The Struggle for Happiness— It’s a Normal Thing

By Michelle Doerr, PPC Advanced Adler member

The concept of accepting your imperfect self as normal is difficult for most people. Many see “normal” as a magical, unattainable state, a place where people are perfect and happy— other people, not them. Yet it’s interesting that no one can really describe that magical place. Why? Because normal isn’t a fixed place and it’s not perfect. It is a place everyone experiences to different degrees.  And I’ve found that it is a place you can visit more and more, a place that will make you happier. I’m working on it, and you can too.

Involve Others

This isn’t a conclusion I’ve come to on my own. I’m part of a group of amazing women who came together last year to study the individual psychology of Alfred Adler taught by John Reardon at Phoenix Process Consultants. Our group comes from all walks of life; art, science, medicine, journalism and business. We have various levels of education and experience. What we have in common is that our study of Adler’s psychology of social inclusion has shown us the path to summon courage and strength to handle our work and personal difficulties in a new, productive way. We have found that our struggles are common to everyone (we’re all normal!)

We consider ourselves para-professionals who spread the word that you can make your life happier, permanently, with the tools you already possess. We have learned that we’re all normal, but have times when we falter. Contentment is a matter of how we behave as we face our struggles. Yep, we all have those struggles.

I find this knowledge both comforting and terrifying. I am normal because I’ve overcome significant challenges in my life. At times, I’ve also behaved strangely as a result of mistaken beliefs that I developed early in life. Yep, you did that too. But I am learning to celebrate my resiliency, uncover my mistaken beliefs and make decisions that aren’t influenced by my outdated beliefs. And I am happier as a result!

“What is Normal?”

Our paraprofessional group developed a list of “What is Normal?” as a place to begin. We identified “normal” as a place of struggle; it’s normal to struggle. The belief that happiness is lack of struggle is foolish. Happiness is finding meaning in life, and to find meaning is to recover from struggle.

Normal is:

•Being free to be imperfect. No one is perfect.

•Willingness to struggle. We all struggle.

•Accepting and taking responsibility for choices.

•An openness to vulnerability.

•Being open to and giving constructive criticism (keyword—constructive).

•Both/and thinking (instead of either/or).

•Asking for help or counsel.

•Encouraging, not discouraging.

•Assuming everyone else is normal.

An Exercise in Normal

Here’s an exercise to help you understand that we all are very much normal and atypical. Divide a piece of paper into two columns. On the left column write the word “Normal.” On the right column, write “Problem behavior.” Now think of some ways you behave normally and write them in the left column. I go to work each day. I eat a healthy breakfast. I tell my family I love them. I give to charity. I keep my house clean. On the right side, write down the stuff that you complain about but don’t take action to fix. I often miss deadlines at work so I get in conflict with coworkers. I complain about my weight but continue to eat at the buffet or only exercise once per week. I snap at my teenage child for every small mistake even though I know it’s dividing us.

This exercise is meant for you to recognize that you have both, lots of both. Understand that you behave normally at times (or even have moments of excellence) and “abnormally” at times. The thing is, so does everyone else. The great thing is, you can increase your normal behaviors, and this will increase your happiness.

Identify. Plan. Act.

We’ve learned in my paraprofessional group that if we encourage good behavior in ourselves, we’ll be happier. We must also use what we already do well to move the bad behaviors around. Take a look at what you’ve written on the left-hand side of the paper and think about ways you can use that trait to improve something on the right. For instance:

•How can I use my ability to keep my house clean to improve my ability to manage deadlines at work? I put all of my deadlines on my calendar and then reached out to negotiate the deadlines I knew I couldn’t make. For the most part, my coworkers adjusted and I have a better sense of my priorities. I will set time each Monday to review and track progress on my deadlines.

•How can I use my ability to eat a healthy breakfast to improve my junk eating or overeating the rest of the day? We often eat at buffets for lunch so I will suggest another location or commit to walking during the lunch hour at least three times per week. Maybe even get those same coworkers to join you.

•How can I use my ability to tell my family I love them every day to work to become more patient with mistakes made by my child? I can change my snap judgments to something like “because I love you and want you to succeed, I want to help you correct your mistakes. How can I help you so the mistake doesn’t happen again?

A Continuous and Magical Process

Once you take small steps to change, you’ll gain the courage to take bigger steps. I continue to work toward making my life happier and am at peace knowing that I’m not alone in facing challenges and in struggling.

