It is a common enough situation encountered in my role as a counsellor and psychotherapist in South Dublin - ‘everyone else seems to have it all figured out and are living their best life. No one else has doubts or insecurities like I do, and there is something wrong with me that I can’t be happy.’
In today’s society there is increasingly an emphasis put on enjoyment. We must live in the moment and make the most of it because we only have one life. A good approach, but one that seems to be creating more anxiety for some of those who do not experience constant fulfilment.
The idea that everyone else is having fun and enjoying life when we are not can lead to insecurity and a belief that something is wrong. This isn’t the case. No one enjoys all the time and lacking is a fundamental part of life. On the other hand, the command to enjoy can become problematic when it is taken literally and we find cases of excess enjoyment which can be very destructive and harmful in ways such as addiction or behaving with a lack of regard for others.
New Causes of Anxiety and Addiction
Although there have long been problems with addiction or anxiety, it does seem that there is something different in the more recent phenomena of social media, all pervasive marketing and the hyper comparative, aspirational lifestyles these promote. Whereas in the past there was an expectation that one should find a job for life, marry and settle down in the suburbs, now the prevailing message is that one should constantly be exploring, changing and challenging oneself.
To some extent this can be viewed as the difference between accepting a more modest and stable, predictable life and taking satisfaction from that, or refusing to accept that there are limits to life and what we should be able to do with it. If you were white, heterosexual and Christian then such ‘old fashioned’ goals as marriage and property ownership were considered desirable and achievable. If you did not fit into these normative categories then life was very different.
New Ways to be Happy
There is a larger debate as to just how much this general change in aspirations, as communicated through advertising, TV shows, films etc., is driven by changes in individuals or if people are influenced by external factors. There is however some key social changes that have happened in recent history that seem to be relevant, and some of these changes can be seen as good, others less so.
Many of the more restrictive aspects of the so called ‘old fashioned’ norms have been stripped away and a more inclusive, open minded view of life has come to be seen as acceptable. The erosion of authority and the trust in institutions that had dominated the moral landscape has allowed for what was once considered deviant to become just another way of living a life. This freedom from such a prescriptive ideal that determined what was ‘acceptable’ in life as put forward by organisations such as the church has certainly gone a long way to making life more bearable for many people.
There is a cost to this, however, as a more open and permissive society doesn’t just mean that those who agree with you get to be heard. It is a cost worth paying though, as those who have benefitted from the changes in attitudes towards sexuality, gender, race and religion can attest. But there is a negative that goes beyond just the increase in anger and conflict that has been reported in the media and experienced in the streets.
Some limits to Mindfulness and CBT
The command to enjoy oneself is implicit in such mantras as ‘live in the moment’ and some other aspects of mindfulness, which in some instances can be very grounding and calming, but can also be seen as an attempt to block out or eradicate the lack of fulfilment that is an essential part of being human. Likewise, CBT can be misapplied in ways that prevent us from gaining an understanding of the ‘why’ that has us feeling the way we do.
Accepting limitations to our life, to our enjoyment is fundamentally part of being a member of society. You are lacking, and that’s ok. You don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to be constantly happy. It is therefore important that you have a sense of your own place within that society and what you want to do with your life.
Counselling and Psychotherapy
Counselling and psychotherapy can provide a space in which you can determine for yourself what your desire is, what it is that you want from life and how you want to be, free from the influences external to us that can be so confusing and harmful. By aligning with your own desire, life can become easier and more manageable, and less anxiety provoking.
Psychoanalysis is very much concerned with the unconscious desires and wishes that exert an influence on us, and by engaging in such work one can become more at ease with oneself, more clear in what one wants from life, and how to go about it.
If you would like to speak with someone about any of the issues raised here, then please contact us.