4 Steps to Wisdom and Happiness

- | 67 Aha! comments | Posted in category: Happiness, Life & Inspiration

Woman sharing tips about wisdom and happiness

Your wisdom and happiness depends on you and your state of mind. If you can deal with your negative emotions, you can remain positive and happy.

This Friday, I take great pleasure to welcome a very special guest on Aha!NOW – Sue Neal! Besides being a writer and blogger, she’s also a retired mental health nurse. She’s here to share her wisdom and happiness tips, so over to her!
Here’s the thing – some people are a lot happier than others – right? And the happiest people you meet aren’t necessarily the richest, the healthiest or the luckiest, are they? Some wealthy individuals, who seem to have everything going for them, can be as miserable as sin.

On the other hand, there are those who radiate joy and happiness, despite suffering the most terrible hardships.

So what’s their secret?

It’s easy to say “think positive”, “look on the bright side”, “stop thinking your cup’s half empty and realise it’s half full” – but, as I know from personal experience, it’s not so easy to apply that kind of advice.

I’ll come clean and admit that I’ve been a life-long worrier, and in the past I often had a tendency to look on the black side.

In this post, I’m going to share with you a simple but powerful four step program that has helped me to change my perspective on life and has given me more wisdom and happiness. I’ve found it to be a very effective way to deal with those negative emotions that can make your life a misery.

It’s based on the teachings of Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit (Roman Catholic) priest, who drew on the teachings of Eastern mystics, as well as his own Christian tradition.

However, I want to emphasise that what follows has no “religious” component – I don’t personally subscribe to any particular religion, but still find de Mello’s teachings inspirational, because of his deep insights into the psychology of human wisdom and happiness.

How to Deal With Negative Emotions

Step One: Get In Touch With Your Negative Feelings

We all have negative feelings – but do you realise you may be harbouring some you’re not even aware of?

People are often weighed down by feelings of depression, anger, guilt, self-hatred, anxiety, jealousy, envy, nervous tension – but they don’t always recognise them for what they are.

You may have witnessed the slightly comic effect of someone in a violent rage, screaming “I’m NOT angry!!” – that’s an extreme example of someone who’s clearly out of touch with their feelings.

But it’s surprising how easy it is for us to be in a state of denial about our less attractive and endearing emotions.

We love telling people how happy we are; but it’s not so comfortable to acknowledge we’re full of suppressed envy, guilt, anxiety or depression.

The trouble is, those feelings often find expression in other ways – for example, they can affect our behaviour and the way we treat people, or they can result in problems such as insomnia, or physical illnesses like high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes.

Our negative feelings are at the root of our unhappiness, but we can’t deal with them if we’re not in touch with them. Dealing with the symptoms (the marriage that’s on the rocks, the chronic indigestion, that terrible relationship with your boss) isn’t going to lead to a lasting solution.

It’s like treating flea bites that keep appearing on your legs when your house is infested – the bites will keep coming back unless and until you realise your house is full of fleas and you get rid of them.

So that’s step one: be honest with yourself and get in touch with those dark feelings you may not want to own up to.

A man dancing overjoyed with wisdom and happiness

Step Two: Understand the Feeling is in YOU, Not in Reality

That may seem obvious, but we’re very good at projecting our feelings onto the external world – or onto other people. Here’s a simple example:

You feel miserable because it’s raining today – you might even say something like, “it’s a miserable day”. No it’s not! The day is fine, the weather is fine – it’s raining, that’s all. Maybe there’s a hurricane blowing. But if you’re feeling miserable, that feeling’s in you; it’s not part of external reality. The problem exists in your head.

Or maybe it’s a person who’s getting you down, and you’ll say, “She makes me so angry!” Does she really? Can someone else actually get inside your head and make you angry?

So you’re feeling all this anger inside, but you’re not “owning” the anger; you’re too busy blaming the other person (or the weather!)for the way you’re feeling.

Understand that the anger, the depression, the frustration, the tension – whatever it is you’re feeling – is in you.

You can’t influence the weather; you can’t control the way someone else behaves towards you; but you can influence the way you react.

We talk about people “winding us up”, don’t we? As if we’re nothing more than marionettes or mechanical toys, under someone else’s power and control. But that’s an illusion – the only person who’s really in control of your emotions is you.

So the second step is to take ownership of your emotions and accept responsibility for the way you’re feeling.

Step Three: Never Identify With the Feeling

Although the feeling is in you, take care not to identify with it as if it’s part of your essential self. Don’t define yourself in terms of that feeling.

