Preface.

While writing this book I had no clear idea of who I was writing it for. That troubled me, because the first question a prospective publisher will ask is: ‘Who’s your market?’

In the back of my mind were shadows of academics, snorting with contempt at the paucity of my academic credentials and scientific rigour, but begrudgingly curious to learn about this new, fresh approach to happiness.

Yes, I wanted the academics to read it. I was hoping it would prompt them to follow a new path in our understanding of happiness. But I knew I was not writing the book for them.

I also pictured in my mind shadows of troubled people reading the book in the hope it would change the way they felt about their life. But I realised that although they might agree with much of what I say, they were unlikely to apply my ideas, and their troubles would remain. (There are countless self-help books, yet still many troubled people.) Yes, I wanted to help them, but I could see my book was not for them.

I thought perhaps the book would be for school children. Earlier versions were set in a school in which two students purposely got detention to discuss philosophy with the teacher. It was pointed out to me that I couldn’t write for children. The dialogue was nothing like that of real children.

Throughout those writing years I continued to picture in my mind my reader, and tried writing directly to them. In each attempt their face would change, their sex would change, or their age would change.

So, I kept writing, not knowing who I was writing to. The question haunted me until hours after I finished writing the book.

More accurately, I finished writing both books. I had split the book into two and was writing the two concurrently. I finished writing them within an hour of one another, and that night I went to bed still not knowing ‘my market’. But a few minutes after the light was off, in the softness of the dark, it came to me. I finally knew who I wanted to write for.

I was irritated. ‘Why now?!’ I asked myself. ‘Why couldn’t I have figured that out earlier? Now I’ll have to write the bloody thing yet again, with my reader in mind. Holy moly.’

But at least I knew.

I have now again rewritten this book. If you are a young person in your teens or early twenties, it’s for you. It’s you I want to help.

I’m sixty. An old geezer. I’m declaring myself an Elder. Elders are supposed to be old and wise, though I’m wise enough to know I’m not wise. But I do know some things. I want you to know them too. I want you to know things I wish I had known when I was your age.

I want you to know that although so many adults are materialistic, selfish or even cruel, there are countless more that aren’t. You may not hear about them (they don’t make the news) but they’re there. And they care. This book is an example of one of them attempting to share their knowledge.

And, I want you to know that although the world might often seem heartless and out of control, it is nevertheless a good world, and it offers you a wonderful adventure. But I make no attempt to explain why the world is wonderful; it’s my job to help you see that it’s wonderful.

One big way to see that the world is wonderful is to lose one’s fear of it. Then the good becomes easy to see.

How do we lose our fear of the world?

We build ourselves a person.

That doesn’t mean becoming a success. This book is not about how to succeed, or about helping you become a fine citizen. It’s about you feeling comfortable with yourself whether you succeed or not. It’s about helping you become the person you are meant to be, and doing it in your way, in your own time. On your terms.

Most importantly, it’s about helping you feel comfortable dealing with the world, and feeling that whatever happens, you will handle it. That resilience, that feeling that you could handle what happens in your life, allows you to feel safe. And then comes happiness.

Why did I figure out who ‘my market’ was, hours after finishing the two books? The answer came to me while writing this preface. I realised that while I was writing the book I couldn’t figure out ‘the market’ because I was writing it for me. I was the market. I had felt compelled to figure out the nature of happiness for my sake. (A quest inspired by my sister, Jane.)

Only when I had finished the book, and gained closure, could I begin to focus on who I wanted to share it with. The answer was immediately obvious: you, young person, you. Old enough to take life seriously; young enough to implement new ideas, new habits.

There is another reason this book is for you: I am an elder, and you are in my care.

For all those years writing it, this book was for me. And now, it’s for you.

Mark.

‘We are all in the same boat, in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.’
G. K. Chesterton.

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Why did I write this book?

When my sister Jane and I were in our early twenties Jane became chronically depressed. She cried day and night, and could barely function. Next to her bed were bowls of cigarette butts and a wine cask. Every day I would visit her, or she would ring me, in tears, and I kept giving her reasons why she shouldn’t kill herself. I felt so powerless, being unable to help her, that I came to dread her telephone calls.

