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The 5 Happiness Zappers & What Helps me Cope With Them

The 5 Happiness Zappers & What Helps me Cope With Them

“Emotion in itself is not unhappiness. Only emotion plus an unhappy story is unhappiness.” ~Eckhart Tolle

When my mother told me, “Honey, you don’t understand; you can’t,” initially I felt like she was being condescending.

It was Mother’s Day and, unbeknownst to me, the last time I’d see her before her final hospital visit.

We’d spent that Saturday updating her computer, watching waves at the beach, and picking up seashells, then eating dinner at a popular local restaurant frequented by travelers, including famous musicians on tour buses because of its location off of the interstate.

In the early evening, she was lying on her back talking about nothing. She mentioned to me that she was organizing all her photographs in zip lock bags and she wanted them to be accessible to her sister, my brother, as well as me. It sounded odd, but it was significant.

“Why?” I asked.

“I’m not going to live forever,” she said.

“But you’re doing fine right now,” I responded referring to her health at the moment. She had to relocate to be closer to her older sister because of her health issues in recent years.

The conversation segued to how much she missed her mother, my nanny, who’d passed away twenty-two years earlier. Her voice was full of emotion and angst that caught me completely off guard. My nanny was my closest friend and I missed her. However, I could see that my mom misses her on a deeper level than I realized.

I asked her questions to try and understand what she was missing. Was she missing talking to me? Her cooking skills? Her laugh? But she didn’t or couldn’t answer. Instead, she looked into my eyes with one of those motherly looks that said, “enough of the questions.” Then she said, “Honey, you don’t understand. You can’t.”

We watched TV, and we continued to chat about lighthearted things before we went to bed.

Although the conversation felt unsettling, I did what most of us do when something rattles our gut—I ignored it.

My aunt called me three months later to inform me that my brother had to be there fast because my mother was still in hospital. She died after two surgeries, almost three weeks on a ventilator and almost three months in ICU.

That’s when the journey started and I’d finally be able to understand the meaning of my mother’s haunting words.

It’s been almost eighteen years since she passed. Even now, there are times when her loss is as devastating as it ever was. When that happens, I replay the conversation we had on Mother’s Day in my head and realize how right she was. Then I cry more because I want to tell her how right she was but can’t.

There are some things you can’t really understand until you experience them. You can imagine how you’d feel in a situation, how you’d react to it. That’s empathy. Or, you could just be aware that the experience would be awful. That’s sympathy. However, you can’t really understand until you experience it.

As the founder of the Society of Happy People, I’ve spent a lot of time understanding happiness. Because I wanted people to see all the happiness they don’t notice or take as a given, I created 31 types of happiness.

However, after losing my mom, I also realized what is really obvious yet not always acknowledged—all unhappiness isn’t the same. There’s a huge difference in grieving a loss and being stressed because you’re late for a lunch date due to traffic annoyances.

While both can cause you to feel sad or depressed at the moment, they have lingering effects that are very different. There are many different experiences that can make us feel unhappy. Yet we’ve been taught to think if we aren’t happy, we’re simply unhappy. It’s an oversimplification of our emotional experiences.

I began thinking about experiences that would take me from feeling good to Happiness Zappers.

I then began to classify them as: stress, fear chaos, unhappiness and annoyances.

Then, depending on the type of Happiness Zapper, I’d decide how to manage it. Some zappers simply didn’t have the same effects as others. However, in all cases if I didn’t acknowledge the zapper, it would manage me instead of me managing it.

Every single person on the planet will have different Happiness Zappers. How we handle them has a huge impact on their longevity and how much happiness they bring to our lives.

These are the five types of Happiness Zappers:

1. Unhappiness

When we have to create a new normal, unhappiness is often linked with loss.

The ultimate loss is obviously the death of a loved pet or someone we care about.

Others can make our lives difficult: unexpected career changes, health issues, friendship or family discordances, as well as other normal, expected, and even unanticipated life changes like aging, empty nesting, caretaking, or retirement.