The negative feeling is a passing thing – it’s not part of your own identity. So try to avoid saying things like “I am depressed” or “I am anxious” – because when you say that, you’re labelling yourself – defining yourself – as being that feeling. And you’re not – you’re so much more than that.

This is tricky, because it’s the way we tend to speak about our feelings, but it’s very unhelpful. Try re-phrasing it by saying something like, “feelings of depression are there” or “I can sense some feelings of anxiety right now”.

I used to describe myself, and think of myself, as an anxious person – I’d often tell myself “I’m anxious” – but not any longer. I still sometimes have feelings of anxiety and I recognise them for what they are, but I no longer identify with them as part of me, because they’re not.

You’d be amazed how taking that simple step can strip negative feelings of their power over you – it’s a great way of taking back control.

Keep reminding yourself that these are transient feelings that will pass, like clouds in the sky. Just as when you’re feeling overjoyed, you know that feeling of ecstasy’s not going to last, don’t you? It’s the same with negative feelings – they come and they go.

So that’s the third step: avoid identifying with your negative feelings – remember, they’re not an essential part of you.

Step Four: Realise that when YOU Change, Everything Changes

We often think our happiness depends on something else or somebody else changing – if only the my stocks would rise, if only my boss would be nicer to me, if only my kids would behave, if only the sun would shine, if only my wife would stop nagging, if only Google’s Pandas and Penguins would go away……

Anthony de Mello puts it very well – he says it’s like we’re sick, so we go to the doctor and ask him to prescribe a medicine for our wife or our boss or our kids – then we’ll feel better. Sounds crazy, I know, but that’s often the way we think – how wonderful life would be, if only someone else would change.

But the way to wisdom and happiness is to recognise that you’re the one who needs to take the medicine, as it were.

You’re the only one who can recognise and deal with your negative emotions; you’re the one who needs to change.

So step four involves waking up to the fact that your happiness depends on you – realising that when you change, everything changes. And that rainy day doesn’t seem so bad after all…..

Over to you –

How do you deal with your negative emotions? If you have any tips you’d like to share, from your own personal experience, please leave a comment below – I’d love to hear from you.

Photo Credit: FreeDigitalPhotostnarik

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67 Comments - Read and share thoughts

  1. Susan Neal

    2014-01-15 at 3:25 am

    Hi there – thanks very much for your comment and I just love the quote you’ve given us there – what a great thought with which to start the day – thank you 🙂

  2. mmahessh

    2014-01-12 at 1:32 pm

    Very nice and interesting post on wisdom and happiness and i can recall a quote on this which i read a week back.

    Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.

  3. Susan Neal

    2013-11-26 at 11:38 pm

    Hi Arelis,

    I think we’ve all done that at one time or another – let our emotions define us, that is. It’s wonderful that you’ve discovered the way to free yourself from that bind, Arelis – as you say, we’re NOT our emotions – we are so much more than that.

    Thanks so much for your affirming feedback 🙂

  4. Arelis Cintron

    2013-11-26 at 3:30 am

    I have to admit that I would let my emotions define me. I would hold on to them and it was just the worst time of my life. When I started to ask myself why am I feeling this way it opened up a door. I focused on the positive. I still let myself feel my emotions but I no longer let them define me. I’ll let them stay for a short time, acknowledge them and let them go. Like you say Sue, we’re sad/mad/upset/depressed and then we’re not. We’re not that emotion.

    Great post!

  5. Donna

    2013-11-25 at 10:05 am

    Hi Sue!

    What a wonderful post! How easy it is to let negative emotions rule us. Define us. And so easy to blame others (other things). I know I’ve been guilty of it, myself. By the same token, I don’t let others take my joy from me. Oftentimes, people are unhappy and they want everyone around them to be unhappy… no one else can take my joy from me. 🙂

    • Susan Neal

      2013-11-25 at 7:33 pm

      Hi Donna – I know just what you mean about the potentially infectious nature of misery – I think it applies to anxiety, too. When you’re around someone who’s very tense or low in mood, it can feel as if they’re trying to drag you into their mindset – like you, I make a conscious effort not to let that happen. It’s so important not to let other people control how we feel.

      Thanks so much for your feedback 🙂

  6. Carol B

    2013-11-24 at 11:09 pm

    Hi Sue and Harleena, thanks for a great post on wisdom and happiness. Having a Type A personality, and a former job that created a lot of stress, can’t say that I’ve always been very good at managing negativity, especially negative emotions. Perhaps age has mellowed me, or perhaps it was leaving corporate America, I find that I am better at it now. Oh, and I go for a run when I’m hedging towards a “negative day”. It’s amazing how for me, a run always seems to bring me back into “the positive.”

