For Happiness

Happiness is a choice. A conscious, intentional decision to feel good. I started this year with a clean slate. Freshly out of school, a bunch of great friendships – old and new – and a positive disposition. Something that I had not chosen to undertake throughout my years in high school. This new outlook on life was refreshing. I walked the world with motivation, purpose, and understanding. I was not drowning in unwanted thoughts and comparisons – I had decided to be unequivocally and unapologetically happy.

It was only when I neglected this conscious choice that my disposition began to deteriorate. The thing about most decisions is that they require not only effort, but consistent effort. They require continuous attention because without this, a minor setback becomes a slippery slope.

I stopped monitoring my decision. Yes, it had become second nature when life was running smoothly but when life presented me with something a little tougher, I still had to consciously make a decision to deal with it in such a way that promoted growth, learning, and optimism. And I did a pretty good job of this for the most part.

I can’t recall the exact moment I became complacent. But I walked back over the bridge to begin my journey home from uni today and I saw some young, twenty-something year old guy riding a tiny-arse skateboard, I heard two girls chatting loudly in front of me and I noticed an older man running with a massive sports jacket on and I judged the absolute crap out of all these people. And that is when I realised just how complacent I had become.

I tried to remember when I had begun opting for a grimace and upturned nose over the smile I used to walk around with. I was struck with the sudden and complete acceptance of the truth that happy people make other people happy. I had already realised that I had become overly judgemental of myself, but I hadn’t realised how this translated to the way I treated the world. I allowed my own self-criticism to translate to criticism to those around me; I allowed myself to view everyone as competition. The resounding belief that others were closer to perfection than myself had morphed into my own need to seek out their flaws.

I walked with this revelation on my mind and immediately disregarded it when I arrived at home and a good friend did something extremely characteristic of them – something I had mentioned upsets me. Something really, really small, insignificant, and in no way detrimental to their character. I was filled with bitterness and I began listing in my head all the things that this person had done that I considered selfish and inconsiderate and I had a massive cry about it. And then my revelation came back into my mind.

Why had I become so freaking sensitive to the sins of others? I had absolutely no understanding or empathy for anyone around me. I was irritable and relentless, selfish and unaccepting. I had spent all this time expecting other people to change to make me happier, when I had refused to choose happiness for myself. I had denied responsibility for my own life and therefore, had taken away my own ability to change it.

So, here’s to another step in my journey to getting back on track. To reclaiming the motivation to become the person I want to be, and not settle for what is easy. To setting intentions to spread positive energy, rather than expecting others to go above and beyond for me, with nothing in return. To letting go of carelessness towards others and lack of respect for their decisions, feelings, and the reasons behind them. To choosing happiness and taking on the effort that it requires, despite knowing I have failed before.

For Reclaiming

It is surprising just how easy it is to lose yourself. You would think that losing touch would be difficult considering you follow yourself around every single day, think yourself through every task and watch the world through your own lens. But it isn’t.

Maybe you’ve fixed yourself before and you have become complacent – your band-aid fix has finally peeled away. Growth has stagnated, and inaction has taken over. Sometimes you don’t notice yourself slipping for far too long and when you finally take a moment to truly look at yourself it seems that the damage is far too devastating.

Over the past few months I have seriously deviated from my path. Whenever I pull myself out of the feelings of anxiety and detachment a sense of disorientation encompasses me. Where am I and what the hell am I doing?

A confession or two:

I allocate too much time to focusing on minute aspects of my appearance. I attempt to find self-worth in the pursuit of perfection in every aspect of life. I allow myself to wallow in a whirlwind of self-imposed pressure, deeming myself inadequate and undeserving of love, friendship, support and praise. I am overly sensitive to the feedback of others, good and bad. The belief that nothing I do or am is ever good enough surrounds me and I allow the smallest of inadequacies to envelop my thoughts. My mind spirals out of control. I feel so uncomfortable in my own skin that I attempt to change everything and hide myself.

But, I have decided that it is time to reclaim myself. Reclaim myself from self-doubt, self-loathing and the constant feeling of never being good enough. It may not be a new year but I have made a resolution.

I am deciding that it is time to be free.

