I set forth on the journey into Positive Psychology for two reasons. First, to stop looking at everything through a muddy lens of what is wrong with people. Second, to far distance myself from the self-help homogeneous world of “you can do it—just put on a smile, and for $29.99 I will show you how”. Rightfully and thankfully, many professionals have banned together and published all sorts of great material related to happiness and well-being to provide insight into their area of expertise. However, not one, individually, can they address the uniqueness of every human experience; we cannot walk another person’s journey and find our destination, only find value from the insight.
This in itself becomes a double-edged sword when a person compares themselves to the outcome of a ready-cook process. In many of my classes, I ask my students to ponder or to think of what it means to them— simply because there is no one size fits all. I cringe at the sight of “5 easy steps…the secret to…and revolutionary break-through” It makes life look mechanically easy, and to be frank, at times it just isn’t. The word easy means: relaxed, calm, cool, stress-free… I can’t speak for all, but I know my life is never truly “stress-free”. The facade of easy steps then becomes a mirror to disappointment and sidetracks finding meaning and love for the perfectly imperfect self. Thus I propose each person must find their own compass to guide them; find what works for them, what generates happiness and meaning along the path and not fault themselves when “one” program, process or method does not work for them.
Taking the wheel
Truly appreciating one’s self is not as easy as it appears on the surface. We doubt ourselves, we question our abilities, and we are embarrassed at times, but we don’t often stop to consider that our own mind filter can act as a “back-seat-driver” guiding us to the one-way street, going the wrong way. Sure, you know it, the annoying “turn, here, why are you slowing down, can’t you go faster?”… When our mind is filled with “follow these steps…anyone can do it…in the end you will be…”, we follow in hopes things will get better, and maybe they will, but when they don’t we fault ourselves; remember, we are the driver. The fallout from this is feelings of failure, inadequacy and weakened efficacy; kind of the opposite of what was supposed to happen. Given the depth and breadth of the severity of experience the easy-follow-steps and “voila” expectation turns from friend to foe and the self-doubt cycle starts again—we must have driven down the wrong road; we compare our self to the many who have claimed easy success. The road of self-love and appreciation should include acknowledging our bodies, minds and souls are in a repairing state during the journey back from trauma or stress; we can’t force the healing process, only nourish it. The human journey has many speeds, many routes, and many turns.
Holding on to your compass
So how do we keep a true ally within? Grab your compass and claim it, claim your journey, claim the right steps, claim the wrong steps and everything in-between. I was never so comically entertained as when talking to a woman (at a random get-together) who had quite the colorful life. She talked flamboyantly about her adolescent time in juvenile detention and all the “rotten things” she had done, expressed deep sorrow when talking about her experience with depression after losing a child, voiced her abundant fear during her drug addiction stemming from that depression, and then after the long expressive story, she looked up, shook her head as if to let it all go and she said “and then I found…” She had found that one thing that set her compass straight on her course. She did not deny, suppress or redress her past; she embraced each step as part of her path. Quite honestly I thought to myself that I would like to be more like her. We are the keepers of our own compass and map, and the course is in our hands, not in the hands of fragile expectation.
Embracing the journey
To this day I have friends that struggle with PTSD, I myself am not surrounded by a bullet-proof glass shield (although at times I wish I were), and I know many who have struggled along their journey. Sometimes there is a revelation or epiphany, but sometimes there is not, and one may or may not get to their “there”. The journey might not always be reflected by an upward or forward motion, but in the end, the journey is what it is; all inclusive. We all fall down and we all have moments where the world seemed to have turned their back on us. Even in the bleak moments, we are human and we are made up of many emotions that are significant and important. When you or I don’t fit into the expectation box take comfort in knowing we are not supposed to; no one, no one book, no one program can define our unique journeys; only we get to do that.
About the author: Dr. Lynn Soots has been teaching psychology at the higher education level for over ten years. She is proud to integrate Positive Psychology applications in each of her courses to support growth and student goal attainment. She specializes in higher education online course room design, adult learning, and diversity appreciation.