People used to tell me that “happiness is a choice”, that statement used to fill me with rage. I used to think “If happiness was a choice, then why am I still depressed, I want to be happy but I’m not.” Now I realize there is truth to this statement, but it is complicated. The answer isn’t straight forward and takes a long time to understand. It isn’t as simple as just a choice, it’s an effort, and it’s our choice if we make that effort. For some that effort is a lot more than others, it can seem a monumental task. The amount of effort required changes with circumstances and resources. The truth is that we can’t achieve happiness alone. I tried for years to achieve it myself, and failed everytime. Only we can achieve happiness for ourselves, no one else can do it for us if we don’t chose the pursuit of happiness, but we do need help. For many, the circumstances are more difficult, they may not have the support of people that many others have, or they may suffer mentally a lot more than others. Resources are readily available to some as they have the support and money to go to therapy, psychiatrists, institutions, etc, but not for all. Some have to work harder for it, but the satisfaction is even greater then.
The concept of the “Pain Body” is important here. The Pain body is a concept by the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, it represents the suffering, painful emotional energy in us. The pain body is born is us at some point of our lives, Many of us don’t even realize we have a pain body until it’s grown so vastly in size that it takes over us. From my personal experience, my pain body, I believe, was born when I was 8. I wasn’t aware of it, and I sub-consciously fed it. That’s what the pain body wants, it wants to be fed with ego, negative behaviors, pain, anything that will increase the suffering. Throughout my childhood and teens, I fed my pain body through my actions, thoughts and neglect of self. I built the core belief of worthlessness and I would do anything to hide that feeling from others, so my behavior changed. I wanted to be seen as someone of worth, even though I felt the opposite, I wanted to fit in, please people, impress people. I also had a lot of self-pity, something I wanted others to feel for me because I felt entitled to the pity of others for me, “poor me”. All these thoughts built a lot of expectations from myself and others, I began to manipulate and emotionally blackmail people when things wouldn’t go my way, I felt so entitled due to this core belief, and when none of this would work, it would just completely flatten me and damage my self-esteem, all of this was feeding my ego, which had become massive, all I cared about was what I thought people thought of me, I wanted to be seen of someone of value, not what I thought of myself, not what I wanted for me or what I valued. I had no values that were of my own benefit, only to the benefit of my image. That ego fed my pain body like nothing else ever did. The pain body wants to feed on more and more unhappiness, so it works it’s ways around us, it sneaks in the shadows where we can’t see it.
For many of us, it is deeply wired to neglect ourselves mentally, it’s a secondary part of life, it’s pushed to the side, left alone to run its own circus. That’s the pain body pushing it aside and feeding off the neglect. Eventually, the pain body had taken control of me, but I didn’t know what it was. I thought it was me, which was partly true, I had let it become part of me by neglecting it and letting it take over. The confusion of what was going on with me was overwhelming, I went searching for answers, but the answers were already in me, I just couldn’t see them until just a few days ago. I was diagnosed with clinical depression, general anxiety disorder, and PTSD a few years ago. I was so unfamiliar with what all this was because no one talked about mental health, I thought it was seen as a sign of weakness. So I thought I was weak, I was embarrassed, I beat myself up mentally over the fact that I was mentally ill, I thought of what others might think if they found out, again my ego was at play. Really the pain body had completely taken over and all these thoughts and actions of mine were feeding the pain body. My ego told me I was getting weak, and I believed it.
I went to therapy, took medication, but inside I still felt worthless, my thinking and behavior hadn’t changed. The therapist I had didn’t really go into much depth, so I can’t completely blame myself for that. It was the usual “how are you doing”, “what are you thinking about”, “I’m so sorry you’re going through this”. I started believing therapy was useless, I couldn’t be further from the truth, yes maybe that specific therapist didn’t suit me, but I saw one bad tree in the forest and deemed the whole forest rotten. She wasn’t even necessarily bad, it’s just the lens I looked through, filled with ego, filled with “I’m smarter than everyone”. I deemed myself “un-treatable”, my self-loathing grew, feeding and feeding that pain body, and it absolutely loved it. I listened to depressing music, mentally beat myself up, and did things to myself that put me in a dark headspace. It was as if a part of me had started enjoying the darkness, I believed I was stuck in it forever, so I may as well play in the dark and try enjoy it. So that’s what I did, I started playing in the dark, feeding it. The pain body had finally completely taken control and I admitted defeat to it, letting it take over all my thoughts and actions. I acted recklessly, caused myself and others even more pain. I was out for revenge, I felt like the world did me wrong, I would blame everyone except myself. The saying, “hurt people hurt people” had become true for me.
