There are a lot of ways to say this: Get out of your own head. Get out of your own way. If you don’t like something, change it. I particularly like the image of us marinating in our misery because I think it’s powerful enough to cause a change in behavior. Hopefully anyway.
So what do I mean by this? I mean, don’t get so caught up in focusing on what you’re unhappy about, and letting that get you so down that you’re unable to do anything about it. For some of us, it’s replaying injustices done to us in the past. For some of us it’s desperately wanting to make a change but not feeling confident enough to step out of our comfort zone. For some of us it’s knowing what we’re doing is making us unhappy but it’s such a comfortable old habit that we lack the resources and wherewithal to break it, even though on some level we want to. And for some of us, we’d just rather “stew” in our own suffering.
Here’s an example: I knew a woman who had just turned 40. (She is now in her late 50s and spoiler alert, nothing has changed.) She would bemoan the fact that she was still single, she would complain about how she could never meet anybody, and she would go on and on about how upset and frustrated she was by this. What was she doing to help the situation? Was she going to meet-and-greets for singles on the weekends? Was she joining activity clubs to increase the chances that she’d meet someone with similar interests? Did she regularly ask people she knew to set her up with single people they knew? Nope. She was doing none of these things, and with her inaction she was choosing to remain miserable. In fact, on some level I think she must have enjoyed being unhappy because she never once took even one step to mitigate it.
That’s stewing in your own juices.
Another example: I knew a man who lived in his past. He was perplexed at how he was never able to hold down a steady job, nor find a suitable partner, nor stop maxing out his credit cards, as he lamented his troubled childhood. He talked incessantly about how he was treated by his parents, (whom he hadn’t spoken to in more than a decade and one of whom had since passed away). He couldn’t find the strength or the courage to get out of his own head, and to take responsibility for his actions as an adult, instead he remained the broken child he had always been. To be clear, I am in no way making light of child abuse. That, to me, is the most unconscionable crime there is. But, at some point, when the abuse is decades old and the abused adult is stunted by his or her inability to move forward from it, then focusing solely on the bad memories, which are representing themselves as the present, is a choice that the victim is making. That may sound harsh, but all of the unhappiness this guy was suffering was coming directly from himself. He chose not to go to therapy, he chose to not take steps to control his shopping addiction, every day he made the choice to live as that hurt, frightened, mistreated boy.
He was stewing all right.
Here’s my point: If you want to choose happiness then you have to un-choose unhappiness. Make the choice every day to stop the tape in your head. To take the steps you need to live the happy life you truly want. Get out of your stew and throw away the pot for good. The juices in there are old and gross and by the way, are really really bad for you.