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Choosing Happiness When It Doesn't Feel Like A Choice

Thinking about Thinking

Thoughts on thinking about thinking from the Raising Thinkers Series


Choosing Happiness When It Doesn't Feel Like A Choice

Tremaine du Preez

Experiencing change or loss is often out of our control but how we respond to it isn't 

A ginger fox trots casually past my study window; his brazen daylight excursion signalling colder nights and food that’s harder to find. Changes that he simply takes in his stride. As a serial expat who’s lived in 4 countries across 3 continents in 7 cities and over a dozen homes, change is a large part of the undulating life that I have chosen. Neighbourhoods, schools, work, climates, routines and faces change every few years along with the things that get broken and go missing every time.

Our most recent move from Singapore to London - codenamed Operation Winter - had been planned for two years and when the time came, we felt ready to transition again - excited actually. But three months into the move things went horribly wrong with the loss of a loved one. Someone small and helpless and so dear to us that our hearts broke wide open. We moved into our new home not knowing which shelf to put our sadness on, or where to find the smile we needed for the new neighbours or the inspiration to start new jobs.  

As a coach I often work with loss and change and the tremendous stress that these two partners impose. I knew how to work through this with a client but I had no will to do so myself. Instead I withdrew into a small, solitary routine where I could be heartbroken without being judged. 

My partner was going through exactly what I was, but he didn’t have the luxury of withdrawing, of saying that everything was fine when it was not. After some weeks I noticed that this man, who had faced the greatest change and deepest loss of us all, was not giving in to it. He stayed stubbornly optimistic about the future. Not because he wasn’t hurting but because he had made a choice to focus on those things he could control in his life and make peace with what he couldn’t. When I was ready to listen he told me how. 

Happiness is a choice

So is being angry or sad or staying positive when there is no logical reason to be. An emotion is a chemical (hormone) signal that our body produces in response to certain stimuli, after the initial response has passed it’s up to us to consciously perpetuate the feeling or let it go. My partner chose to hold on to the happy memories of our little loved one and focus on moving through the transition while I dug an emotional well so deep it became difficult to climb out of.

Moving forward doesn’t mean forgetting

Honouring your life and your own future is not selfish. Moving forward with all the joy and the laughter that you shared with your loved one but not the pain that their loss brought, will not harm them or their memory. Forgive them for leaving, forgive yourself for grieving. Refuse to stop seeing the beauty that persists in the silent morning mist, the new neighbours that take time to wring a smile out of you before they head off to work, the unprovoked kindness of strangers and the fact that the earth refuses to stop turning despite your best efforts. 

Your pain is directly proportioned to your loss, no-one else’s

The European refugee crisis has shrouded the news’ headlines throughout our move. I see the agonising, inhumane conditions that these mothers, fathers and children face and admonish myself for the effort I have put into maintaining my own sadness. There will always be someone with less and someone with more money, joy, pain and suffering than I have. To compare pain like postcodes was not going to make me feel better about it just better off than someone else. If I honour my pain instead and know that my loss was enormous to me then I can move forward having fully loved, lost and grieved.

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Tremaine du Preez is an executive coach, Huffington Post Blogger and lecturer in Critical Thinking, based in London. Her book Think Smart, Work Smarter - a practical guide to making better decisions at work is available from AmazonHer next book Raising Thinkers will be out soon.