Do you deserve happiness? I don’t. How do I know? My brain tells me on a regular basis.
I always thought that the one thing I could count on was the knowledge that I was a good person. So, of course, when my brain can’t break through my defenses with its usual abuse, this is its go-to fall back.
First it humors me. “You’re right; life is good”! It counts my blessings with me. We have a moment, my brain and I.
And then – Bam! – the sucker punch to the gut. “You don’t deserve this life.” It shows me movies of my past, all of the worst things I’ve ever thought, said and done. It casts shadows and spins tales of destruction that might have resulted. And if that doesn’t work, it goes where it knows I can’t argue: “Look at you – thoughtlessly feeling happy when so many people are suffering”!
So what can I do? I have 2 choices, right? I can cave in on myself, beat myself into the ground, sabotage my happiness with negativity and inaction. Or I can fight back. I’m a lawyer. I know how to argue, right? Wrong! It’s impossible to win an argument against your own brain. It remembers everything and knows just how to distort it without your ever knowing.
But what if there’s a third alternative? What if I reject the premise. What if it doesn’t matter what we deserve? Think of the people who you believe are happy and have great lives. Are they all perfect people? Are they even all good people?
I don’t know why we’re here, but it can’t be that we were put on this earth just to learn we suck, punish ourselves, suck more, and then die.
Even if you truly have been a horrible, undeserving person, will harping on it make you better? Will punishing yourself make you more deserving?
Think about it. Right now, picture yourself with the belief that you are bad, that you are unworthy, that you deserve a life of misery and regret. How do you look? How are you standing? What expression is on your face? Are you frustrated? Seeing roadblocks everywhere? How are you treating the clerk at the grocery store? How are you behaving in traffic? What kind of energy are you putting out into the world?
Now take that picture of yourself and age it 5 years. You’ve spent 5 years of your life with the belief in your unworthiness growing and snowballing as your behavior follows your belief. How do you look now? Have you become a better person? What energy have you put out in the world? Do you look happy? Successful? Do more people want to be around you?
Keep going another 10 years. Do you seem better? Happier? How much time have you wasted comparing yourself to others on FaceBook? Are you harboring jealousies? Grudges? What have you put out into the world for during those 15 years of punishing yourself? How do you feel?
Ok, shake that image out of your head. Stand up. Move around a little. Re-focus your eyes. Feel the relief of the knowledge that you are not 15 years down the road, that you are still here, in this moment, and your life does not have to be that way.
Now picture yourself with the belief that your worthiness doesn’t matter, that you don’t have to look back with regret, that you don’t have to punish yourself for your past. Picture yourself with the knowledge that every day is a clean slate and a new opportunity to be your best. Now how do you look? How are you standing? What is the expression on your face? Are you smiling at people you meet? Are you letting people through in traffic? Are you being kind to strangers? How are they reacting to you? What kind of energy are you putting out into the world?
Go ahead and age that picture 5 years. You’ve spent 5 years of your life without punishing yourself. How do you look now? How are you standing? What is your facial expression? How are you spending your time? Are you harder or easier to be around? What energy have you put out in the world?
Try another 10 years. How is your life different since you have stopped punishing yourself? What have you put out into the world during those 15 years free of self-punishment?
I’m not asking you to suddenly believe you are worthy. I’m simply asking that you free yourself from the burden of asking.
The irony is that when you free yourself from the belief that you have to be deserving of happiness, you will actually become more “deserving.” The energy you put out into the world will be freer, more positive, and who knows how far that energy will spread.
Suppose all you do today is smile at a stranger. Will it make the stranger feel better or worse? What if that stranger was feeling lonely and isolated. What if that stranger was going to be in traffic that afternoon and get angry and aggressive? What that aggression was going to cause an accident or a road rage incident? On the other hand, what if your simple kindness made him feel just a little bit better about the world, about people? Maybe he will drive home without taking the traffic was a personal affront and wave another car to go in front of him. What if that person then felt a little bit better about people, and for that night didn’t sink into hatred and anger? You can see how the energy you put into the world can ripple out like a pebble in the ocean. Think about how far it can go.
So let’s use a better lawyer trick. We don’t have to accept the question as it is posed by our brain. Let’s object to the relevancy of the question and reframe it from “am I worthy” to how do I want to live my next 10, 20, 30 years, and what can I do today to start me on that path?