Escaping the unhappiness trap
“They are safe, not even a scratch or a bruise. The car has flipped and has landed behind the traffic barrier” said Elena, my sister, on the phone.
She was planning to tell me in person in a few days when I arrive in Sofia for my dad’s 60th anniversary.
I was resting on the couch in my Dublin home, as she softly introduced what had happened. My ex and one of my closest friends were driving from Sofia to a ski resort for early Saturday snowboarding. The road was icy and as they tried to slow down at one of the turns, they lost control over the car.
I know that section of the road. There isn’t much space behind the road barrier, as it’s a narrow and steep section above a river with a few trees with tender stalks. As the car was moving uncontrollably on the icy road, my ex, the driver still managed to avoid a front crash with the car that was approaching them. The vehicle flipped 180 degrees and landed on those tender trees that kept it from rolling down towards the river.
They were lucky!
Elena couldn’t see my tears while we spoke on the phone. At that point she didn’t know if the car could be repaired or not.
It’s a cheap old car, but rich in memories of happy trips with adventures and discoveries. Elena looked after the car. My ex and I owned it. A few memories popped up in my mind.
- that Christmas Eve when my ex and I got stuck on the way back from Bansko;
- that drive through a tiny old village up in the mountains of Peloponnesus with streets too narrow for a single car to drive through;
- the moment when I came back from that very Peloponnesus roadtrip and how excited I was to see my friend at work the next day. He’s like my brother.
I was grieving by the possibility of losing two important people and the memories that I had with them.
Do you know that sometimes we experience grief even if we haven’t actually lost the thing we are grieving about?
The news gave me a fresh perspective
Lately I had been focused on the negative. Unhappy. Trapped. Why was there mold in the kitchen when I barely moved in a few weeks ago? Why was it taking us so long to find a new place for my girlfriend? Why was I failing to do yoga every morning? Why did that person show up unprepared for the work meeting?
I laughed at myself, at my worries, and at my stupid problems like the mold that I had been cleaning minutes before my sister rang. Still resting on the couch at home, I looked at the book shelves in the living room. I was trying to spot my Five Minute Journal. I hadn’t used it for a few months. Found it hidden in between colorful business books and reads on Ireland.
Do you feel trapped in unhappiness?
Untrap through mindfulness
I started putting things down that finish the sentence on the top of the page
“I am grateful for..“
- writing posts like this because I enjoy it, not because i have to,
- having a job that I love even on the days when I struggle,
- feeling appreciated, challenged, and inspired by my girlfriend,
- the friends I have. I can rely on them. I do have moments when I feel like there’s no one to talk to. But it’s a lie. I only think that when I’m blinded by my negativity.
- my sister and parents who are healthy and doing well. They try to accept my choices. They love me.
- having a warm and cozy home in Dublin in a neighbourhood that I like. Sure, I will keep running the dehumidifier and cleaning the mold in the kitchen, not the end of the world.
- my health — emotional, physical, psychological, despite being on a diet for IBS-C, but that’s manageable so far.
- living in a country where I can kiss my girlfriend and hold her hand despite being in a same-sex, interracial, multicultural relationship with an age gap of 10 years. The occasional looks are fine.
- being able to predispose people to open up to me, so I can help them with their troubles and challenges. And I get to hear their stories!
A friend told me once —
“There is a bunch of areas in life — friends, family, partner, home, work, finances, health. At pretty much any point of time there will be issues with 2 of those at the same time. The key is to make sure you have at least 2 that are okay, so you can overcome the moment. If not, then it’s critical.”
Untrap by working with your thoughts
I struggle to sum this one up in a few sentences, so instead I will recommend two reads that I found helpful.
- Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s book “The Joy of Living”
- Vadim Zeland’s book “Transurfing”
I try to remind myself that
- everything in life is temporary — the good and the bad
- happiness is not how we deal with things when everything is okay, but how we deal with life while we are struggling with things
- happiness is not something that just happens on its own, it’s how we work with our thoughts and emotions every day.
Untrap through purpose
“If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.”
It’s only recently that I understood what Albert Einstein meant.
To untie from people and things, I recently went on a month-long solo trip (and wrote about it).
One of my biggest fears in the past had been that one day my ex will die. That was while we were still together.
I was never much of a person obsessed about their possessions. I do own a few things that I really love, but they can be replaced.
Untrap through letting go your expectations
This one is the hardest for me.
I have high expectations of myself, of my friends, of my sister, of my parents, of my colleagues.
Buddhism talks a lot about it.
Two books by Lama Ole Nydahl on how to work with your expectations
- towards your partner — “Buddha & Love” (written for heterosexual couples, but worked fine for me, too, despite being in a same-sex relationship)
- towards death and life — “Fearless Death: Buddhist Wisdom on the Art of Dying” (reading at the moment)
Untrap by understanding what happiness means to you
If you are not sure what your personal definition is, these are fantastic to see how others understand happiness
- “Happy”, a movie on Netflix
- “The Geography of Bliss” by Eric Weiner
- “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert
While the last one might be considered cheesy by some, I’d disagree. Through her story Elizabeth illustrates how our own understanding of happiness changes over time.
Untrap by a big bang!
“I love when something like this happens and people completely change their life”, said my girlfriend.
Would the car accident somehow affect the lives of my ex and my friend? Would they give less priority to work now? Would they spend more time with the important people in their lives? Would they travel more now?
We shouldn’t wait for a near death experience.
We shouldn’t wait for someone to die.
Do we need to keep
- living passively
- focusing on the negative for our whole life
- abusing ourselves with expectations
- postponing the first kiss till early 30s
- finding excuses for a decade to quit the job we hate?
This is real.
They are and were the lives of some of my friends.
There’s no ONE, BIG SECRET.
Feeling good requires hark work. Just be consistent. And start today.
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Mahatma Gandhi
P.S. If you think it’s mostly anxieties that you are dealing with, check out “The Happiness Trap” book by Ryan Harris.
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