Time to free myself from obsessing over attaining perfection and the stress of applying too much pressure. I realise that yes, I have made a mess of my little world. But it is so messy that it has become art and I can find a lesson if I look hard enough.

There are so many things I need to fix in order to find my way again. But I am resolving to take steps to free myself from comparison and the idea that others are without fault. I aim to take steps to grow intellectually and emotionally through understanding and acceptance. Acceptance that I will never be perfect and shouldn’t try to be and the understanding that everyone is on their own path, separate from mine. I need to recognise and forgive myself for my faults and wrongdoings and allow myself time to re-establish self-confidence. I need to respect others and remember that every person I meet will teach me vital life lessons. I need to be patient with learning to love myself as I am, before attempting to make changes for fear I will focus on changing the wrong things.

I must make it my responsibility to go where I would like to go, be who I would like to be and feel how I would like to feel. I should not expect others to feed my self-esteem, but rather teach myself to view my own actions and abilities with critical, but kind, eyes. I must place more importance on the meaningful things in life, rather than the trivial and reclaim my mind, my soul and my life.

I am setting intentions to reclaim myself.

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For Closure

Hey girl/old best friend/sister,

I just wanted to start by saying this is normal. Drifting away from the people that shaped you as a person throughout high school – the people you thought would be with you forever – is very, very normal. In fact, every high school graduate had told us this, so I don’t know why I was under any illusion that I would be any different. I guess I figured there were just some things you live through together that solidify a friendship. Some things that just irreparably tie people together. Maybe I thought above all else, there would be mutual appreciation for each other’s roles in becoming who we are. Either way, one of the only people I saw being a permanent citizen in my world is now amongst many migrating far, far away.

But it’s okay.

I will ALWAYS appreciate and cherish our memories together. You were so, so unbelievably significant to my time at high school and I will never regret our friendship, the fun we had, or being there for you through the hardest of times. Those five years will always have a place in my heart. I will always smile when I think of how inseparable we were and how many dreams we shared.

The sad part is that those days are over. I needed some form of closure, and this is it. I wish you the absolute best in your life and I know you’ll be remarkably successful in whatever you do. I’m sure I’ll see you at group events and parties over the next few years and I’ll be able to see you reach your goals and strive for the highest. But from a distance.

If I am being honest, I really needed a friend these past few months. It’s been really, really hard. And you haven’t been there. And as much as I recognise that this is a result of leaving school and being busy and overwhelmed by the excitement of new beginnings, it’s also just a part of prioritising. I hold no anger or resentment towards the way you’ve chosen to prioritise your life or the people you’ve chosen to keep and not keep in contact with. I can never truly understand your life or what has prompted you to make the decisions that you have. But I respect them and I hope that they sit well with you.

Now this is where it becomes a story of selfishness, but also of strength.

I have learnt that I CAN live without our friendship. Something I never thought I could do, or something that I never really even considered an option. I have learnt that there are people who are there for you and people who aren’t. Everyone has their own story, motives, places to be and people to avoid. Leaving school taught me who would stick around and who was just a temporary happiness. And trust me, the people who stuck around were not all people I expected to but I am so, so grateful for the opportunity to write them into my narrative. Your absence has taught me that the most powerful strength comes from within myself and that I can survive things on my own. The people that have decided to come into – or remain in – my life have taught me that even though I can survive these things on my own, I don’t have to. In the words of a very drunk and very beautiful human: “it’s okay to not be okay.” Recognising this as an absolute truth has been a saving grace. I am not okay, but I am trying so hard to be and I will grow through it whether you are there or not. It is selfish of me to think this way, but it is also my right.

Actions speak louder than words. And your actions have told me more than I think I could ever have drawn from a conversation. I don’t want the fake ‘I miss you’ messages, or the lie that it’s just being busy. Neither statements are true and that has become evident to me over the last few months.

This message is a goodbye. I was never gifted the chance to speak to you in person, a decision you made for us both. Again, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being an essential part of my development and growth as a person. I will forever be grateful for that and I cannot wait to see you become the brilliant woman I always knew you would be.

Much love, good luck and goodbye.