    • Susan Neal

      2013-11-25 at 7:25 pm

      Hi Carol – I think our underlying personalities and social circumstances can certainly make a difference – some people seem to be naturally more laid back than others. Plus, jobs and families present different emotional challenges

      Like you, I feel I’ve got better at dealing with negative feelings as I’ve got older, but I don’t think it’s something that just happens naturally with age. I used to work with older people with mental health problems, and I’ve come across lots of people who’ve developed more intense emotional issues – anxiety, depression etc. – in later life. For whatever reason, it’s great that you now feel better able to deal with negativity.

      Exercise is a great de-stresser – I find a good brisk walk or jog is a big help, too, if ever I’m feeling a bit down – it’s an excellent way to lift the spirits.

      Thanks so much for your comments, Carol 🙂

  7. Susan Neal

    2013-11-23 at 9:45 pm

    Hi Tanya – you’ve just made my day. A comment like yours makes it all seem worthwhile.

    I’m really sorry that you experience bouts of low mood, but it’s great that you recognise the source of the problem and feel able to start dealing with those negative feelings. The trouble with those “minor” niggling issues is that they can seem like mountains when you’re feeling down and don’t have things in perspective.

    Thanks so much for letting me know you’ve found this helpful – I wish you happiness and joy, Tanya 🙂

  8. Tanya

    2013-11-23 at 2:27 am

    Oh, Susan. You have no idea how much I needed to read this. Great practical advice that I can implement today. Every few years I seem to sink into a bit of depression and it has a lot to do with suppressing my emotions. While my family life is really good and supportive, we are guarded with our emotions. So it’s been my tendency to “lock-down” any emotion or feeling that hurts or is negative instead of simply dealing with the issue. I recognize this now and am actively working to address those issues (which are so minor at the end of the day!) and let them go. I have so much to be thankful for and I want to appreciate and enjoy life.

  9. Susan Neal

    2013-11-23 at 1:59 am

    Hi Maggie – I use a journal, too – like you, I find it’s a very good way to keep track of your feelings and reactions and, as you say, to get things into perspective.

    Many thanks for your comment 🙂

  10. Maggie

    2013-11-22 at 8:23 pm

    Great post, Sue! Realizing that a feeling is just how you feel right now is so important. If it’s difficult to remember, I find keeping a journal does help. Reading back over feelings from previous days helps give some perspective.

  11. Susan Neal

    2013-11-16 at 11:56 pm

    Hi Bob,

    Thank you very much for the warm welcome – I must say, it’s an honour to be here and lovely to meet you.

    I was interested to hear your friend’s quote – I can see why you disagreed with him but, in a way, I think I know where he was coming from – because our thoughts and feelings can indeed shape our lives, for good or ill. For example, if we DO identify with those feelings of depression and anxiety, then we’re going to have a pretty miserable existence. But there’s no need for us to be passive victims of our thoughts – if that’s what your friend meant, then you were right to disagree with him.

    As you rightly say, we should be able to control our thoughts and feelings – and that’s really what this post’s all about – helping people to see that they can regain control over their feelings and, as you so powerfully put it, “forge our own destiny”.

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments, Bob – greatly appreciated 🙂

  12. Olili Bob

    2013-11-16 at 3:43 am

    Hi Sue, welcome to Harleena’s blog.

    I love this post because it a post that would also help you to understand the inner you. I love all the tips you have shared especially your third point which is never to identify with the feeling, it reminds me of an argument I with a friend during my university days. His favorite quote was “our lives are what our thoughts makes it”, and I do not like that quote because I believe that we shouldn’t let our feelings shaping our lives because we should be able to control them and whatever you think is in your head and not in reality. Also I love your last point because whenever we change, things around us changes and we should learn to move with the tides of our lives and forge our own destiny. Great post.


  13. Susan Neal

    2013-11-11 at 10:25 pm

    Hi Cararta,

    I’m so sorry this is such a difficult and unhappy time of year for you – and I can entirely relate to your being a “worry-wart” because that’s been one of my weaknesses, too, as I mention in the post.

    Focusing on what you can do right now to make things better is a great strategy – worrying about what might or might not happen in the future can be hard to resist, but it’s a great waste of emotional energy and usually does nothing but make us miserable.

    I hope you manage to overcome those residual unhappy feelings, Cararta.

    Thanks so much for letting me know you’ve found the post helpful – I really appreciate your comments 🙂

  14. Cararta

    2013-11-11 at 3:30 am

    Hi Sue,

    What a great post, just when I needed it!

