As counsellors, we hear all the time, “I just want to be happy,” yet for many people, happiness seems to be an unattainable goal.
If we define happiness as a state of perpetual bliss, then it is understandable that happiness eludes us.
However, if we define happiness as a state of contentment—with self, our life, and with others, then happiness becomes more tangible.
How does one go about attaining contentment?
According to William Glasser, founder of Choice Theory, the achievement of contentment comes from having five basic needs met.
This year our newsletters will explore these five basic needs to help you identify if your needs are being met and how you can go about meeting them if they are not.
Our needs are simple but vital—we need all of them met, not just some of them, if we are going to be content and happy with our lives.
They consist of the need for survival, love and belonging, self-esteem and significance, autonomy, freedom, and fun.
Our survival is one we don’t think much about until it is threatened. Many of us have our survival need for physical safety, food, water, air, and shelter met.
However, if you have ever had the unfortunate experience of not having one of your physical needs met, you know that it is hard to think of anything else.
Once securing our survival, we begin to think of ourselves in the world, and we desire to feel good about who we are and what we do.
Our view of ourselves and our worth develops throughout life, beginning in childhood.
As a child we receive a barrage of messages about who and how we are—many of them may not even be based in reality.
Still, a child accepts the messages he or she receives from significant others without question. These messages, positive or negative, based in reality or based in another person’s own dysfunction, form the basis of our self-esteem.
As we grow, we get messages from others, again positive or negative, depending on that person’s world view. To gain a healthy self-esteem we need to be able to look at ourselves realistically and to become our own best judge about whether messages are accurate.
When we say someone has a healthy self-esteem, what we really mean is not just that they feel “good” about themselves, but that they see themselves realistically, neither exaggerating their own greatness nor catastrophizing their own faults.
The ability to accept ourselves, flaws and all, is a sign of healthy self-esteem.
We all know intellectually that no one is perfect, but if we berate ourselves for every mistake we make then we are expecting perfection of ourselves and we will find it impossible to be content.
When you are angry or upset with yourself, tune into your self-talk.
Are you compassionate and understanding of yourself when you make a mistake?
Do you talk in a way that is trying to sooth your upsets or do you inflame them with cruel, derogatory remarks to yourself?
One of the keys to improving your self-esteem is to develop a compassionate view of yourself.
Learn to be your own best friend and talk to yourself with the intent to understand and be supportive, rather than to punish and berate.
A person with healthy self-esteem cares what others think, but ultimately they care the most about what they think themselves.
They have learned to trust and listen to themselves.
While developing a kind, gentle approach to our self-talk will greatly improve our self-esteem, we need more than that to feel good about ourselves.
We need to feel competent and significant.
We feel good about ourselves when we do things we are proud of. We all have a need for competence and a need to be recognized for those accomplishments—whether it’s at work or at play.
It doesn’t have to be exceptional, like winning the Nobel Peace Prize or becoming the boss of a thriving company, it can be as simple as taking pride in your home or your family, and having those close to you appreciate what you do.
The better we feel about ourselves the less dependent we are on recognition from others, but let’s face it, we all want and NEED recognition.
Lastly, connected to self-esteem is the need to have power and control over our own life.
Happy contented people do not need or want to control others, but they do want to control things that impact them directly.
They want to be able to make choices, have options, and have the ability to exercise those options. The more control we have over things that directly impact us, the happier we are.
One of the best ways to have power and control over your own life is to cultivate assertiveness.
Assertiveness is the ability to tell others what you want and need, while still respecting the wants and needs of others.
When we learn to speak honestly and truthfully about what we need and want, we gain more control over our lives.
Closely linked to the need for self-esteem, power, significance and competency, is the need for love and belonging.
Look for our future newsletters for information on this topic.
If you think you might benefit from discussing these topics further, please contact us to set up a meeting with a counsellor.