Toolbox for Happiness
Toolbox for Happiness

I can’t count how many times I have woken up on the wrong side of the bed feeling scared, lost, angry, or discouraged.

I don’t know about you, but it’s at least once or twice a week that I feel one of these emotions. All sorts of things can trigger these feelings, such as lost business opportunities, physical pain, rejection, or just about any negative event. For many years, I was surprised and intimidated by these feelings. I would allow them to overcome me, sending me into a tailspin spiraling into the abyss. Thoughts would run through my head like, “I had a bad meeting. My agent’s going to drop me. I am a horrible artist. I am a horrible person. In fact, nobody likes me. Maybe I should just move back to Ohio.” On and on it would go until I was so far down that dark hole that I couldn’t even see a glimmer of light. In those moments when I felt sad or depressed, I believed that’s what I really was at my core: a sad and depressed person and, therefore, worthless.

Throughout the years of reading self-help books and studying with great teachers, I kept coming across the idea that thoughts and feelings are separate from our true self. It wasn’t until I read Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth that the concept became a cemented core belief. It finally clicked that the part of me that could look at my thoughts and feelings and understand them is where the true self lies.

Feeling emotions is natural. Look at babies. They go from one emotion to the next, and they don’t have any judgment or noise in their heads about it. I now see feelings as simply feelings. They come and go, and although they can seem very intense, they do not equal who I am. I don’t allow them to control me because I have armed myself with the power of choice.

Now, when I wake up scared, sad, angry, or discouraged, I allow myself to feel the feeling, and then I separate myself from it and ask “What can I do to get out of this dark place?”

I then use my arsenal of positivity to combat the negativity. Sometimes, I take a walk or bike ride in the neighborhood; other times, it is to simply eat better, breathe deeper, go to a yoga class, call my best friend, or any number of healthy actions that bring me to a place of mindfulness and peace. Can you name one thing more important than being happy and loving others?

The problem arises when we start being a jerk to ourselves. After all, just because you feel like crap one day doesn’t mean that you are crap. We take those negative emotions and follow them up with sabotage or escapism (using negative addictions or behavior to combat these feelings). Forms of sabotage can be overeating, undereating, too much TV, Internet, or drugs of one kind or another, gambling, sex/love addiction, and general passivity. Though you may get a momentary relief or high from these behaviors, ultimately, they will only bring more confusion and darkness. So if you are stuck in a bad place, it’s often a message to love and take care of yourself more.

I also want to say that I am aware there are people, myself included, that have struggled with depression or chemical imbalances that make this sort of work difficult, sometimes nearly impossible. In these cases, treatment, nutritional therapy, and/or professional help are often necessary.

The bottom line is negative thoughts and feelings don’t define you and are not the enemy. They are simply our soul’s way of helping us grow. Our job is to ensure that the process is as healthy as possible.

“Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”
Pema Chödrön

My recipe for building positivity:

  1. Identify and honor the feelings you are having.
  2. Pick a few loving, simple actions for yourself (writing a list can be extremely helpful). Some things that work for me are taking a walk, getting a massage, planning/going on a vacation, exercising, taking a bath, or reading a self-help book.
  3. Trust, breathe, and wait for the light to peek out of the clouds.
  4. Focus on an attitude of gratitude to strengthen positive feelings and circumstances.

Michael Woolson has become one of the most prominent and respected acting coaches in Los Angeles. He is recognized for his unique ability to cultivate depth and authenticity from his students in an environment that is nurturing and inspiring. Woolson has worked with thousands of actors from talented up-and-comers to award-winning celebrities. He is the author of The Work of an Actor and Emotion on Demand: An Actor’s Workbook for Mastering Emotional Triggers.

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