Mental Health Monday: Bliss is Not Happiness


Last week I read an enlightening article by Tom Wootton in Psychology Today: “Mindfulness Does Not Lead to Happiness.”

At first glance it reminded me of some of my musings awhile back. Like this one from about six months ago, “Happy Happy Monday” and this one from about a year ago: “Permission Not to be Happy.”

But Wootton comes at the issue of happiness from a different angle. He writes about mindfulness, and the parts the “Talker” and the “Watcher” play in our mental struggles. The Talker helps us get in touch with our feelings about things. But this involves judgment—the judgments we make about our circumstances, whether they are good or bad, and therefore whether we are happy or sad. Mindfulness, says Wootton, “leads to a greater awareness of what you are experiencing, whether you like it or not.” He calls this state “bliss.” At first I balked at the idea of wanting to be more mindful of the experiences that I have judged as “bad”—like pain—but as I continued to read the article, I think I got a glimpse of what he’s saying.
The watchfulness Wootton writes about involves not judging our circumstances—our pain or our pleasure. It involves rising above those circumstances to arrive at bliss, which isn’t the same thing as happiness. And even to be able to embrace depression, which so many of us struggle with at times, and to see it as part of the bliss.

insomnia-remedies-300x300I was thinking about all of this when I woke up this morning after a restless night. I’m not sure why I couldn’t sleep, except that I was experiencing some pain in my ankle, maybe from all the weight-bearing I did on it this past weekend. But my mind was also a little too active. Odd, isn’t it, that this would come on the heels of a delightful weekend of enjoyable activities away from the house, after being a “shut-in” for much of the past three months. Finally around 2:30 a.m. I took a muscle relaxer, but it didn’t seem to help. At 3:30 I turned on the TV and watched until 5 a.m. Finally I slept from 5 until about 8.

My restless night left me too weary to work on novel revisions today, but I’m trying to listen to the Watcher rather than the Talker. To see the (relatively mild) pain and tiredness as something neither good nor bad (withholding judgment) but simply part of how my life is right now. And I found that by not fighting them—the pain and the insomnia—I am at peace. Maybe not in a state of bliss, but at least embracing mindfulness.

Putting off the novel revisions until tomorrow, when I will hopefully be more rested, I’m spending the day on less heady pursuits—paperwork (medical bills and insurance issues), addressing Christmas cards, and preparing notes for a talk I’m giving to a writer’s group in November. I might even unload the dishwasher and clean up the kitchen—tasks I couldn’t do for a couple of months and now consider a privilege rather than a chore. Would I rather be at the beach? Of course! Would I rather be working on my novel? Sure. But this is what is given to me this day, and I chose not to judge it, but rather embrace it.