Are you ready to refuse to be miserable? Are you prepared to make yourself happy at every chance you can despite sheltering-at-home? While it may be silly and unreasonable to think that a brief article here can lead your feelings of happiness to become stronger while the world is filled with worry, anger, apprehension, I believe it isn’t that silly or unreasonable if you will stop doing one simple thing, demanding your way through COVID-19, and indeed, life.
Albert Ellis, Ph.D., the founder and creator of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy and my teacher, mentor and guide, said, “Life is not necessarily pleasant, but it is never awful, and it is nearly always bearable.” This opens the gateway to an “I prefer” rather than a “I demand” mindset towards life’s many circumstances.
When people live by a rigid, extreme, absolute and unrealistic collection of demands, requirements, and rules that govern the way they think about themselves, others and the world, they generate injurious, damaging and frustrating feelings about themselves. Setting up standards that they cannot meet, that others don’t have to meet, and that life often won’t meet, is unhealthy to one’s emotional, and physical, well-being. At a time when our confidence is already wilting, demanding, insisting and expecting (D.I.E.) will completely consume it.
- If you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings regardless of how unfairly and unpleasurably the world may be treating you—it’s not WHAT happens but rather what you THINK about what happens that creates to upset feelings. Remember that we don’t “GET” upset, we upset ourselves by holding these inflexible beliefs. Words like “must, never, need to, have to, ought, shouldn’t” are the give-a-ways that there’s some serious demanding going on.
- Demands and exaggerations are significant obstacles to happiness and well-being
- Deep, persistent happiness requires non-wishy-washy practice, practice, and more practice, work, work and more work. It’s the only way to get better.
Demanding sounds like this:
- I MUST do well or else I’m no good (leading to conditional self-acceptance)
- Others MUST treat me the way I demand they do (leading to anger towards others when they don’t treat you as you demand)
- I MUST get what I demand from the world and not what I don’t demand (leading to general unhappiness towards the world around you)
In Ellis’s own words from his famed 1975 book, “A New Guide to Rational Living,” “Your statement, ‘I must not get rejected by my mate, and therefore I find it awful that s/he has left me,’ actually means, ‘Because I want very much to have my mate love me, s/he must.’” Substitute the conflict that couples are having today cooped up at home and you can see how this applies today.
Demanders erroneously and irrationally, and I might add, illogically, believe that if they aren’t perfect; if others don’t treat them the way they demand; and if the world is not fair (as they unreasonably demand), then they think it is “terrible, awful, horrible and catastrophic” and further add, “I can’t stand it.” No matter the origin of our upsetting ourselves, we maintain our upset by clinging to these irrational, inaccurate, harsh beliefs.
From thinking a) that you “MUST” be working out more during COVID-19 because you read or heard that it’s good for your immunity, b) that you’re a lazy, good for nothing, who ought to be doing more around the house, c) to believing that your friends are rotten because they aren’t checking in on you while you’re home isolated alone, and d) your boss is no good because she didn’t notice the good job you did from home, and on to thinking e) that life is unfair to bring this CORONA-19 to you on your birthday, all examples of demanding, this type of thinking will sap your energy and serve as a hindrance to you achieving the life you want – or demand.
Can you begin to see how demanding can be a genuine obstacle to happiness?
Demanders exaggerate in their thinking just how bad a situation or event is, and then demand that the circumstance MUST/SHOULD/OUGHT not exist in the way it, in all reality, does exist. Then of course, they nonsensically convince themselves that they can’t possibly stand this awful situation.
By senselessly convincing themselves they cannot stand an event or circumstance, they needlessly impair their ability to deal well with their reality. And surely by foolishly talking oneself into believing that something is “awful” or “horrible” or “terrible” – truly meaningless words that make no sense since nothing can be more than 100% “bad” (there is not 127% “bad” just like there is not 134% pregnant) – they are acting on evaluations of events that are highly dramatic, overly exaggerated and far from the reality of being simply “unpleasant” or “inconvenient” or just “bad.”
Demanders, acting like kings and queens that they aren’t, attempt to create new universal laws that others MUST follow and are thereby “reality ignorers.” Believing that you MUST, others MUST and the world MUST follow your rules and satisfy your wishes directly leads to self-defeating, hyper-negative, angry/depressed/anxious feelings and behaviors, instead of simple disappointment, annoyance, or frustration.
Want to stop demanding? Ask yourself for the proof or evidence behind your exaggerated, absolutistic demand. Do you have any shred of evidence that you can’t stand your current situation? Do you have even the slightest proof that your circumstance is “awful” not merely “unfortunate?” Do you have one iota of data that your world is actually ending? Do you have any degree of certainty that what IS happening MUST not be happening? Where is it written that you MUST have what you want?
Said in another way,
- Do you really believe that nothing could be worse?
- Do you really believe that the situation you are facing is worse than 100% bad?
- Do you really believe that NO GOOD WHATSOEVER can possibly come from this (just) bad situation?
- “I want to succeed but there truly is no reason I MUST succeed.”
- “I want my boss to treat me well but there is no reason he/she MUST and I can stand it if he/she doesn’t”
- “I’d like to get the promotion but it’s not really horrible if I don’t, it’s truly just simply inconvenient to me and my family if I don’t.”
- “I really don’t know if what I am thinking is true or not, so what am I getting out of believing it is other than upset?”
- “Would I ever tell a close friend the same thing? No? Then why tell myself I must be a certain way and I’m a complete failure if I’m not that way?”
In other words, life doesn’t always work out the way you want it to, and there is no reason it must, though you’d like it to, prefer it to, and want it to. But there’s no reason it must.
To summarize, situations that we don’t like (and don’t HAVE to like) exist but we can choose to either be unmiserable or unhappy. If we are ready to be unmiserable, we would be wise to a) avoid insisting that a circumstance that does exist MUST not exist and b) avoid “awfulizing” “horriblizing” “terribilizing” and “castastrophizing” about it. Then, engaging in purposeful enjoyable physical activity increases the likelihood of creating enduring happiness.