Her medication wasn’t helping so I looked for other ways. I didn’t believe in New-Age remedies and still don’t, but I was desperate to help her. And, because she was not interested in trying new ideas, I had to try them. I figured that if I experienced a fundamental shift in my thinking perhaps Jane could be persuaded to try the technique. I tried re-birthing and many self-development workshops. I even sent to Lourdes in France for a gallon of its ‘miraculous’ holy water, so desperate was I to help her.

Jane resented the pressure from family and friends to stay alive, but when one of her well-meaning male friends did reluctantly agree that perhaps she should take her own life, she felt terribly hurt. That made me realise a part of Jane wanted to live, and it had felt betrayed by the loss of support. I was relatively relieved: from a long time I had felt guilty for persuading her to stay alive, and there had been times when I had considered giving her the same permission to die.

Only once I remember her smiling in those dark years. We were in the lounge room watching my football team playing to get into a Grand Final. There were seconds to go and it was close. Jane didn’t care about the game but I was so nervous I was bouncing around the room like a lotto ball. When my team kicked the winning goal on the siren I was so overjoyed I somersaulted twice. My expression of joy was so absurd it prompted Jane to smile.

I remember that smile because it was the first I had seen from her in years, and it was to be the last. Six months later she killed herself, with pills. She swallowed the pills, and vomited them up. She kept swallowing pills, and kept vomiting them up, until finally she succumbed. She was determined to die.

In a way, she won: she had her wish. I lost. I had failed to save her.

My life slowly went back to normal, though for more than a year afterwards I felt dread when the telephone rang.

Twenty years later I had to write a short article about what makes a person happy. To write the article I felt obliged to ask myself the question: Mark. Are you happy? Are you glad you were born? It was a question I had avoided for a long, long time, and the answer was slow in coming. But when it came it intrigued, because the answer was Yes. Yes, I was happy. I was leading a happy life. I was glad to be alive.

I thus felt qualified to write the article about happiness, and began reading to find out why I was happy.

I read that happiness comes from having close relationships. But I didn’t have a close relationship.

Other books linked happiness with success. I was the antithesis of success. (And still am.)

A fulfilling career? In my adult life I had worked a string of temp jobs, none of them satisfying.

High self esteem? My self esteem was so low it disabled me. (Yet, in the same way an amputee can be physically disabled yet happy, I was socially disabled with a low self esteem, yet happy.)

Having a purpose in life? I was paying off a mortgage, and trying to ‘survive’ life. Not really what you’d call ‘a purpose’.

Ironically, in terms of writing this book it was a blessing to not have those supposed necessities for happiness, because had I possessed them I would have assumed it was they which made me happy. I would have assumed the happiness gurus were right.

I would have been wrong.

I didn’t have those supposed necessities, yet I was happy. To write the article I had to discard commonly held ideas and think long and hard about why I was happy.

Finally, I had an inkling. I wrote the article but had to split it into two chapters. Two chapters became three. Three became four . . .

Fifty-three chapters later I realised I was still trying to help my sister Jane. I still needed to solve the puzzle of what makes a person happy. I had unfinished business.

To write those fifty-three chapters (and more since) I was forced to dismiss the claims put forth by the happiness experts. I came to understand what really does make a person happy, and it’s not complicated. It’s certainly not a secret. I’ll tell you right now: we evolved happiness in the same way we evolved our knees and our kidneys. Happiness has its purpose: it is an incentive and reward for satisfying long-term, ongoing innate needs. If that sounds like jargon it soon won’t.

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Can this book help people suffering depression?

If my sister Jane were alive today I still could not heal her, or anyone with depression, because depression is not simply a lack of happiness. It’s an illness that comes in many forms, and it can’t be treated with a few ideas.

I have no evidence to suggest that the ideas in this book can treat depression or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or any condition related to anxiety. I am concerned that if you suffer from one of those conditions and try to apply the ideas in this book, and they fail to help, you might blame yourself and feel even more despair. I don’t want that.

I feel for you, and am comforted a little by the knowledge that the healthcare professionals continue to find ways of treating those illnesses, and that one day those illnesses will be curable.

I like to think that a child growing up applying the umpteen keys in this book would be less likely to become depressed later in life, but I have no idea if that’s the case. I certainly don’t claim it to be so.

To those of you suffering, I fervently hope you soon find relief and live an enjoyable life.

If you know someone who is depressed, don’t give them this book, don’t give them advice, and don’t remind them that there are people in worse circumstances. That doesn’t help. If you want to ease their pain a little, ask them how they are going, and listen.

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What is happiness?

