Most would agree it’s easier to be happy when life is going well.
We can understand when those who have suffered great loss or trauma remain unhappy, angry or negative. Yet I am inspired by my patients who appear to have grown stronger and indeed happier after enduring great hardship, disability, trauma and loss.
Both my parents grew up in poverty. My father in Cumberland’s Chinatown lost his father by age 5. My mother – growing up in Vancouver with her brothers and sisters – was orphaned at age 9. She and her siblings struggled to keep the family together, clothed and fed. Her traumatic losses and challenges strengthened my mom and reinforced her commitment to family.
I always remembered my mom as a happy person who took responsibility not only for her own happiness but also for spreading more happiness in her world. My dad remains an ever cheerful and happy man.
The exceptionally happy people interviewed in Rick Foster and Greg Hicks’ book, “How We Choose to Be Happy: the 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People: Their Secrets, Their Stories” confronted their emotions through difficult times and found ways to recast tragedy and trauma into happiness and growth.
Foster and Hicks defined this process as recasting – “the choice to convert problems into opportunities and challenges and to transform trauma into something meaningful, important and a source of emotional energy.”
They used the term recasting with the metaphor of a steel mill. When confronted by the harsh reality of unchangeable circumstances – the loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship and losing your job, we can choose to fully experiencing the fire of our difficult emotions and forge a greater sense of meaning in life.
It’s crucial to allow ourselves to fully experience the depths of our negative emotions – sadness, loss, anxiety and anger, but we don’t have to express them in negative ways. All our feelings require acknowledgement before we can work through them and either allow them to dissipate or transform them in a positive direction.
We have to process our normal emotional responses to the inevitable setbacks, obstacles, losses and traumas of human life. Suppressed emotions inevitably resurface in both predictable and unpredictable ways.
Recasting past and current losses and challenges is not easy. We have to confront our emotions and take the time to fully process and work through them. We have to reflect on our experiences and ask what we can learn – about ourselves and about our lives.
We may then find ways to make positive changes and move forward in our lives.
Next post: Options – being open to new possibilities.