01.01.2013 Relationships

Allow Yourself to Be Happy

Every day is a chance to renew your spirit afresh, says counsellor Dr Charmaine Saunders

At this time of year, it seems apt to talk about the good things in life. It's great to have them but more important to enjoy them.

Pleasure represents different things to each of us individually. I'm more interested in the philosophy of pleasure, that is, how we might indulge ourselves in it without guilt. If you think you totally immerse yourself in your desires, think again. How much do you do without guilt? What limitations do you place on yourself? How selective are you? For example, do you only allow safe pleasures like gardening or sport, or are you prepared to take risks?

One of my daily affirmations is. "My only responsibility is to be happy." That might sound pretty frivolous but my belief is that if I focus on getting the most joy out of each day, I will be far more tolerant of others, better company, work more creatively and generally be far more giving. I also notice that routine is really enjoyable when I'm feeling good and oppressively stifling when I'm not.

As I've said often, human beings are not good at being happy. It makes us feel uncomfortable, fearful, anxious - when will things change and maybe get bad? What's coming round the corner we won't like? Yet happiness is as simple as breathing, as natural as a child's laughter. Why not give yourself over to it?

When things are easy, we take them for granted but is that necessarily a bad thing?

The greatest gift sometimes is to be able to take the things and people we love for granted. Not to the extent where it can lead to contempt or abuse but so that we can be comfortable with our gifts and not doubt them. Above all, we should nurture our closest relationships and other precious life treasures, trusting that they are indeed ours and with a sensitive amount of care, can always be.

The type of 'taking for granted' that can be positive is where there's lack of struggle, insecurity and uncertainty. As long as we hold on too tightly to what we have, choosing fear over serenity, we can never really know peace and true prosperity.

It's okay to be a little 'hungry' in life because if we had everything we wanted all the time, there'd be nothing to strive for and no sense of achievement when we do succeed.

So, as with everything in life, balance is the key. Let us embrace our triumphs with enough humility to learn from both successes and so-called failures. Life is full of both. No one can ever exist without some strife, disappointment and conflict but these can only cripple us if we allow then to define us. We are more than our achievements or mistakes.

Lightness of Being
If we have set expectations and require perfect outcomes, we will never be free - we will be the victims of our own self image, slaves to ambition, vanity, ego and greed. A good rule of thumb is to live without obsession and with moderation, boring as that notion often is. Anything we want too much, seek too much and give too much energy to, will turn around and bite us, sooner or later. Live light. Then our motives are always pure and the taste of acceptance, when it comes, undiluted. "Don't sweat the small stuff", especially in relationships.

When it comes to relationships specifically, communication is all important. We live in a social climate for the simple reason that we choose to live in a society. That means we are involved with relationships of all kinds all the time. Some are momentary, some significant and some transitory.

Yet, communication between people is one of the trickiest minefields we have to negotiate on a daily basis. Difficulties in this area account for a large percentage of our conflicts, misunderstandings and fights. As with all life-skills, there are tools available to help us communicate more effectively, get on better with others generally and interact in a positive way.

Vitality is life. When we are fully involved in life, we have wellbeing, inner and outer health, positive energy - vitality.

Everyone wants it and everyone can have it. It's mainly associated in people's minds with physical fitness and prowess but holistic vitality is much more satisfying. This means using the vital lifeforce to improve every area of daily existence so that mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally, we can be at our peak, living life fully and joyfully.

The first requirement is that emotions and needs are honoured. Listen to your inner voice and let it guide you. Fulfil your own needs every day, not when you have time or when someone else lets you. You'll see the signs when vitality in your life improves - an eagerness to start each day; much more enthusiasm for your work, relationships, chores, routines; better general health and yes, wide-ranging prosperity beginning to manifest. It will become the raw material for a generally better experience of being alive.

Clean Slate
The key is remembering that each day is a new beginning, a cliche that nevertheless is quite true. Every day is a chance to renew your spirit afresh. No matter how jaded you feel, how far from vitality, how blocked you think you are, how many addictions you're enslaved to, how depressed you've been - vitality is just one decision away. The choice is yours. Grab life, make a list of strategies and work through them till the fog clears and you start to feel good about yourself then determine to stay vital. You're alive, after all, so act like it! Let go of struggle and negative thinking; embrace joy.