Let us be clear: being happy is not about being a grinning idiot living ‘life’s spectacular journey’ as some spirited happiness experts attest. Nor is it about avoiding pain. A happy person still feels all the dark emotions: hurt, anger, fear, sadness, grief . . . but isn’t broken by them.

There are two kinds of happiness. There is the temporary happiness we get when we experience pleasure: winning money, seeing our team win, being with someone we love . . . and when we feel wonder, pride, grateful, amused . . . That’s when endorphins, the ‘happy hormones’, rush to our brain to make us feel good. Our happiness soars, but after a while we return to normal.

Or, when a pet dies, our happiness plummets, but after a while we return to normal.

It’s that ‘normal’ feeling which is the other type of happiness, that general day-to-day feeling of wellbeing when nothing in particular is happening: getting up in the morning, having a shower, walking down the street . . .  It’s our default happiness. It’s innate. Some people call it our ‘set point’ or ‘baseline’ happiness. I call it our core happiness.

The short term emotions: pleasure, jealousy, curiosity, fear, anger, joy . . . occur when something is happening. They temporarily overwhelm our core happiness. But when those emotions dissipate we return to our core happiness, and it’s that core happiness which makes life worth living. We don’t notice it, but it’s the lubricant to life.

Don’t get me wrong, pleasure is just as important. Life would be drab and pointless without pleasure. However, there are celebrities and wealthy people who can have whatever pleasures they want, and have them, but if they have a weak core happiness they still find life unsatisfying. And there are people who don’t have access to many pleasures, but with a strong core happiness find pleasure in even the little things of life.

It’s good to distinguish between the two types of happiness, so that when it comes to making a decision we can ask ourselves the same question the Dalai Lama asks himself:

‘Will it bring pleasure, or happiness?’



So, for an enjoyable life we need to experience the temporary happiness we get from pleasure AND experience the milder, more pervasive ongoing pleasure of core happiness.

You can figure out for yourself what pleasures give you temporary happiness. The keys to resilience add to our core happiness.

‘When I think of happiness I think of a bed. The most essential part of a comfortable bed is a solid mattress. On top of that mattress you have crumpled sheets, you have to change those sheets and pillowslips every week, you have disorganisation, you have cold, you have warmth. But the solid foundation is there and that’s your mattress, and all of the things on top of that mattress is what happens in life. The foundation is your happiness.’
Linda Burney, MP of NSW Legislative Assembly.

 

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A brief explanation of evolution.

It is hard to speak of evolution without inadvertently attributing to it intent. I might write, ‘Beetles evolved to fly —’ which sounds like the beetles had a choice in the matter. Of course they didn’t. I might write, ‘Evolution guides us —’ or ‘Evolution wants us —’ No, evolution can’t guide us or want us to do anything. It’s not a sentient entity, it’s a process.

I, like other writers, use those expressions because they are convenient shortcuts to refer to the process of natural selection (evolution).



If you are not sure how evolution works, but would like to know, here are two quick (and basic) examples that might explain it:

Let’s say a few million years ago there is a drought in an African savannah. A giraffe born with a slightly longer neck can reach leaves other giraffes can’t reach. It is more likely to survive and pass on its genes. It does survive, and over time, all giraffes end up with the gene, and longer necks. Evolution has ‘guided’ a physical change.

A monkey born with genes giving it the propensity to break nuts and eat the kernels will have an abundant food source, and be more likely to survive in the drought and pass on its genes. Over time, all monkeys of that species are born with the propensity to break nuts and eat the kernels. Evolution has ‘guided’ a behavioural change.

Another giraffe might be born with genes giving it an extra leg. The giraffe has trouble running with five legs and is easily caught by a lion. It doesn’t live long enough to pass on its genes. Therefore, giraffes haven’t evolved to have five legs.

So, although gene mutations are random, over many generations the mutations beneficial to the species can become normal to the species. That’s evolution. It is generally thought that most, if not all, physical features and behavioural traits of organisms evolved in this way. That’s why octopuses can change colour in a second, and it’s why you can see.

‘Mark, how do different species come about?’


Let’s say on one side of a mountain range in Africa there are frequent famines, and the giraffes evolve long necks. However, on the other side of the range there is plenty of rainfall, and the giraffes there have plenty to eat. Any giraffe born with a longer neck will not have a survival advantage, so that mutation isn’t favoured. (A giraffe born with a longer neck might have offspring with a longer neck, but that offspring will mate with giraffes with normal necks. And, because the giraffes with normal necks are faring well, the ‘long neck gene’ has no advantage, and is outnumbered by all the ‘normal neck genes’. So, after a while the giraffe population will still have normal sized necks.)

