1. a. Something that takes place; an occurrence.
b. A significant occurrence or happening. See Synonyms at occurrence.
c. A social gathering or activity.
2. The final result; the outcome.
3. Sports A contest or an item in a sports program.
4. Physics A phenomenon or occurrence located at a single point in space-time, regarded as the fundamental observational entity in relativity theory.
Today is my birthday. I’ve definitely achieved an age where birthdays are nothing much to brag about, but I still love them! I had to work, which is never onerous as I have an awesome job—doing therapy, which I liken to a friendly process of selling people on their own best interest.
I had the occasion to explain a basic Cognitive Behavioral Theory framework to a 16 year old, and ended up applying it to my own Event (I like #4, where a phenomenon or occurrence is located at a single point in space-time).
You see, it goes like this:
1. Events happen. (they are neither good nor bad)
2. We think thoughts/have opinions about them.
3. These thoughts, sometimes so conditioned/fast-moving we can’t detect them, generate emotions within us (we have to slow down and detect them, examine them.)
4. We take action/make choices based on those emotions/thoughts. (Usually emotions are more powerful as motivators)
5. Those actions/choices generate outcomes, which in turn affect the Events of our lives.
I have a worksheet I’ve made with boxes for each stage that I use to work scenarios in a graphic hands-on way with clients. In the course of this morning’s session, I had occasion to reflect on a deeper truth in a new way.
Unfulfilled expectations are the source of most unhappiness.
Most negative emotion associated with anticipatory events (like birthdays) has to do with the expectations (thoughts/opinions) we have in anticipation of something. We have hopes, we have expectations, and if they aren’t met we get disappointed which results in sad/angry. Over time and repeated disappointments we can get conditioned that holidays are bad, birthdays are a pain, etc.
What’s the way out? Get clear about what’s really happening and what you’re really thinking/hoping for. Make your best effort to fulfill your own expectations—after all the husband probably isn’t a mind reader, and the co-workers don’t know it’s your birthday if you don’t tell them, and in the end we can make our own birthday cake just the way we like it. Whose responsibility is it, really, to fulfill our expectations?
I believe we are each responsible for our own happiness. It is no one’s job to make anyone else happy and discovering this is actually very empowering. (Of course, try telling that to an oppositional-defiant 16 year old, like I tried to this morning. Their favorite pastime is making their emotions everyone else’s problem—but when I told him it was my birthday and worked the CBT model on myself regarding my own expectations, he GOT the concept and his attitude shifted.)
Dig deep enough with an unhappy person and you will find a habitual pattern of expecting others to fulfill expectations and needs: LIFE, God, other people and the universe included haven’t fulfilled their expectations. Wow, that’s a tall order! Who could possibly fill that black hole?
(That’s why medication isn’t enough to deal with most depression—best results come from medication and therapy combined.)
The secret to happiness is being real about your expectations and taking responsibility for fulfilling them yourself—combined with proper diet, a spiritual framework/understanding, meaningful work, exercise, the right amount of sleep, good connections with people, and maybe a fuzzy pet or two. If that doesn’t work, something is medically wrong.
Shoot. Thousands of hours of research, philosophy, years of education and collective universal wisdom just went into that sentence I gave you for free. ‘Course, applying it is a little tricky sometimes, but here’s to happiness in 2011! I for one am going for it.
(PS- Facebook birthday wishes are truly amazing and a whole new way to feel loved. They blew my mind this year, I hadn’t been on FB long enough to develop expectations around this phenomenon.)