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How Happy Should We Be

  • anonymous Asks ...

    How much does childhood affect happiness today? My long-term girlfriend is a wonderful person but she is not a very happy person. She will admit this but she says she had such a hard childhood and difficult early home life because of poverty and an absent father etc. that she finds it hard to let go or look at the bright side of things now even when she is actually doing very well. Is it possible for her to get past this legacy of childhood unhappiness? How?

  • Delisted Expert Says ...

    Of course I believe it is very possible for people to change - possibilities for positive change exist everywhere and in every person - if I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be a counselor.  

    Your first question - how much does childhood affect happiness today (assuming you mean adulthood)? I do believe that our persons are a mixture of "nature" and "nurture" - that although we are predisposed to a certain mode of being thanks the the genes we inherit, how we actually form is dependent on our environment. I also believe there is a third factor - free will - that can allow us to live the lives we desire despite most of the nature and the nurture (or lack thereof) we were given.  

    Your second question - is it possible for her to get past her past? I certainly have seen evidence and believe it is possible for most people to learn to live the lives they want to live, with the level of happiness they want to have. It may be easier for some people, with certain genetics and nurturing, and it might just be more difficult and require more effort for others, but the possibility still exists. 

    Your third question - how? This is the part that will require some thought and work and maybe some assistance. Does she feel that she wants or needs to feel happier? Or are you wanting to change how she thinks or feels? Does she have clinical signs of depression? Suicidal thoughts or ideas definitely warrant intervention. She should see her primary care doctor, to rule out any physical conditions that can contribute to feelings and even thoughts of sadness (yes, there are physical conditions that can affect how we feel and thus how we think).  A physician should also be able to provide a preliminary assessment - aside from depression, are there any signs of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) that can occur after a childhood involving trauma or abuse? Does she have any addiction issues? Does she function well in daily life? If any of these are issues, then she will need to address them prior to trying to feel happier or change her thinking.  

    The next question is how happy does she want to be? If she is fully functioning, leading the life she wants to have with the fulfilling relationships she wants to have, and does not see a need to think or feel any differently, then I doubt she will see any need to change.  If however she is not able to live the life she wants, relate well and keep healthy relationships as she wants, and really wants to change how she thinks or feels, then cognitive behavioral therapy would be a great start. There are also groups, self-help books, and online counseling services to consider.  Most likely, she will need to adequately address issues from her past - any abuse or trauma or even witnessing trauma, for example - and deal with them as they have affected her feelings and thoughts in her past and present, and then how she would rather be in the future. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help her understand the links between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and then work on ways to change those things to help attain the life she wants to live. 

    I hope this information at least begins to answer your questions - but ultimately it is up to her to decide what she wants or needs. Your concern is noted and these are good questions to ask. It can be difficult to be in a relationship with someone who has a lot of "baggage" even if the person is "wonderful." You may want to seek your own counselor or a couples counselor just to get an outside view, so that you are not falling into any roles that may be unhealthy for you, or both of you. The most effective changes people make are usually for themselves, and their loved ones can provide extra motivation and support - but when change is solely for the benefit of someone else, it rarely lasts.  Best wishes to you both, and I hope you both grow to live the happy lives you want to live, in the happy, healthy relationships you want to have!

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