Personal happiness is a hot topic these days. We can find loads of books and podcasts on the subject. Checklists abound for what we need to do to be happy – count our blessings, get plenty of sleep, meditate, go to church, keep our homes organized. According to Dr. Bill Bellet, many of us work WAY too hard at seeking happiness.
Chatting in his Nashville office, I get the slightly uneasy feeling Bill has me all figured out about five minutes into our conversation. For over 30 years, this New York City-reared psychologist has guided and counseled corporate board members, executives, couples, families, and individuals.
Bill confides he consistently meets clients who claim to be unhappy. On the outside, they seem to have everything they need or want – health, good jobs, nice families and spouses. But – all too often – it is not enough to satisfy them.
“People seem to always want more,” Bill says quietly. Even with good incomes and loving families, many live unhappily because irritable bosses or lackluster sex lives or imperfectly decorated homes consume their thoughts. “When you get a little bit of what you want, you are happy for awhile. And then you want more,” Bill explains.
Raising eight sons and one daughter with his wife, Marie, analyzing his own behavior, and counseling clients, Bill has learned a few tried-and-true concepts leading to positive mental health and happy relationships.
“Getting out of yourself is quite a simple notion,” Bill says matter-of-factly. The goal to getting out of yourself is to stop continually focusing on what WE want and what makes US happy. Developing the habit of giving empathy and kindness to others “absolutely satisfies us and makes us feel good about ourselves,” Bill continues.
Compassion and not jumping to judgement are the hallmarks of getting out of yourself. The driver who took “your” parking space perhaps truly didn’t know you were waiting to pull in. Even though you might rather have him home, is it so difficult to be happy your hard working husband received a tennis invitation? According to Bill, “Things aren’t always about you, and it is human nature to believe they are.”
As I listen intently, Bill asks me what characteristics I believe make for a happy relationship. Good communication, intimacy, trust, I offer. “Yep, those are the typical responses I hear,” he says. “And these things all require self control – having a conversation when you don’t feel like it, staying honest and loyal and committed.”
When you lack self control (and we all do sometimes), the communication, intimacy, and trust suffer – all components of a good relationship and a happy self. Bill asks me to think about the last time I barked nastily (me?!?!) at my husband, over a tiny matter, and then laid in bed later feeling rotten about it.
Why is the ability to embrace ambiguity important? We live in an uncertain world. As much as we’d like, we cannot control the future or change the past. According to Bill, “We don’t wish for betrayals or job losses or breakups, but they happen. And we must embrace them and move on.”
“Aside from what others may want us to know,” Bill points out, “struggle is a part of life.” If we become competent with things not going our well-planned way, we are going to be prepared for the next illness, missed flight, kid issue, or leaky roof. “The uncertainty, the unknown, is an adventure and is part of what we should look forward to,” Bill tells me.
Most people – and I am at the top of the list – like to control and set things up for the outcome they desire. “But imagine how boring life would be if we knew every single thing that was going to happen,” Bill smiles.
Tags: Dr. William Bellet, happiness, health, let it go, relationships
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