Bipolar Disorder and Happiness: The Compasssion Challenge

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Last week, I raised the topic of happiness, a theme well-worth exploring over the next few weeks. What got me started was "The Art of Happiness" by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler MD, which we will go into in more depth in this piece. Also sitting on my desk is Gretchin Rubin's "The Happiness Project," published around the beginning of this year. I also intend reviewing Martin Seligman's positive psychology, a bit of brain science, plus any other sources you suggest to me, plus bring your own comments into the conversation.

    Let's get started:

    Last week, I noted that "The Art of Happiness" placed tremendous emphasis on cultivating loving kindness and compassion for others. Basically, sourpusses are very unhappy people. As I observed, by putting the needs of others before our own:

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    Next thing we're establishing connections and intimacies. Next thing, we're not as absorbed in our own destructive thoughts and feelings. Next thing we're not alone. Next thing, maybe, there are periods in our life where we are experiencing happiness.

    Much easier said than done, of course, and Anonymous in a comment was absolutely correct in calling me out on this. "Sometimes MY needs do have to come before someone else's," she wrote. She continued: 

    If I am having a hard time, I need to be able to identify needs that if met will help me recover to a more balanced state. I don't think perpetual "selflessness" leads to happiness. There should be a balance, compromises made and sometimes asking for help is necessary and healthy.

    She also cited her daughter, who is much happier now that she stood up for herself instead of passively submitting to her husband's wishes.

    Coincidentally, a day prior to Anonymous posting this, I was cutting a certain individual - who had turned toxic - out of my life. Toxic to me, I need to emphasize. She is still a very lovely person.

    Loving kindness isn't about enduring an impossible personal situation, but the matter doesn't rest there. The challenge for me, as I see it, is not to carry over any ill feelings from my association with this individual to other people in my life. Lovely she may be, but I am nursing some open festering psychic wounds. What makes it worse is that once my racing thoughts start kicking in, then my brain locks into something totally disturbing and won't let go.

    So getting rid of the ill feelings is going to take some work. But it's a necessity for me, not an option. The bottom line is no one likes being around people with their unresolved crap on display. So - even if I can no longer be close to this individual, I still need to be thinking about her with a sense of fondness and goodwill. She deserves at least that much. Then, I can project a more positive attitude to others.

    I don't claim to be good at this. I'm only stating what I need to do. Otherwise, I am going to be very lonely and unhappy. As I explained to Anonymous:

    I'm not going to give the person who is not in my life any more that kind of power over me.

  • If I were writing that sentence again, I would tone it down. In the state I was in two days ago, I was dealing with a lot of animosity. So, maybe I'm making some progress. Fortunately, it seems that compassion and even altruism is our true nature. Choosing other paths runs counter to our own best interests. As the authors explain:

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    It has been found that the people who are most self-focused (those who referred to themselves using the pronouns "I,"me," and "my" most often in an interview) were more likely to develop coronary heart disease.

    Also: "Scientists are discovering that those who lack close social ties seem to suffer from poor health, higher levels of unhappiness, and a greater vulnerability to stress."

    Naturally, I would like to have back the old relationship I had with this individual, but that is not likely to happen. Instead, I need to set new goals, look beyond the relationship, open my mind to new possibilities.

    Earlier this morning, I took a short nature walk in the hills near where I live. Sometimes, I look up at the sky and talk, kind of the way Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof talked with God. Of course, both God and the sky have a way of remaining silent - or at least it seems that way. Then I arrived home and settled into writing this piece. I opened "The Art of Happiness" and found this from the Dalai Lama:

    So let us reflect on what is truly of value in life, what gives meaning to our lives, and set our priorities on the basis of that. The purpose of our life needs to be positive. We weren't born with the purpose of causing trouble, harming others. For our life to be of value, I think we must develop basic good human qualities - warmth, kindness, compassion. Then our life becomes meaningful and more peaceful - happier.

Published On: July 03, 2010