For many it can feel like they’re stranded in a mob, they see all these people around them who seem to be enjoying the mob, the chaos of life. The miserable do love company. They feed off each other’s misery. I felt stranded at first, but my ego took control, and I joined the mob, I started to enjoy the chaos of life thinking I could keep doing this all my life under control, thinking that this was finally a solution I had found. I popped pill after pill, not thinking of consequences, just the state of bliss it sent me into, I thought the fantasy I was living in was the beauty of life. I started living in a fantasy world of insanity, not realizing the insanity of it all. Again I was neglecting the pain body, but this time on another level. I thought my misery couldn’t get any worse, but in the background, the pain body grew out of control, until finally I was forced out of the fantasy world and was met by this monster of a pain body. I couldn’t handle it, I was met with extreme emotions and thoughts that I tried to fight by myself, leaving the people around me out of it, but the pain body was way too strong by this time, it beat me down multiple times, but I didn’t learn. I fought it, and each time I was beaten down, I got back up to fight again and it just grew bigger and bigger. I didn’t realize at the time how much hurt I caused those around me while I was at war with this beast by myself, I didn’t want them to be a part of it, but the collateral damage of my war was hitting them hard. Eventually, I gave up, I went back to the fantasy world which felt even more comforting this time. I just wanted a short vacation in that fantasy world to recover, thinking I could step out of it anytime, but that was a lie. The pain body was behind all of this, it beat me down to the point where it knew I would fold and seek peace in the fantasy world, and the pain body grew more and more as I floated in fantasy. I was stuck in the fantasy world because I was aware of the thoughts and emotions which existed in the real world, I wanted to leave the fantasy, but I couldn’t face the real world. The pain body started chasing me further into the fantasy world, and the deeper I went into it, the darker it got. The fantasy world wasn’t blissful anymore, it was becoming dark and miserable. I had to arrest myself, I finally realized “I can’t do this alone, I’m desperate, I need help and I’ll be open this time”.
I made the choice to go into a mental institution for 6 weeks and this time I was willing to work hard to get better, I was done with the misery and thought, “it’s worth a shot”. I was so used to isolating myself and trying to do everything by myself that it was unusual at first. People there were so open, so kind, men cried and told their truth, but they laughed and made jokes too. I saw that and thought, “I want that too”. But there was a part of me that was still scared to be cracked open, my pain body was trying to deflect any help. I worked the program hard there and started reaping the rewards, but a lot of my behaviors hadn’t changed, behaviors that I wasn’t aware of, that were still feeding the pain body, I started getting depressed again and I didn’t know why. Then I was finally cracked open, with some resistance from within, in my final week, and came to the realization about my behavior, 8 year old me (when the pain body in me was born) was still running the show. He was still manipulating, he still held feelings of worthlessness that had started to creep back after all the work I had done. This was the first time I was made aware of my behavior and my pain body. It was as if something was ripped out of me and put in a spotlight in front of me to see it for what it really was, I felt free. I knew how to fight the pain body successfully now, I knew what was feeding the pain body, I could stop feeding it, and I could do the opposite of what it wanted me to do. I reflected on my whole life and realized my pain body had been behind almost every event in my life, every action I took. A smile took over my face, I felt immense guilt, but I knew I need not live like that anymore, I was free from that life if I chose to act on what I had learned about myself.
I learned from this that I could never do it alone. Alone I had driven myself to madness and insanity. I learned that it was a choice all along, a choice I had avoided. A choice to make the effort, to tear down my walls, that the pain body had built, and listen to other trusted individuals. It was a difficult choice, it took me most of my life to make that choice, it was an uncomfortable choice to let others into my life, but that choice was freeing. I’ve talked to many people who tried doing it all alone, no one I have spoken to has succeeded. They all had to ultimately make the choice to get help. They helped themselves by making a choice to tear down their defensive walls, being honest, and willing to put in the effort.
It’s a complex choice, not a “yes” or “no” choice, it’s multi-faceted. We choose to let go of the defense mechanisms that our pain body has put up, we chose to put in the effort to actually do something to work towards happiness by changing our thinking patterns and our behavior. We choose to stop feeding the pain body. We can think of change all we want, but that’s only a thought, action is required for real change. Probably the most difficult choice in my life has been to let happiness in, and all along I didn’t even realize that it was a choice. Yes not everyone is privileged with circumstances and resources to act on that choice, but it’s a similar situation to many parts of life, for example, some people have very little access to education, but they make do with what they have and can still be successful.
It is the effort that brings about happiness, but first, we must choose to put in the hard work, to let people into our lives. So yes, happiness is a choice if you look at it from a certain angle. The rage that comes after hearing that statement is the resistance of the pain body, the resentment it wants to build, and that anger kept inside turns to depression, feeding the pain body. Of course, happiness won’t last forever, we have bad patches, but if we choose to keep putting in the effort, that happiness can last longer.
In this swimming pool of life where every drop of water is a person, we find peace and happiness in ourselves by choosing to stay afloat or to swim with the aid of the droplets closest to us, or we can choose to see the negative in those droplets and allow them to drown us.