My Reflection on The Happiness Obsession
By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
I meet with many different families and individuals in my practice. One of the most fascinating things that I hear from almost everyone is something along the lines of “I just want my child to be happy” or “I just want to be happy, like everyone else.” I find this so interesting for two reasons. On one hand, I totally understand that feeling and can relate to just wanting to feel better, happy, successful, etc. On the other hand, while I understand the drive towards happiness, I do not necessarily think that the goal of life or a childhood is happiness. I think that a more realistic and helpful goal is to feel at peace even when facing adversity and to allow ourselves to sit with discomfort long enough to learn the lesson it teaches.
Additionally, I think that our culture’s obsession with being happy has dramatic consequences. One consequence that I see in my work is that people are becoming increasingly uncomfortable and avoidant of any emotion seen as “negative” such as sadness, despair, anger, shame, and guilt. I find it curious that so many emotions get such a bad rap just because they are uncomfortable for us to experience. The interesting thing is that life and growth truly begin at the end of our comfort zone and I think that by avoiding the less pleasant emotions, we restrict our growth and our experience of other emotions as well. I walk with people through change on a daily basis as a therapist and try to push myself towards change and I have to say, it is not always fun, comfortable, or happy. Change is typically painful and can be a struggle, even when we know the end goal will make us feel better in some way or that we are learning something. However, that does not mean that we need to run from change! Change is an exciting, amazing, scary, and beautiful process when we can embrace it. Above all, it is a process and it certainly is not something that happens instantaneously (as much as we may want it to!).
I think that a possible solution is to change our goal away from simply being happy and towards a full experience of the range of emotions life has to offer and towards resiliency in the face of challenging situations, feelings, and environments. While some feelings are uncomfortable to experience, we need to embrace them and accept their presence in our lives. I often talk with my clients about how emotions are cues to our environment and they are important sources of information about our lives. When we constantly avoid or numb them, we do not learn the lesson or understand what they are trying to show us or teach us. While I am not advocating wallowing in our emotions or “feeding” them with negative self-talk, I think we need to learn to recognize them and become curious about them. Once we can accept that the full range of feelings is meaningful in our lives, maybe we can invite them in for a bit to learn from them, experience them, and then let them go. One way to do this is to cultivate mindfulness of our thoughts and feelings through treating our emotions and thoughts as a wave that comes and goes. Early in my training, I learned to be curious about my thoughts rather than blindly accepting them as facts and it helps to remember that thoughts are just thoughts and feelings are just feelings.
Another area that I think is very impacted by our culture’s “happiness” obsession is parenting. I think that parents have become so concerned with providing their children with opportunities to feel happy that they sometimes miss providing them opportunities to learn to cope with disappointment, failure, and difficult situations that will inevitably come up in life. I often work with parents who struggle to set limits with their children and I think this has something to do with all of our difficulties tolerating unpleasant emotions. We want to rescue our loved ones from feeling things we do not want to feel so we may unconsciously do things to protect them from adversity and end up doing a complete disservice to them. While I obviously do not want children to feel miserable all the time, I think that helping them learn how to handle challenges in life is crucial in building resiliency. Resiliency is one of the most important tools a child can have and will serve them well in life. I think that we can give children different messages about failure, challenges, and fairness that will prepare them better for the world. I think these messages need to honor the fact that challenges are okay, feelings are all okay and not “good” or “bad,” and that sometimes we just need to accept things as they are. We need to be role models for them and truly become more comfortable with pain, failure, mistakes, and uncomfortable feelings in order to teach children that they are not to be feared. If we fear challenge, failure, uncomfortable feelings, so will our children. All of us need to accept that everyone faces adversity and it is how you respond that matters most.
Have questions about Thrive Therapy Studio? Please contact us regarding parent consultation, adult, child or therapy for young adults or marriage and family therapy San Diego.
By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
Before going into my list I would like share a bit about my perspective on my clients and taking the leap to begin therapy. I truly respect the process and the strength it takes to enter into therapy. I fundamentally believe that it takes a lot of courage to open up and be vulnerable with the people we love, let alone someone we just met! As such, I try to honor that courage and make therapy as comfortable as possible for my clients. In my eyes, it is truly about them and not me. With that being said, I absolutely love the work that I do and see it as an amazing privilege to be able to walk with people, sometimes guiding them, through their lives.
5 Things I Love About Being a Psychotherapist
1. I enjoy helping people: I know this is an obvious answer but it’s true. It is so rewarding to know that I am doing something meaningful in my career that truly helps others. This aspect of being in a “helping role” is very in line with my values.
2. Watching people change: The changes I witness are absolutely life changing for me. I tend to be an eternal optimist and the work that I do feeds my own positivity, hope, and belief that we can all dig deep and change our lives. I feel honored to witness the changes that people I work with make.
3. Amazing conversations: I love going to work and having deep, insightful conversations with the people around me (colleagues and clients). My clients have often shared with me that they have their most interesting and meaningful conversations in our therapy sessions. I feel so fortunate that I get to do something for work that is so enjoyable and interesting!
4. Therapy naturally suits my personality: Psychotherapy tends to require strengths that I have and build on them. I am a patient, sensitive, and empathic person by nature (sometimes overly so) and it is wonderful for me to be able to use these skills in my work. As a particularly emotional child, I often felt out of place and that my big emotions were a “problem.” Now, as a psychotherapist, I feel that having a big emotional side helps me understand where my clients are coming from and helps me connect with them more.
5. Therapy works: This is probably the most basic and the most true for me. I believe that therapy works and there is nothing like going to work every day doing something you fundamentally believe in. Therapy is a process and I always ask my clients to trust that process and I do that because, I have seen therapy truly change lives.
Have questions about Thrive Therapy Studio? Please contact us regarding family counseling, adult, child or teen psychotherapy services San Diego.
Welcome to the Thrive blog and website! Our first posts are going to focus on some key topics in therapy, coming to therapy, and getting to know us a bit better. We hope you enjoy them!
Why going to therapy does not mean you are weak or flawed?
By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
I fundamentally believe that it takes a lot of strength to admit that you need help. I often treat individuals who tell me that they are everyone else's "rock" and "sounding board." I typically find that these are people that pride themselves on being strong, as many of us do in our current culture. Unfortunately, our culture's view of strength is awfully skewed. I believe that strength and courage means facing our fears, having hard discussions, and looking in the mirror to reflect on how we contribute to our own problems. To me, the very definition of strength is baring your soul to someone else, therapist or another key individual in your life. I have watched many people take this leap and benefit dramatically from doing so.
One issue that comes up frequently during my therapy sessions includes this notion of being "perfect" and that it is a personal failure to have flaws. I believe that these beliefs are deeply rooted in our culture and in most of our families and upbringings and as such it is difficult to challenge. However, it is my belief that our flaws are what makes us human and truly beautiful. We all are flawed and that is simply the human condition. While many may believe that this is sad, I believe it is a beautiful thing because it means we are all in this together. Flaws, imperfections, mistakes, and all. In my work with adults and children, I remind everyone that we are all flawed but we are enough.
Have questions about Thrive Therapy Studio? Please contact us regarding parent consultation, adult, child or teen counseling services or family marriage counseling services in San Diego.
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"Watch your thoughts,
They become words.
Watch your words,
They become actions.
Watch your actions,
They become habits.
Watch your habits,
They become character;
It becomes your destiny."