TSOTLS -Ch2: We are what we do.

Welcome to week 2 of this blog series.  For those who missed week 1 you can check out If the map is wrong and if you’d like to know the context that led to doing this series you can read Mid-Career Confidence Crash.

“We are not what we think, or what we say, or how we feel. We are what we do.” Livingston states this simple profound and pertinent truth.

He does so after drawing out the reality of his psychiatric experience where people would come to him seeking medication as a quick fix for their mood, mental health or mere boredom with life. They primarily wanted to minimise the pain, downplay the depression and despair, or desperation for the capacity to better manage their own emotions & thoughts as they battle unsatisfying daily routines.

His message: “The good news is that we have effective treatments for the symptoms of depression; the bad news is that medication will not make you happy. Happiness is not simply the absence of despair. It is an affirmative state in which our lives have both meaning and pleasure.”

Thinking without action is mere rumination. Speaking without action is hollow. Feeling without action is self-indulgent and dismissive.

I’ve long said that the three greatest needs we as humans have are to be loved, to be needed and to belong. Livingston defines the “three components of happiness are something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to.”

Livingston provides this definition of love: “We love someone when the importance of his or her needs and desires rises to the level of our own.” He goes on to say that in the “best of cases our concern for the welfare of another exceeds, or becomes indistinguishable from, what we want for ourselves.”

Do we go out of our way for others? Do we show up? Can we be counted on at times of need? Love is demonstrated behaviourally. We define who we are and who and what we care about, not by what we promise, but by what we do.

After posing the question “is it possible to intentionally hurt someone we love?” Livingston closes off this chapter with these thoughts: “true love requires of us…the courage to become totally vulnerable to another”,  that “we are entitled to receive only what we are prepared to give”, and the confronting comment that “most of our dissatisfactions with others reflect limitations in ourselves”.

So how do we respond when people don’t care for us in a way that we want/need them to? We can experience an array of feelings – betrayal, rejection, disappointment, anger, fear – and these need to be acknowledged, embraced, and expressed in healthy ways. Some simple therapeutic ways can be through physical exertion, creative outlets like art, journalling, writing a letter (knowing you won’t send it!) or opening up and talking with a trusted friend.  The amygdala…and the expressing of the above emotions helps literally to open this up and release the tension – physically and emotionally.

However, unless we come to a place of acceptance and ultimately forgiveness we remain closed off to the pathway to healing and growth.

I grew up being taught that the word we use as love derives from the Greek which actually has three ways of expressing different types of love.

The first is philia – that is, a friendship based love that seeks the best for another and holds a richness of respect, admiration and depth of commitment to that person.  I’m blessed to have some life-long friends of whom I know this to be true.

The second is eros – the type of love that is full of passion, intimacy and desire. It’s what we often get confused with lust.

The third is agape – the deepest, strongest and most giving of all forms of love. Agape seeks to bless, to serve and consistently gives grace and unconditional acceptance to the other, most notably ones children or spouse/life partner.

Recent research and understanding around the importance, nature and forms of human wellbeing have further developed their evidence-based frameworks and deepened, broadened and redefined what human wellbeing is – something Livingston refers to as happiness. This research takes the shape of the acronym PERMA and I’ll provide an overview of this unfolding research in another blog. For now…

Is life simply about getting what we want/need?  Is life primarily about serving those we “love” and know we can get something from? Or is there something more profound to be discovered through the giving and serving of others in ways that those on the receiving end are unable to repay us?

A long standing phrase I’ve referenced is this: “Life is a consequence of the choices we make.” Truth is lots of life we have choices made for us – what we can choose is how we respond to what happens – the good and the bad.  What does your heart choose to do?




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