Unhappiness results from experiences that we rarely have control over and probably didn’t want to happen yet have to learn to live with. It takes time for us to accept the fact that we cannot control certain circumstances. And there may always be moments even after we think we’ve adjusted or healed from a loss when the void is triggered, and it can shoot a pang in our heart that makes us feel sad again.

The pain that comes with loss can subside over time. However, we may feel the loss, sadness, and hurt all over again.

2. Stress

Stress refers to when we feel pressure or tension due to things that need a response from our bodies. This can have a negative impact on our mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

We all feel stressed at times. There are many stressors that can cause anxiety, but some of the most common include too many tasks, too much uncertainty, making difficult decisions, dealing with difficult people/events, and having to deal with too many different situations.

Whatever the source of our stress, it’s important that we learn to manage it because it adversely impacts our overall health when we don’t. Every situation is unique and stress management can be difficult. Sometimes, it is necessary to make changes. Other times, it’s about utilizing tools that soothe our hearts, minds, and souls, such as meditation, exercise, aromatherapy, a thinking walk, a hot bath, or any fun activity.

The situations that create stress are fluid—which means once one is gone, another one shows up. That’s why it’s important to understand your stress triggers and the tools that help you manage your stressors.

3. Fear

Fear is a physiological response that can influence our behavior in dangerous situations or when we fear for our safety.

While some fears are real—your home is in the path of a hurricane landing, or you’re being abused, for example—the majority of our fears pertain to “what could happen,” and they’re usually worst-case instead of best-case scenarios.

When we don’t manage the fears in our mind, they often lead to regret. They stop us from trying new things, meeting new people, and doing things we’ve dreamed about. As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “A man’s life is the history of his fears.”

Sometimes, simply doing something that triggers a fear—like eating at a restaurant alone, applying for a job, or going to a party where you don’t know many people—regardless of the outcome, is our success. And successful is one of the Society of Happy People’s thirty-one types of happiness.

4. Chaos

Chaos is when things are chaotic, unorganized, or confusing.

Chaos could be anything from your alarm going off late, an unexpected guest showing up, or your boss changing your day’s to-do list, to dealing with an act of mother nature in your neighborhood.

It’s in those moments when you really aren’t in control that you simply have to move into a triage mode of tasks and priorities based on the current situation.

When you are in a chaotic situation, remember that most chaotic moments are temporary. The chaos will soon pass. Although there may be some lingering stressors, the chaos will pass.

5. Annoyances

Annoyances can be caused by someone or something that irritates us or bothers our mood.

You may not be bothered by what you find annoying one day. Annoyances are subjective to what’s going on around you at any given moment.

However, they have a common theme—you probably won’t remember them a year from now. So you need to ask yourself, “Is this really worth taking away from my happiness now?”

My mom’s death taught me many things. One of the most important lessons was that unhappiness isn’t everything that makes you feel bad. There are many ways to feel bad. It is not always about death, but loss and grieving that causes real sadness.

It is possible to cope with loss and grief by acknowledging it. This allows us to experience our many emotions when we are grieving. It allows us to cry, to be mad, to feel numb, and to mourn. Although unhappiness feels lonely, in most cases there are others who’ve been in similar places who can help us navigate our experience if we reach out.

Our other happiness zapping experiences—stress, fear, chaos, and annoyances—rarely have lingering pains. These Happiness Zappers can be managed in most cases. We also have the ability to control how long they last.

Unhappiness comes from experiences that most likely changed us and our lives in a way we didn’t want changed. This becomes part and parcel of our lives, and it will return to our hearts from time-to-time. It is possible to manage unhappiness better if we are able to understand its causes and how they work in our lives.

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Pamela Gail Johnson

Since 1998, Pamela Gail Johnson is a Practical Happiness Advocate. She founded the Society of Happy People. The first internationally recognized happiness holidays were created by her. She assists people in managing their Happiness Zappers and expanding their definition of happiness to make them happier. Pamela is a Life Transition Coach (CPC), and author of Practical Happiness: 4 Principles to Improve Your LivesFounder of the Society of Happy People.

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