Over tens of thousands of years, and with hundreds of famines, and with different geography and different conditions, the two groups of giraffes will evolve so many differences that if you were to bring them together and mate them, they could not produce fertile offspring. The two giraffes would be separate species.

The giraffe’s closest extant (living) relative is the okapi, which lives in the Congo rainforest.

Okapi

‘What is a subspecies?’


Let’s say a river becomes full of crocodiles, and isolates a thousand giraffes on a large island. Those giraffes can’t get back to the mainland to join the other giraffes, so for geographical reasons the two groups can’t interbreed. Over time, the island giraffes might evolve characteristics of their own (different markings, or shorter necks, for example).

If you were to transport the island giraffes to the mainland and those giraffes could interbreed with the mainland giraffes and produce fertile offspring, they would be the same species. However, because of their different markings, etc. the island giraffes (the minority) would be a subspecies.

‘Lizards are different to giraffes. How can they be related?’


Their common ancestor goes back more than a hundred million years.



‘An eel-like creature from 505 million years ago was a forerunner to all vertebrates, from fish to humans. Fossil evidence confirms that Pikaia gracelens had a rod of elastic tissue running along its back, making it the oldest chordate ever found.’
New Scientist, 10 March 2012.

Q. ‘Did humans evolve from gorillas and chimpanzees? Or monkeys?’

No, but we have a common ancestor with those animals. There were creatures that over a long time, over large areas, and in varying conditions, evolved into different animals depending on the environmental forces. A rough and speculative example: if rodent-like animals lived in rainforest with abundant food in the trees, they would probably stay in the trees and over millions of years become monkeys or apes. If any of those creatures during that time had been born with the inclination and ability to walk on two legs that creature would not have gained a survival advantage from that mutation, so that mutation would quickly be bred out again. Such a population might eventually evolve into another type of ape, but it wouldn’t evolve to be a bipedal ape.

Let’s say another population of the same rodent-like animals also lived in savannah plains, and found food in the long grass. The ones born with the ability to stand on two legs and see above the grass might have a significant advantage, and be more likely to survive and produce offspring. Then, over millions of years those animals might evolve to be land dwelling apes, walking on two legs.*

That’s a speculative example of how different animals might evolve from one common ancestor.

Q. ‘Are there other factors contributing towards evolution?’

I have a limited knowledge of two: epigenetics (simply: genes influenced by the environment), and some viruses can interact with an animal’s DNA to make changes.

* Susannah Thorpe and her colleagues, of The University of Birmingham, suggest another possibility: that our ancestors evolved to stand on two legs while still in the trees. Balancing on two feet and using their hands to hold branches for balance helped them reach the fruit on small, outlying branches. (New Scientist, 9th June, 2007.)
Another theory suggests that we became bipedal from having to wade in water.

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Part 1. The innate need to be resilient.

First, we need to look at how happiness evolved.

The evolution of temporary happiness (pleasure): 
When we engage in short-term behaviours that benefit us or our species, such as eating, having sex, or playing (playing is good for us because it hones skills) we are rewarded immediately with pleasure. That pleasure reward is evolution’s way of persuading us to engage in those behaviours.

The evolution of core happiness: 
We are also rewarded when we engage in beneficial ongoing behaviours. But ongoing behaviours cannot be rewarded with instantaneous pleasure, so they are rewarded with ongoing pleasure: a relaxed, general feeling of wellbeing: core happiness. Core happiness is the incentive, and reward, for engaging in beneficial ongoing behaviours.

What would those ongoing behaviours be?

Here is one: living in a tribe. In prehistory, hominids (our early human ancestors, long before we became human) that were born with an inclination to live in a tribe were more likely to live long enough to pass on their genes. (Those who didn’t live in tribes were more likely to starve or be eaten.)

What would keep us inclined to live in a tribe?

Having a need to be with one another – to feel connected with one another. That need kept us in groups. Some people call it ‘the deep need to belong’. When we satisfy that need we are rewarded with core happiness. When we don’t satisfy that need we feel isolated, unsettled, even anxious. That’s evolution’s way of nudging us to change the situation.