“I am not very creative,” I said once as our group was talking about writing this article. “That’s a little neurotic,” one of the other gals said. “What about those cute [creative holiday] ornaments you gave us in December?” We all laughed. I’d been busted and vowed to use my creativity toward this writing.

We’ve started to catch each other making these useless statements about ourselves and are starting to see how some of them really are counter-productive. We’re learning to claim our inferiorities and work to change and be happier.

Wouldn’t your life be a lot more magical if you did the same?

The Advanced Adler Certificate consists of four classes, each 16 hours in length. They are:
Humankind and Primal Adler
Life Movement – Normal and Neurotic
Exploring and Claiming Spiritual Freedom
Personal Authenticity – Professional Identity
For more information or a description of the classes, contact us at 952-922-8822.

Canticle of the Leaves

By guest blogger Portia Heller

As I look out the window, I swear I can see the leaves actually burgeoning right in front of my eyes. I always love these too few days of green blush that covers the barren branches. The pale, yet vibrant green is a shade that is much too fleeting. Maturity will soon grab the reins and rush the entire pallet into the deep, verdant emerald of pre-summer. Interesting. As I think about that, every year for my entire life, I have wished I could halt this youthful, leafy exuberance. Guess that is the normal cycle in all humans. We want our little ones to stay in the glory of innocence, because it is so extraordinary, and we know that with the cloak of maturity come the storms and winds, and in the case of the leaves, the bigger the leaf, the more area to catch those winds and be shredded, or torn, or brutally ripped from the branch.

America’s Most Cooperative Act

It was Alfred Adler who told us that our most “primal” goal was to survive and that adapting is our most “normal” action. He also reminded us that cooperation is natural, and competition is a cultural invention to be superior “over the others”. He was quite sure that from birth on we are “strivers to overcome” minus feelings and situations. And, he let us know that striving “against the others” was neurotic and unhealthy. And that “striving with the others” is fundamentally “normal”.

In a country like the USA, that prides itself on competing, striving against the other, and Constitutionally protects (if not “glorifies”) “self interest”; how do we find a beacon that promotes cooperation? It is quite simple. It is something most of us do each day, or we rely on others to do it for us. We drive cars, and ride in buses. We travel streets, roads, highways, and superhighways. 

Coast-to-coast we are all moving simultaneously on thoroughfares. Millions are in motion, on the right side of some path. We are acting on basic human desires. We want to: Get home. Get to work. Go to recreate. Take a trip. Deliver goods and services.

Most of the time we have a basic order that parallels that of a beehive. Coming and going, mindful of others, capturing the “honey of purpose”. We move quite freely, based in a shared “common sense” agreement that longs for safety, and being treated as an equal.

Is it perfect? Not at all. We have accidents. Injuries, even deaths. It is very noteworthy, that these human mistakes and tragedies shake us. Someone, quite like us has been harmed. Once we get past the anger, blame, and outrage, we feel the sadness and disbelief of loss of convenience, limb, and life.

All of this brings us back to a basic human innate possession. We have “free will” and freedom of choice. When we look closely at the accidents. Injuries, and deaths we see freedom exercised in a “self-interested and non-cooperative way.” “I was in a hurry.”  “I was drinking.” “I was texting.” “I do not use seat belts.” “I was distracted and went the wrong way.” “Move out my way–this is my road!”

While this use of freedom and choice grieves us, we know it comes from a heightened feeling of “self-interest”. We also know it is held in place by an excusing of the self. And, also an aggression to overcome personal inferior feelings. These feelings can lead to the excluding of “the importance of the Other”.

Conversely, think of how many of us arrive safely at home, at work, at places of enjoyment and fun day in, day out. In the words of Adler, many receive sound and care-filled training in “Social Interest”, “normal” ways of adapting with others, and a desire to live in a Community of security, belonging, and significance.

Perhaps the next time we are out there we should see our drive as a dance, a play, a demonstration, or a game.Something we are doing together. We are, after all, making this daily journey, and a much larger journey together. Right?
John Reardon}

What to expect

What you can expect in and from your PPC experience:

  • We work hard to schedule based on your time availability.
  • Your story, struggles and life difficulties are heard and respected as normal.
  • You are assisted in setting “Your” goals.
  • Each session is an exercise in the experience of interaction, exercises learning, self discovery, and setting more positive life direction.
  • Length of sessions (1-4 hrs) are based on goals and desired results.
  • Mid course evaluations are used based on goals, and fewer overall sessions are required to reach goals.

When you are ready, we are prepared to engage and help you create a Life worth Living.

To start: Call PPC 952-922-8822, and set an appointment.


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