    This time of year is rather sad for me, noticed lately that I have been tearing up when I read things that touch a nerve. October is a “bad” month for me, made it through, but still have some unhappy hanging around.

    You are right, you just can’t decide the cup is half-full and fix anything…it takes more.

    Copied down several of Harleena’s links and plan to take the time to read.

    My younger sister always says I’m a worry-wart, so I have worked on leaving worry about what might happen out of the mix and focus on what I can do to change the here and now…which should change the what is to come!

  15. Lisa

    2013-11-10 at 11:50 pm

    Sue, what an inspiring post!

    Great to see you here too on Harleena’s blog. I tend to hid my negative feelings which is not really a good thing. It’s a powerful lesson to learn that someone can’t control how you feel, but you can control how you react to others. If they want to bring you down, you must take control and not let it happen. It’s always easier said than done, I know. I love your example of the rain in that the feeling is in us but not our reality. That speaks volumes! Thank you Sue for making my day better after reading this.

    • Susan Neal

      2013-11-11 at 10:19 pm

      Hi Lisa,

      I think it’s very common and very natural for us to want to hide our negative feelings – because we just want them to go away. And you’re absolutely right that controlling our reactions is easier said than done – it’s something we have to keep working on. That’s where I find these four steps very helpful to keep in mind.

      Thanks so much for your lovely feedback – your comment’s made my day, too 🙂

  16. Susan Neal

    2013-11-10 at 10:42 pm

    …and that was a beautiful comment, Angela.

    You’ve demonstrated very powerfully, from your experience of your father’s anger, how damaging negative emotions can be, for ourselves and for those close to us, if we don’t find constructive ways of dealing with them – that must have been very difficult for your mother and your whole family to cope with. If we don’t acknowledge and deal with those feelings, we end up hurting other people or hurting ourselves – or both.

    I entirely agree with you that negative feelings are a normal part of life, and not something we should be ashamed of or try to suppress. I think that’s often the trouble – people ARE ashamed of them, so don’t want to own them, and that’s when those tricky emotions go underground and create all kinds of mayhem.

    It sounds as if you’ve developed some really positive ways of dealing with your own feelings, Angela – writing about them and taking some vigorous exercise are two of my favourite strategies, too. I think writing is really helpful, because it’s a great way to facilitate reflection on our emotional state and I find it often helps me to get things in perspective.

    I’m very grateful to you for sharing your own experiences and thoughts so generously in this comment, Angela – I’m sure other readers will be able to relate to what you’ve said and will find your comment very helpful and encouraging – thank you so much 🙂

  17. Angela McCall

    2013-11-10 at 4:30 am

    Hey Sue,

    It’s good to see you as a guest blogger here on Harleena’s. Seeing both of you here in one spot is like hitting 2 birds with one stone. It’s good to have both of the best people I know in my life!

    Well…let me reiterate what the bible said, “Be angry but do not sin. Do not let the sun go down upon your wrath.” I don’t remember what verse is that but I do remember the words so well. And so, it means that God created all these emotions in us. We are entitled to our emotions whether this is negative or positive. It is ours. It is our own emotions.

    However, dealing with anger and anxiety…can be very tricky sometimes. I remember my dad whenever he was feeling negative emotionally, he would hit my mom and he would scare the rest of us kids to death. He just didn’t know how to handle his negative emotions. And THIS can be very detrimental in any of your relationship with anyone. Work or Home.

    So how do you handle negative emotions?

    You actually stated everything here. Right on the nail. You said it right. How I handle my emotions is…sometimes I write it down on my journal. And I will just write things like…”I am angry…I feel abandoned…I feel ignored…” just FEELINGS no story telling… then later on I will “acknowledge” it and say, okay those were my feelings then. What made me feel this way? So after acknowledging it, I understand myself better. I feel the way I feel because….for whatever reason…

    Sometimes, when I’m so angry I would scream in my car when nobody can hear me. Or take a jog on the block, to let out my energy!! I think ANGRY feelings should let the steam out in a “healthy manner” or else if you KEEP it to yourself and didn’t manage it the way it should be, it’ll start breaking in your body (i.e. ulcer, cancer).

    So I believe we are entitled to our feelings. It’s neither right or wrong. It just is. It is our very own. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about this. This is a beautiful post. See you soon…


  18. Susan Neal

    2013-11-09 at 7:34 pm

    Hello Ahsan,

    That’s very well said – if we didn’t have any sorrow in our lives, we wouldn’t be truly human. The trick is not to let those negative feelings overwhelm us – to let them go and move on, as you say.

    Many thanks for your wise comment 🙂

4 Steps to Wisdom and Happiness

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