Having problems is not a problem

The problem is that you think there's a problem...  and even that is not actually a problem.

That phrase came to me earlier today, as I was pondering what has started to become a common interaction with people when I share that I am a happiness consultant.

I tell them about the work I do, and they start telling me about things that are wrong with them and their life.  It feels as if they're saying, "Help, I have all these problems. Please, tell me how to fix them so I can be happy."

I can unwittingly find myself placed into the role of "expert," with other person hoping that I will tell them something they haven't heard before, something they can do to make those problems go away so they can be happier.

It is easy for me to experience anxiety and self-doubt in these situations, as if my value and legitimacy rest on being able to come up with a good answer for them -- when the truth is, I don't have one. Because there isn't one.

There isn't a good answer because the question is based on a flawed premise: that our unhappiness is due to objective "problems," and that getting rid of them is a prerequisite for happiness.

It is just not true.

In fact, that whole anxious problem-fixing mentality is what sets us up for unhappiness in the first place. It's a lot easier to experience happiness when we remember that the whole concept of a "problem" is subjective and made up.

Certainly there are some experiences that we like more than others. We don't have to like feeling angry or anxious or depressed, or that We've lost something or someone important to us, or the myriad ways that human beings mistreat each other.  But just because we don't like something doesn't make it a problem. It's just the way life is right now.

Happiness comes from seeing that we have a choice about how to think about the unpleasant experiences of life, and how to act in response to them. It comes from giving ourselves permission to experience what it's actually like to be us, and to act according to what we want for ourselves and others, without having to judge any of it as good or bad.

Reflecting on all of this, I am suddenly eager for the next time I start feeling compelled to help fix things about other people's lives, as an opportunity to practice shifting out of my own worry and self-doubt. It's not a problem that there's this problem, I will tell myself. It's not even a problem that I'm seeing it as a problem. All of it is just life.

It's from that peace of "there is no problem" that all the good answers come.