That's a great spirit in which to commence a new year. If you're into resolutions, make that a key one - I will allow myself to be happy!


Help with my Break Up
Q. I am going through a break up at the moment. I don't feel the same for the man. He is giving me a hard time. I have told him that my feelings have changed and he says that there is a lot I can do for that. Please help. Tell me what to do. I have already moved out and am enjoying myself with my two boys. He keeps on telling me that I can do a lot more to try and improve my feelings.

Your question answers itself. It seems to me that you have already done a lot to 'improve your feelings' by leaving this relationship! You don't say why you wanted to end it with this marriage but the point is, it's your choice. He doesn't have to like it or accept it. And even if you're wrong, it's your mistake to make. I don't feel, however, that you are wrong because you say you are happy in your new life, which is a pretty clear indication that you know what's right for you and you've moved on.

It's sad for this man if he still loves you but don't let him play with your head by making the whole situation your responsibility. Yes, you can learn to love someone again if the relationship is a positive one and you want to work on it. But if you don't, there's really nothing more to say. You can't force feelings you don't have. They may come back at a later date or they may not.

You don't need me to tell you what you already know but I suggest you lay it out to your husband very clearly. Ask him for some time and then agree to see him for closure. Be honest with him if you don't know why your feelings changed but tell him you can't go back.

Need for Space
How do I deal with my girlfriend's need for space and her inability to assure me that it's not me but her? I am afraid that when she asks for space, she will not dump me because of my personality traits but because she doesn't want me to go through the hurt even though I don't mind as I love her so much.

You sound bitterly insecure about this girl. And any relationship based on hurt that only runs one way is not about love but about self abuse.

Okay, how do you know that she wants to break up at all? My advice to you is to start with that question. Use your own powerful intuition to judge the truth. She may genuinely feel the need for a break at the moment but not necessarily a break-up! Couldn't you just ask her straight out as you've outlined it to me? It is not her job to reassure you. You need to know your own worth and not be afraid to risk being honest and vulnerable.

If you're right and she's trying to ease you out painlessly, tell her you'd rather be told this. If not, trust her to come back when she's ready. You can't force someone to be honest or tell you what you want to hear. Either you have a real relationship or you don't. Has it occurred to you that your fear of losing her is causing the very tension that she seeks a break from? Back off a little and don't focus on getting dumped or hurt. If you really love her, you will think about what she needs whilst looking after your own interests. You sound expectant of being a victim and unfortunately, our expectations often create our lives so try to think more positively.

More Respect
I want to know if leaving my husband for a few days will teach him to appreciate me more or will this have an even worse effect on our relationship? I feel he is starting to take me for granted and I have spoken to him about this but he took his mother for granted so why should I be any different, right?
The nicer his mother was to him, the worse he treated her. I refuse to do everything for him because I have respect for myself but how can I get him to respect me more?

When you say you've talked to your husband about how you feel, was this in the form of discussion or just complaining? I don't know how long you've been married but if he's just starting to take you for granted, it may not be very long so there's still a chance for you to establish a pattern within your relationship that you can both live with. If he learnt to be emotionally lazy in his dealings with women through his mother, you have to reeducate him but it must be done gently and with love. Walking out at this stage could harm your marriage but as a strategy, it can work because of its shock value. I would try a subtler approach first if I were you. Explain to him how you feel and that you want an equal marriage based on mutual respect; ask him to offer some input on ways that you can achieve this. Make it clear that the marriage belongs to both of you and you want to work as a team.

It's good that you respect yourself and don't do everything for him but if the face of love for your husband is a woman sacrificing herself totally for him and he's not getting that, he could be feeling insecure also. Teach him over time that love isn't self sacrifice or self abuse but trust, respect and communication. If you respect yourself and stick to your guns, he will come to respect you. There's no other way to gain it. Good luck.

Dr Charmaine Saunders

Dr Charmaine Saunders was a much loved relationships counsellor and speaker who wrote for NOVA for many years. She died in July 2013.