering comes joy. What is the path that has led to your suffering? A doctor would say you have diabetes because you are overweight, you consume the wrong foods and have a sedentary lifestyle. To change the suffering of diabetes you must transform yourself by investing in healthy choices. To end your suffering you must examine your choices. Your choice in thoughts, actions, lifestyle etc.

During difficult times people are motivated to look at their suffering and examine the root cause of it. They begin to make a transition from the pain to end or prevent further suffering. In therapy I invite my clients to not only examine the cause of their suffering, but I encourage them to strengthen and cultivate the joy they have within them. It is the seed that you pay attention to that will grow strong. Cultivate behaviors and lifestyles to strengthen your seeds of happiness.

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