(Originally published May 28, 2009)
Researchers at the University of British Columbia studied people who had undergone genetic testing to determine their risk for developing the neurodegenerative terminal disorder known as Huntington's disease. Did you know (and can you believe) that those subjects who learned that they had a very high likelihood of developing this horrendous and ultimately fatal disease were "happier a year after testing than those who did not learn what their risk was."
Many of you probably think that not knowing would result in more happiness, but you'd be wrong. According to Dr. Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University, "...when we get bad news, we weep for a while, and then get busy making the best of it. We change our behavior; we change our attitudes. We raise our consciousness and lower our standards. We find our bootstraps and tug. But we can't come to terms with circumstances whose terms we don't yet know."
Even those of you who listen to my program regularly may be shocked when I tell somebody their mother or father or spouse or even their child is a bum. You may wince when I have them scream out how righteously angry they are at parents who didn't protect them. You may also sometimes recoil from your radio or computer when you hear me push and push and push a caller until they reveal their innermost horrible truth. Perhaps you've seen me as cruel.
The fact is, that as a professional psychotherapist I have long realized the value of dealing with the truth - as ugly as it might be. I've seen and heard people fighting to keep ugly truths submerged as though it protected them. In fact, the energy that goes into burying reality is huge, and not available for healthy living.
Not everyone who calls is willing or ready for this evolutionary leap in their lives. Sometimes, they have to think about it more and come back later. That's fine. The seed is planted. I don't see my job as making every caller feel happy at the end of our brief conversation. I see my job as one of freeing them from their own personal jail of denial and avoidance, all of which lead to depression, anxiety, and poor (very poor) choices in life.
Knowing is always better than not knowing. Several recent callers have demanded that I give them some magic to get their loved one to stop smoking or stop being obese. I tell them to give up that ongoing, unpleasant battle, and simply enjoy the time they do have with that person. Accepting what is out of your control opens you up to more happiness, because you are left with dealing with "what is," instead of fighting to have it be something else.
You can wrap your arms and joys around what is. You can't do the same thing with what you wish was the truth.