  • M

An Alternative Look at the Labelling Theory

From the beginning of modern society, people have sought to understand crime. What exactly is crime? Who determines what is and is not a crime? Are crime rates increasing or decreasing? One of the most prominent questions however, is what causes crime? Criminologists have proposed many individual and social explanations of crime in an attempt to alleviate crime through understanding causation. One social theory that I learnt about in my Introduction to Criminology and Policing unit, is Labelling Theory. It provoked not only a sense of injustice in the criminal justice system, but also an idea to use this theory in other areas of life, for a more positive effect.

Frank Tannenbaum and Howard Becker are the two most significant theorists in the development of the Labelling Theory. They suggested that deviance is created by social reaction, rather than the criminal act itself. The theory proposed that there were two parts of deviance: primary and secondary. Primary deviance was an initial, unstable pattern of offending that goes undetected. Due to the lack of detection, secondary deviance occurs and presents itself in a more stable pattern of offending, leading to detection by the criminal justice system. It elicits an official reaction such as an arrest and/or incarceration of the individual.

The theory comes into play when considering the series of interactions the offender has with the criminal justice system. Legal authorities apply labels such as the arrestee, offender, defendant and criminal to the individual. Stigmatisation and self-fulfilling prophecies are the result of these labels and deviance is amplified the more the label is applied. The internalisation of the ascribed labels causes the identity of criminal to be taken on by the individual.

 “The person becomes the thing he is described as being.” – Tannenbaum

This theory criticises the current criminal justice system, stating that the system itself is at fault, rather than the people perpetrating the crimes. Repeat offending is a result of individuals living up to their label, rather than possessing an active desire to commit crime. Criminologists with this theory as their basis of their understanding believe that a more rehabilitative approach to punishment of crime should be taken rather than merely concluding that a criminal will always be a criminal.

I tend to agree with this theory. Much like my view on psychology perspectives, I believe that many different social and individual theories of crime interact to provide a correct answer to the cause of crime. However, this theory – like other social explanations of crime – allow for control. We can alter this aspect of our criminal justice system and we can alter this aspect within every individual’s life.

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( http://livebyquotes.com/2012/stereotypes-develop-and-persist-stuart-oskamp/ )

Essentially, the theory is based on the effect of stereotypes and although they are useful for decision-making and some aspects of everyday life, it is important to remember they can be, and often are, inaccurate. Stereotypes do, and always will, exist. But it is vital that we look past them and walk through them. In regard to how we treat others, and how we treat ourselves. Through school, we are constantly taught about the negative effects of stereotyping others, but the role of self-stereotyping or self-labelling is rarely touched on.

The idea of eliminating stereotyping is unrealistic and unwise. However, I believe there is a way to harvest the usefulness of labelling whilst simultaneously alleviating the detrimental effects. Too often we fail to strive for goals that we perceive as unreachable for ourselves. We have categorised ourselves a certain way leaving our options for growth seriously limited. As I mentioned in ‘For Growth and Self-Actualisation’, growth is fundamental to our individual happiness. If we can learn to label ourselves kindly, and with the promise of moving onward and upward, we can begin to expand ourselves and be free from self-doubt.

Stereotyping and labelling are only as negative as we allow them to be. If we can internalise labels associated with self-betterment and our good qualities, we can learn to treat ourselves with respect. If we can subvert dominant, negative paradigms we may be able to significantly reduce inequality, hate, fear, self-loathing and maybe, even crime.

Just an idea.

For Growth and Self-Actualisation

The attempt to understand human thought and behaviour is a rather new discipline and over the last 100 years or so, there has been a massive debate over which perspective to take. My first Psychology lecture provided a brief overview of the different perspectives and I must say it left me rather inspired. For a long time, I have pondered whether we have control over how we act – is it nature or nurture? Can we control and improve ourselves, or are we merely a symptom of our environment? The different perspectives in psychology shed light on these questions and learning about them helped me to come to my own conclusions. A brief overview of the main perspectives is shown below. Hopefully, they will help you too.

PSYCHODYNAMIC PERSPECTIVE

This perspective suggests that behaviour is the result of an interplay between thoughts, feelings and wishes and that conscious and unconscious forces interact to control our thoughts and behaviours. Some mental events are unconscious and when mental processes are in conflict, we experience anxiety.

