To get happier, focus on what makes you miserable

I am sharing this interview with Randy J Paterson as I reflect on how debilitating misery can be for patients who are living with constant pain and unremitting sadness and loss. Paterson wrote a thought-provoking book ‘How to be Miserable: 40 ways you already use‘ that describes an interesting reverse psychology idea. Its discovery was prompted by another recent purchase at the bookshop* – Oliver Burkman from the Guardian ‘The Antidote: Happiness for people who can’t stand Positive Thinking’. As clinicians I believe we need to take misery more seriously and address ourselves helping more effectively.


In summary – Focus on the bad. “Between the influences of our culture, our physiology, and our psychology,” Paterson writes, “it appears that striving for happiness is a tiring matter; we’re swimming against a powerful current. We might almost say that happiness in such circumstances is unnatural.” In other words, the pressures of our culture (we need to earn more!), our bodies (on less sleep!), and our minds (and be happy about it!), contribute to a cycle in which the pursuit of contentment only results in an ever-snowballing accumulation of disappointment and self-blame. But if we consciously go after the opposite, if we, as Paterson puts it, “optimize misery” by becoming more aware of our own detrimental habits, we can paradoxically open up new and helpful behavioral pathways.

Such a premise — misery is the new happiness — might seem like a mere marketing trick, and doesn’t sound promising when you feel like rubbish. But, as Paterson explained, a little mental counterprogramming goes a long way. In the interview, he also talked about why people get overwhelmed by the prospect of change, the problems with self-help culture, and the weird mental-health potency of exercise.

Read his thoughts in conversation by clicking the link in the first paragraph.

Chinese medicine has a holistic view of the body. Everything is seen to exist within the continuous circle of nature. When the elements of nature are in balance, life is in harmony, and flourishes. Humanity cannot be separated from nature, we are nature, manifest as people. Living in harmony with the world around us is the way to maintain health. If one were to live out of balance with nature, illness would develop.


Another vital aspect of the TCM model is the psychological aspect of our beings. What we feel has a huge impact on our physical bodies, thus, emotional wellness is an important aspect of our health. In the West I believe this connection is just recently being acknowledged and accepted, but the Chinese have known this for thousands of years. How could it not be a factor? Our bodies are the way we physically experience the world, but only one aspect of how we experience our existence. In TCM, every aspect on every level is important, and all must be considered when evaluating a person’s overall health.


Every organ in TCM is associated with an emotion. For example:


Liver = Anger
Spleen = Worry or Over thinking
Heart = Joy
Kidneys = Fear
Lungs = Sadness or Grief


The lungs are responsible for taking clean, oxygen rich air into the body, and breathing out air full of harmful carbon dioxide. They are responsible for taking in the new and letting go of the old, the constant cycle of life.


Every Organ in TCM has a partner organ. One is yin, the other yang and they work together to keep the body in balance. The lungs are yin and their yang partner is the large intestine. The lungs take in the new, and the large intestine releases the waste. Many breathing and bowel disorders are rooted in excess grief and sadness and excessive grieving can lead to disorders of both the lungs and the large intestine. Therefore, our abilities to accept and be open to new experiences, and to let go of things that are painful or harmful is important to both our emotional and physical well being. As acupuncturists we attend to the Lung and Large Intestine energies, balancing their flow, whilst nourishing them through warming, needling and cupping. Please speak to me about how acupuncture treatment can help.



*I was given a wonderfully large book token as a leaving present recently and will share more books of interest. stick with me!