We examine that need in my other book, The Umpteen Ways to Satisfy Our Deep Need to Belong.



Another ongoing innate need.

Although we evolved a need to live in a tribe, at times we also had to leave the safety of the tribe to hunt, or to explore our environment for new resources.

With too much anxiety we would be too afraid to leave the safety of the tribe, and we’d starve. With too little anxiety we would take too many risks, and soon die. To get the right balance we need to feel frightened in a scary situation yet feel we can handle it. When we achieve that balance we are again rewarded with core happiness.

How do we get that balance?

Consider pygmy twins: one is raised to hunt spiders, snakes and crocodiles; the other is raised to avoid them.

Which twin do you think will grow up competent and confident, and as a result, happier? Which twin will grow up anxious and unhappy?

I claim that the twin who learns how to handle those dangers, rather than avoid them, will become the happier of the two. The twin avoiding those creatures won’t learn how to handle anxiety, or life itself, and as a consequence will become unhappy. Which means: the best way to feel safe in life is not to avoid scary situations, but to learn how to handle them.



‘A happy life consists not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships.’ 

Helen Keller.

Many of us in this safe, comfortable western society learn (like our anxious pygmy) to fear our environment, because we don’t get the opportunity to discover that we can handle life. Then it becomes easy to be anxious, even over trivial things. And it’s harder to be happy, because we are not getting that evolutionary reward for feeling capable.

Our society could be fostering unhappiness. Some children are not allowed to climb trees, or walk to school alone, or do anything that might be considered risky. So, they don’t learn how to handle situations, or to handle their fears. Instead, they learn how to avoid them, and that’s a recipe for anxiety.

Every day we experience fears: the fear of failure, of rejection, of looking stupid, the fear that our dinner will get cold —  a myriad of fears. We can reduce those fears by developing the feeling that whatever happens, we can handle it.

‘I can handle failure. I can handle rejection. I can handle looking stupid. I can handle my dinner getting cold.’ 


If you feel you can handle those things you are not going to fear them, are you? In her book, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, Susan Jeffers points out that we only fear what we think we can’t handle. The trick then to reducing our fear is not to avoid the things that scare us, but to learn how to handle them.



‘Peace is not only in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. Peace is in the midst of things as they are, when there is calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace.’

Author unknown.

This book is not about helping a person deal with anxiety; it’s about helping a person to not become anxious in the first place. It’s about reducing our capacity to become anxious. It’s about satisfying that ongoing innate need to feel that whatever happens in life we can handle it.

It’s about developing resilience.

Our reward? Core happiness.

Happiness and resilience.
Let us not confuse resilience with stoicism, or toughness.

A resilient person might endure hardship, but will recover. That’s what resilience means: having the capacity to recover from hardship. A resilient person might express their pain by talking about it; they might cry; they might express so much emotion it scares the pants off the rest of us. But they recover.

A stoic, or tough person can endure hardship without revealing their pain. That stoicism doesn’t mean the person can bounce back afterwards and recover. It doesn’t mean the person is resilient.

A man might be stoic his entire life. He might endure hardship and worry, day after day after day, desperately hiding his pain, believing that if he were to reveal his suffering he would be seen as weak and unworthy, and would be letting himself down, his father down, his grandfather down, his family down, his manhood down . . . and in that ‘weakness’ he would feel shame so damning, so overwhelming, it would split his world apart.

At least, that’s how it feels to him. That’s the threat. And so, this poor man continues to hold in his pain, day after day after day until one day, mercifully, he dies of natural causes.

‘He was a tough man,’ they might say. ‘A hard worker. Never complained. There aren’t many men like him left.’

Or, he doesn’t die. Instead, one day he cracks. He suffers a breakdown no one sees coming. ‘What happened?’ they ask. ‘He seemed to be coping. Who would have thought?’

Or, he doesn’t die. Wonderfully, he seeks help, and gets it. In his growth he not only gets to flourish, he gets to keep his stoicism. But this time his stoicism comes not from his ability to hide his pain, but from his ability to deal with it. He has become resilient.

Stoicism is good to have. We don’t want to burst into tears in awkward circumstances. But if we develop resilience (the ability to deal with our pain and return to normal afterwards) we develop stoicism as well. Why? Because knowing that we will recover from the pain makes that pain easier to bear. That makes us stoic.

