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My Pathway to True, Authentic Happiness

By Jennifer Ernst
Published on October 26, 2022

The path to true, authentic happiness is rarely straight. Just about everyone I know is stressed out and overloaded with the daily demands of work, family, health, finances, and a slew of other personal pressures, all while trying to measure up to the societal definition of what success and having it all looks like. What can we do, starting now, to move past stressed out and overloaded to bring the best of ourselves forward and cultivate true, authentic happiness in our lives? If you want to experience more authenticity, more peace, and more joy, don’t miss this post…

For much of my life, I suffered from the shame-based fear of being ordinary - the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.

I was raised in a very affluent community on the North Shore of Chicago where I saw cultural messaging everywhere that says we are only as good as how much money we can make, how big a house we can buy, and how high we can climb up the career ladder. And when I compared myself to the kids I went to school with, I was not wealthy like them. So, I had developed a lot of habits that inhibit happiness like social comparison, perfectionism, and a drive to be extraordinary. Nothing wrong with wanting to be extraordinary, but when it’s underpinned by a yearning to feel worthy of love and belonging, we get stuck hustling to prove that we are enough, instead of believing that we are worthy now, right this minute.

So, I missed out on joy where it’s most often found – in the ordinary moments – because I was too busy chasing down extraordinary, which for me showed up as a relentless striving at work to fix everything and be everything to everyone so that I could get recognized and validated that I what I was doing mattered. This left me exhausted, anxious, and burnt out.

Then COVID hit and I gave birth to my son, Avery. My life got stripped down to the essentials – eating, sleeping when I could, and caring for my child, all while grieving the much simpler life I had before motherhood. I became too exhausted to keep my defenses up and I went through a reckoning. I was forced to get really honest about who I want to be and what I value; how to align my life with that and let go of the things that no were no longer serving me.

To unhook myself from the hustle, I needed to learn how to embrace my imperfections and let go of the belief that anything less than an extraordinary life was a meaningless life. The work I had to do was messy and deep, and there were many tools I cultivated to make my way through this journey, but there were three big ones I want to share with you:

  1. The courage to keep turning toward my painful emotions, memories, thoughts, and experiences to heal them and grow through them toward my values and goals.
  2. The self-compassion to care for myself when things felt hard. Self-compassion is about being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism. Interestingly, of all the happy habits science has identified as being key to a more fulfilling life, self-compassion or self-acceptance is the one most associated with overall satisfaction, I think because it gives us the courage to own the parts of ourselves that don’t fit in with who we think we’re supposed to be and to love ourselves in the process of becoming real – of allowing our most imperfect, vulnerable selves to be seen and known – rather than hustling for other people’s approval of our worthiness.
  3. Cultivating connection, which meant reaching out and sharing my experience with someone who has earned the right to hear it – someone who would respond with empathy and compassion – like my best friend, my husband, and a therapist for help and support when I needed it.

I slogged through the journey until I let go of old stories that weren’t serving me and I felt different. I felt more joyful and significantly less anxious. I was more grateful than I had ever felt, and I felt real and truly comfortable in my own skin for the first time. And then, I started connecting with my husband and my son in a new way because I could be truly present with them and not distracted by a steady, low-grade drip of anxiety.

This is when I felt truly, authentically happy.

Now I would love to hear from you. What’s your biggest insight, aha, or takeaway from this post? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

Bottom line, the path to true, authentic happiness is rarely straight. The tools we need to walk our way through the journey – cultivating courage, self-compassion, and connection – are daily practices, that when exercised enough, become these incredible gifts that infuse our lives with a sense of meaning and purpose and lasting joy.

x0 Jennifer

To learn more about how Jennifer can support you on a pathway to thriving, please contact her directly at jernstlpc@liferesetsolutions.com.

Looking For Happiness in All the Wrong Places

By Jennifer Ernst
Published October 27, 2022

All too often we think happiness is something we should be looking for, that it’s something we achieve once we make our life circumstances into what we want them to be. This leaves us at the mercy of the many adversities life will throw at us, so when things don’t go our way we suffer, or we aren’t happy until we have what we think we need in order to be happy. When we start connecting with happiness as a goal, people actually become more unhappy over time because they become less able to deal with the world as it is. What can we do, starting now, to build resilience in the face of adversity to bring our best selves forward and cultivate true, authentic happiness in our lives?

True, authentic happiness emerges in our lives when we’re able to approach, rather than withdraw from whatever life brings up, and be fully present with the world around us without getting stuck in painful or self-defeating thoughts and emotions that can too easily steer us in the wrong direction.

We get stuck because society tells us that we shouldn’t be negative, or that sadness is a bad emotion, so we try to fix it, control it, or push it aside and get on with things. Most of us use default behaviors that we hope can deflect or disguise our negative feelings so we won’t have to face them – taking the edge of with a glass of wine (or two or three), numbing out on Netflix or social media, staying crazy busy, staying in a soul-sucking job or relationship, not trying something new because you don’t want to fail or get hurt, doing what is easy rather than what will help you grow – you get the point. The list goes on. These are all choices we make that provide short-term relief from painful thoughts and feelings, but take us out of alignment with our long-term values and aspirations.

Now, more than ever, we need a way to experience and move past feelings of anxiety, anger, shame, sadness, fear, and self-doubt to bring our best selves forward rather than letting these feelings derail us.

Cultivating emotional agility – which is about exploring our feelings with curiosity, compassion, and acceptance without racing for the exits – allows us to navigate life’s twists and turns with clear-sightedness and an open mind. Rather than allowing our self-defeating thoughts and emotions to dictate our behavior, emotional agility strips their power over us by creating a space between our thoughts and feelings and how we respond to them. In that space is our power to choose our response so that we can align our everyday actions with our long-term values and goals. Without it, we get swept away by negative reactivity, emotions jerk us around like a puppet on a string and pull us into actions that take us away from where we truly want to go.

Emotional agility begins by unhooking ourselves from self-defeating thoughts and emotions and taking actions that align with our core values and long-term goals. The better you get at unhooking, the better able you are to cope with stressful situations as they arise and cultivate true, authentic happiness in your life. When you encounter struggles, apply these three practices of emotional agility to unhook and bring the best of yourself forward:

  1. Notice your thoughts and feelings. Observe and recognize them for what they are – just thoughts, just feelings – not directives or commands or something to get rid of. Breath in for four counts, breath out for six counts. Breathing in this way increases calm and clear-sightedness.
  2. Label your thoughts and feelings. Turn toward your thoughts and feelings with curiosity and compassion. What is the function of this emotion? What is it telling you? What’s buried beneath the sadness, frustration, or anger? What valuable lessons can it teach you? What self-defeating thoughts do you need to let go?
  3. Identify your values. What are your core values and your most important goals? Who do you want to be? Take actions that align with your long-term values and aspirations.

Now I would love to hear from you. What’s your biggest insight, aha, or takeaway from this post? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

Bottom line, our happiness in the face of inevitable worries, regrets, and sad experiences depends not so much on how many of these things we experience, but on the way we deal with them. Showing up to all of our emotions – good, bad, and ugly – with curiosity, compassion, acceptance is the cornerstone of resilience, thriving, and true, authentic happiness.

x0 Jennifer

To learn more about how Jennifer can support you on a pathway to thriving, please contact her directly at jernstlpc@liferesetsolutions.com.