“I have to be willing to let go of all that I think I am in order to be and feel who I am, my true self and nature.” – Greatness in You seminar.
We may think sometimes that to be truly happy we just need a better job, or to fix our marriage, or to have a two-month holiday on an island in the Pacific. The perception that happiness is something that can be achieved by somehow ‘fixing’ the people and events outside ourselves is always reinforced by society and the media. And this is what Dr. Russ Harris called ‘the happiness trap’. We can go around following the masses, changing partners, changing jobs, moving houses, but how long that relief will last for? Two months, six months, one year?
When I was living in Tasmania I moved houses eight times in 12 years. Each time there was some satisfaction: I have a much better view, the kitchen is much nicer or the backyard is nearly flat (Hobart is very hilly!). And at most the honeymoon lasted six months. After that time I had found all the faults with the new place and it was just another house after all. Moving houses was not really addressing what I was really feeling: a deep inner dissatisfaction. There was something missing deep inside that I could not see at the time.
What was really missing for me was self-acceptance. I was unhappy with the work I was doing and I couldn’t see a way out. At the time I couldn’t really feel lasting joy and contentment and I felt I wasn’t good enough. I had so many judgements about myself that I often felt depressed. Instead of celebrating my successes I was focusing on what I perceived to be my failures: I am a single mum, struggling to finish my PhD and working in odd jobs to pay my bills.
I had created an image of myself that was quite negative and I was trapped and couldn’t see beyond that. The story I was telling myself seemed so true that I believed in it.
It happens to mostly everyone, we create an idea of who we are based on our external circumstances, or more precisely, based on our perception of our external circumstances: our job, our family our possessions. And then we may call ourselves ‘successful’, ‘mostly successful’, ‘satisfied’, ‘content’, ‘failure’ depending on how we judge our situation. That’s why sometimes we meet people that have everything to feel successful but they are unhappy or restless.
The stories we tell ourselves on a daily basis are very powerful. They feel so real that we believe in them. The stories about who we are will be the ones taking us towards self-acceptance or towards self-neglect or self-loath.
However, it is only when we move away from all the stories that we will be able to find true self-acceptance. True self-acceptance is not dependent on our external circumstances or on our perception of our external circumstances.
True self-acceptance arises from getting to know ourselves at a deeper level. It is not a thought, it is a feeling, a knowing. It can only be found when we go beyond the stories, beyond the rational thoughts.
True self-acceptance arises when we are able to break through the story, however good or bad, of ‘who we think we are’ to meet our true self, getting in touch with our true nature, maybe for the first time. And it is through that embrace that true contentment arises.