Unhappiness Traps (Part 1)
I believe we all want to be happy. In our efforts to be happy, we try to find it by looking in all the wrong places: our spouse, our kids, possessions, jobs, money, etc., etc. The truth is, these things are nice and can bring short-term happiness, but they will never completely fulfill that deep void we have inside.
When we hit bottom and find we are still not as happy we hoped to be, we come to a place where we have to ask ourselves, “What did I miss? Why is it that everything I try to do is not making me happy?”
God knew we would struggle with this, and in Romans, Paul addressed our human condition, which shows we are incapable of doing the right thing consistently to be happy. Romans 7:15 says, “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”
So how do we find happiness? First, let’s begin with an answer from Matthew 5:3: “Happy are those who are spiritually poor.” If we want happiness, we need to admit and embrace the ways we have been trying to find it in our own power, in our own way, and seek out how God would want us to instead.
Happiness Stealers: Four Traps that Lead to Unhappiness
1. Trying to control our outward image
We all want to be liked, accepted, loved, and to belong. We learn very early that we must conform to fit in. Wanting to fit in and be loved has taught us how to put on masks to portray an image that we want others to believe is who we are, i.e. the loving mother, the corporate shark that’s out for blood. In reality, we’re starving on the inside to be known or truly accepted, struggling with being unsure or too fearful of how to let that person be seen.
Only when we allow our true, authentic self to be seen and known can we begin to find freedom and the happiness we so desire. We have to stop pretending to be someone we are not and allow our weaknesses, our flaws, to be seen by owning them and expressing them. We can truly own who we are when we are able to address our shortcomings and allow God to help us change.
Otherwise, eventually we will discover that wearing masks isn’t enough and we may move onto other unhealthy traps in our search for happiness.
2. Controlling everyone and everything
This one is the biggest trap I have fallen into a lot throughout my life. Truthfully, I wasn’t consciously aware of how much I was attempting to control my husband, my kids, and, at times, my grandkids. Looking back, I know I was doing this to try to keep the relationships I wanted safe, to avoid conflict and confrontational situations. I was so insecure about how to handle conflict I tried avoiding it at all costs by controlling everyone around me.
The problem is that when we spend lots of time attempting to control everyone, we don’t leave room or energy to practice a simple truth: trusting God. We aren’t trusting him to help us through the difficult conversations or confrontations, believing that he can help us manage the tense and uncomfortable feelings.
Another way we control is with our emotions. When I first married my husband 27 years ago, I would use the silent treatment as my way to deal with the pain and hurt I felt from him. It was an unhealthy way for me to let him know I wasn’t happy with him, but I was too fearful to speak up.
I wish I had the confidence to just say what I needed. Meanwhile, I hoped he could read my mind and figure out how he hurt me without me saying anything, and let me tell you, that doesn’t work! Those were some miserable days early on for us. Thankfully we got help through counseling, and I have learned to speak up.
This was a good beginning for me to learn how to stop controlling a situation and talk about it instead. If we don’t come up with a solution, we may find ourselves falling into the next unhappiness traps.
Make sure to come back for the second post in the “Unhappiness Traps” series.
Tonya Towner is the Director of Operations and leader of Celebrate Recovery at Openwater Church in Odessa, FL. She is married to Pastor Dave Towner and has three daughters and four grandchildren.