BEHAVIOURIST PERSPECTIVE

This theory focuses on behaviour as a result of environmental stimuli and learning. It disregards the role of internal states, such as feelings, in understanding the behaviours of humans and animals. The general principle is that stimuli becomes associated through conditioning: positive and negative reinforcement teach us how to behave.

COGNITIVE PERSPECTIVE

Behaviour cannot be understood without understanding our development. Theorists in this area seek to understand how we acquire, store and process information throughout our lifespan. Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980) introduced the first Cognitive Theory, and a lot of our current understanding of development stems from his findings. His suggestion was that children actively construct new understandings of the world based on their experiences and that this is the basis of human behaviour.

EVOLUTIONARY PERSPECTIVE

Behaviour as a result of evolution: our behaviours evolved because they helped our ancestors survive and reproduce. This perspective focuses on the behaviours that are biologically determined such as the impulse to eat and sexual desire.

HUMANISTIC PERSPECTIVE

This perspective emphasises the uniqueness of the individual and supports the idea that people are motivated by growth and reaching their full potential. Theorist, Abraham Maslow, believed that people are innately good and will strive to realise their goals and ambitions.

There is no right perspective to take when it comes to psychology. When explored, they all have value and offer evidence-based answers to all my questions. However, I strongly believe that no one perspective can fully answer any question and that an interplay of all the theories is the only way we can formulate an understanding of the complexity of the human race.

With this in mind, the Humanistic Perspective is the one that caught my attention. It seemed to me like this was the only one that actually allowed for control. It established the very principle that I have sought to instil in my own life: happiness. Abraham Maslow and other humanist theorists took an optimistic view of human nature. They recognised the role of personal growth in the happiness of individuals – they recognised the role of self-actualisation.

Self-actualisation is fulfilling your individual potential. It is a drive that is present in every individual and it revolves around making your best self a reality. Abraham Maslow described it as the requirement of becoming what we ‘can’ be. He stated, “If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.” I found that the humanistic theory offered me some hope. It offered me the opportunity for self-improvement and for some power over where my life is going and the way in which I wanted my life to play out. It corresponded with a book I had been reading at the time, ‘The Happiness Project’ by Gretchen Rubin, which taught me an abundance of ways I could enhance my life and appreciate what I already had.

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

Robert Browning

‘The Happiness Project,’ literally changed my perspective on life, and I don’t say this lightly. I am sure the messages in that book will come up in more and more of my blog posts due to just how much it touched me. One key message I found was the significance of expanding your self-definition. You need to constantly challenge yourself and acquire new skills. You need to put more eggs in your basket, so when one is cracked you have others to rely on. This really hit home for me when I reflected on tearing my ACL. I had always considered touch football my primary talent, the one thing I had going for me. So, once it was taken away I felt lost. The main component of identity had vanished. This was not the case, however it took me too long to realise this. It is now, in hindsight, that I can say I am so glad it happened. It allowed me to explore other aspects of my personality and other interests and expand myself. It helped me to begin my journey of self-growth and actualisation.

We are happy when we are growing.

William Butler Yeats

The significance of growth to individual happiness is often overlooked and I feel like this is a major downfall amongst our global community. Humans have this desire to constantly be moving onward and upward. We tend to be goal driven and unhappy with stagnancy or mediocrity. Yet, we consistently settle for stagnation despite it being pivotal to our unhappiness. Why is this?

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 (http://name-fame.com/quotes/electrifying-quotes-inspire-personal-growth/)

This quote illustrates my stance on the issue. People can’t be what they can’t see. This can be found in many social issues such as representation in media and family success and support, however I think self-esteem is a tremendous factor in determining our level of growth. If we are unable to see ourselves being successful or reaching our goals, why would we strive for them? It all comes back to my worldview: you are your everything. We have so much agency over our lives and often, this goes unnoticed. We can control our perceptions and our emotions. We can lead a happy life in the midst of adversity. Of course, I have lived an extremely privileged life, and the fact that I was settling for unhappiness despite this, alarmed me. And so, I begin this journey: the journey to self-actualisation. The journey to appreciation, happiness, acceptance and being the best I can be.