02 Jun Does happiness involve accepting a portion of misery?
Let us know what you think of this happiness story by Amy Iggulden from the UK Telegraph.
The key to a happy marriage and family life is accepting that misery and suffering are unavoidable, researchers say today.
Therapists claim that “mindful acceptance” of family rows, door-slamming teenagers and painful relationships is better than believing in perfection.
But they fear that childhood fairytales, love stories and modern counselling techniques are promoting an unhealthy belief that true domestic bliss can be achieved.
“Our culture perpetuates the myth that, with enough effort, we can achieve a state without suffering,” says the report in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy.
“This is highlighted by our popular childhood fairytales and modern love stories. In the US, the value placed on ‘can-do’ spirit and triumph over adversity creates an environment where suffering can be viewed as a symptom of personal failure.”
Psychologists have worsened the problem by using the term “mental health” to signify an ideal psychological state where people are free from suffering, according to Dr Diane Gehart and Dr Eric McCollum, family therapy professors in America.
They believe that a Buddhist meditation technique could provide a new way of coping with family suffering. “Mindfulness”, where a person tries to focus on their thoughts and actions in the present moment, is already used by psychiatrists to cope with anxiety.
The American family therapists believe it could play a bigger role in people dealing with abuse, divorce, rejection and loss. “We suggest a different antidote to the struggle: mindful acceptance of our relational pain and of the many aspects of a relationship over which we have no control,” they say.
“Mindful acceptance is the realisation that while some pain is inevitable, the suffering of the struggling against things we cannot change is not.”
British therapists said family counselling in this country was “more realistic” than in America, and already accepted that the darker side of life was often inevitable.
Jan Parker, of The Association of Family Therapy, said: “The authors are right to point out that the pursuit of relationship nirvana can be very damaging. But my experience of relationship counselling and family therapy in this country is that it is rooted in real-life experience. True well-being is not about the pursuit of a permanent state of happiness, that would be daft.
“It involves helping family members work together to negotiate their way through difficult times and good times. It is not about pretending there are no bad times.”
Psychiatrists said that the “mindfulness” technique was already showing good results as a treatment for depression.
Dr Quentin Spender, a consultant child psychiatrist and family therapist in Oxford, said: “It makes perfect sense that people should accept the suffering in life. It is a British tradition to accept the adversities of life.”