Not everyone who cries and talks about their pain is resilient. It is not the ability to express our pain that make us resilient, it’s the ability to deal with our pain. Expressing it is just one way to deal with it.

Further, a person resilient in one area of their life might not be resilient in another. That’s why someone physically resilient, as tough as wombat stew, might not be emotionally resilient. And vice versa.

In the following chapters I have the enormous pleasure of presenting to you what deep down you already know: the umpteen keys to resilience.



Q. ‘Are there other ongoing innate needs we need to satisfy to be happy?’

Yep. You might already be satisfying the other ongoing innate needs. The need discussed in this book – to feel that we can handle life – is one of the big ones, and one many people lack.



Q. ‘If I apply the umpteen keys when will I notice a change?’
In a year or two. Perhaps more. I don’t know.
‘What?!’

The keys to resilience aren’t snappy catch phrases that sound good but drift away in the next breeze. It’s real stuff. You don’t turn an aircraft-carrier around in five minutes, and you are not going to change your life in five minutes.
‘But two years?!’

Don’t let that put you off. Those two years will come quickly enough. Imagine if you had started two years ago?
‘But two years?!’

It depends on how long it takes you to adopt each key. On an intellectual level you might find it easy to believe the precepts presented, but for you to fully believe them, for them to become an integral part of the way you live your life, it will take time.
‘Two years is too long.’

Ask yourself that in two years time. Anyway, you might already be applying most of the keys to resilience, in which case, you’re halfway there.

You won’t notice the changes happening, but one day you will look back and see that you have changed. You will see that you have created a more confident, accountable person. You will gauge your happiness and see that your effort has been rewarded.
 The changes you will be making don’t rely on willpower, but on awareness. That can’t be a bad thing to have in life anyway.

Q. ’If I apply the umpteen keys to resilience, how much will I increase my core happiness?’

Enough to be pleased with the difference. To expect a huge change in your happiness levels would be unrealistic.
Recall a time when you were elated: you won a contest, or you just received a promotion. Now, would you hope or expect to maintain that feeling throughout your everyday life?

 ‘No.’

Imagine you are outside playing a game, but it’s nippy. You want to enjoy yourself but keep being reminded of the cold. If it were just a couple of degrees warmer you could forget about the chill and enjoy yourself. A small change could make a big difference. Or, think of a cup of coffee. The difference between a cup of coffee and a great cup of coffee can depend on a just few drops of milk. Again, a little thing can make a big difference.
In the same way, if you can increase your core happiness even a little, your life will change significantly.
Ready? Let’s go.

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Part 2. Be aware of what you are feeling.

Years ago I would regularly visit my uncle Geoffrey at his farm in Korumburra. One day we were sitting at his kitchen table having lunch when he asked me, ‘Mark, how do you feel about circus lions being kept in cages?’

I answered something like ‘It’s cruel, it’s wrong, it shouldn’t be allowed’, to which he replied, ‘Wrong answer’.

While I was puzzling over why my answer was wrong he asked me, ‘How do you feel about your footy team losing yesterday?’

I told him we were unlucky; our key forward had a crook knee and we still only lost by three points.

Again he said, ‘Wrong answer.’

Can you figure out why they were wrong answers?

By this time I was feeling more unsettled than a guest speaker at a hecklers’ convention, but he pointed out that he had asked me how I felt about circus lions being kept in cages, and I had given him my thoughts on the matter. Big difference. A correct answer might have included words like ‘concerned’, ‘appalled’, ‘irritated’, which are feelings.

How did I feel about my footy team losing? Disappointed. Deflated. Flat.

Uncle Geoff then said that if we want our lives to run smoothly we need to be in the habit of distinguishing between our thoughts and our feelings.

‘Why?’ I asked him.

He said that some people try to be always rational, and lose touch with what they are feeling. Other people rely solely on their feelings, and fail to think things through. Either way, those people tend to find themselves believing one thing but doing another, and living a life of mild confusion.

Reason and Passion.
Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul. If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas. For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.’
From ‘The Prophet’ by Khalil Gibran

‘The trick’, said my uncle, ‘is to think things through, yet be fully in touch with our emotions. And the best way to do that is to distinguish between our thoughts and emotions when we speak.’

I said to him, ‘Surely we all know what we’re feeling?’

He said, ‘No, not if we are out of the habit of describing what we feel. It’s easy to get out of that habit. Some of us grow up with mixed messages. Our parents might tell us what we are feeling, or should be feeling, instead of allowing us to experience what we are actually feeling. Tell a child she’s happy, or grateful, when she isn’t, she’ll get confused, won’t she?’

I shrugged.

‘And, some of us are told to not feel certain emotions. Don’t feel bad, Don’t be angry, Don’t be jealous, so we get good at avoiding those emotions. We still feel angry, or jealous, we’re just not aware of it.’

While that was sinking in my uncle added, ‘Some emotions are uncomfortable to feel, so some of us become adept at not feeling them. For example, many people think it’s bad to be angry, so they don’t let themselves be angry. The trouble is, their anger squeezes out in other ways: in sarcasm, in the way they snipe at their spouse, in their chronic complaining —’

I was grappling with that when he added, ‘Or, they twist their anger into other emotions, and become bitter with resentment, or become stricken with anxiety. They might even sink into despair.’

The lesson stayed with me. Years later I discovered other examples: someone who is jealous but not aware of it might become possessive. Someone who is racist might not realise they are fearful. Someone might think they are angry when the emotion they are feeling is envy, or humiliation, or loneliness, or shame. And, some people aren’t aware of their disappointment; they are being so stoic they don’t let themselves experience it.

It wouldn’t surprise me if some people didn’t realise they were joyful.

If we are not aware of an emotion it can undermine us. It can lead us astray. It can lead us into engaging in behaviours we ourselves don’t fully understand. We might do something silly, and later look back with exasperation and ask ourselves the question, What was I thinking?!


A better question would be, What was I feeling?

Only when we are aware of what we are feeling, and fully experience it, can we begin to deal with the emotion in a healthy, constructive manner. And, when we get good at dealing with our emotions, life runs more smoothly. We become confident we can handle life. We trust ourselves and the decisions we make.

It’s not just emotions. We need to be aware of all the ‘dark’ bits inside us. Instead of keeping those dark bits hidden from ourselves, and from others, we need to acknowledge them. When we do, we come to realise that those dark bits aren’t so bad after all. After a while we come to accept them, and when we come to accept them, we come to accept ourselves.

When we stop hiding those dark bits we can relax. We feel better about ourselves and go easier on ourselves. With nothing to hide we lower our guard with people, and connect with them on a deeper, more meaningful level.

Further, the more we understand ourselves, and accept those dark bits, the more we understand other people, and accept their dark bits. With that empathy we become less judgmental and more easy going. We let go of the ‘shoulds’ we have of life, and of our expectations of others, and we become more flexible and easier to be with. We feel more comfortable with ourselves, and with other people, and feel safer in the world.

In short, one way to become resilient is to get to know ourselves: to be aware of what we think, and of what we feel. Especially, we need to be aware of the dark bits inside us, because it’s those dark bits that create anxiety.

The keys in this section help with that.



‘We are taught many things in a lifetime, but rarely do we get a chance to learn about emotion and ways of relating to others. We make a great effort to develop the mind, but apparently we are supposed to deal with our emotions instinctively.’

Thomas Moore, from his book, Dark Nights of the Soul.

Q. ‘Mark, why is it bad to confuse our emotions?’

If we don’t know what we are feeling how can we address it? How can we deal with that feeling? We can’t. So, it keeps popping up, niggling us, misleading us. But if we know precisely what we are feeling we can start dealing with it. And, when we get good at dealing with our emotions we become less anxious, because we know we can cope with them, having dealt with them before. We know we won’t be shattered by them, that we will be okay. That we are okay.



‘It’s rare that we don’t have issues in life but it’s the belief that along the way we have gained the tools to deal with most of them which gives us a belief in our resilience and capacity to thrive.’
David, from Leongatha, Victoria.



Q. ‘How do we know when we have ‘fully experienced’ an emotion?’

When the emotion has lost its sting. When it’s easy to cope with it.
Fully experiencing emotions isn’t easy to do, and it takes time. (I’m still working on fully experiencing my emotions.) Take the time you need, especially if you have experienced trauma. Delve into your emotions at your own pace. There is no correct amount of time.

Q. ‘We don’t always have to be aware of our emotions, do we?’

No, we want the ability to identify what we are feeling, particularly when we feel unsettled.

Q. ‘Mark, if I come to accept myself I might come to accept my badness. Is that alright?’

This book isn’t about being a good citizen, it’s about gaining resilience and core happiness. Thugs can be happy too.

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