Dear Dr. Allen:
Following are some commonly accepted cultural beliefs we pass on to our children that merit reexamination
You will be fulfilled by career success
We tell our youth that achievement and status should be at the center of their lives. However, experience with success shows us this is a false belief. Career success will not bring fulfillment to our heart. Of course we should aim for success. However, a successful career alone will not give us a sense of fulfillment or peace of mind.
You can make your own happiness
This falsely implies that our foundation should be based upon being self-sufficient. We need others to find joy in our hearts and to be content. It’s a different mindset to consider that investing in relationships will bring happiness into our lives. Our deepest desire is to be loved and to love others. The adjustment needed is to live a life of shared experiences instead of our individualistic fun.
It’s others opinions that are most important
We are told that the opinions of others regarding our looks, our talents, our followers and their views are what we are to guide our lives by. If we live to seek approval from others, we will ultimately feel empty inside because it won’t add meaning to our lives.
It’s all about me
The message from our culture is that we should be seeking to satisfy ourselves, constantly. Products and activities are all about our individualistic joys. However, our greatest joy and meaning comes from being of service to someone else. This is a mind boggling conclusion; that the greatest joy we will ever experience in life is not from what we will get, or achieve, or have but from giving to another person. We are wired to care for others. This is not a message we hear from our self-centered society.
Always be 100 percent happy (or act like you are).
We hear that our experiences are to be thrilling, insane, crazy, sick, and ridiculous. On social media, we only post misrepresentations of a fun, perfect life.
Why are we so afraid of down feelings? Of being sad, disappointed, rejected, unwanted, not liked? That we might not have it all together. That we might not be perfect. Is not being perfect that awful? It seems like we can’t acknowledge the reality that life also has down feelings. This denial leads to depression, anxiety, and a loss of meaning in our lives. It would be better to find ways to cope with the struggles in life. Experience tells us that we only grow and find enrichment by dealing with all the ups and downs of life with each other.
We can see how the natural outcome of these false cultural beliefs lead young people to experience discouragement, anxiety and a sense of emptiness.
Our cultural needs a shift to a deeper understanding of shared life experiences.
Dr. Greg Allen, LMFT is a therapist practicing in Palos Verdes Estates (drgregallen.com). He is also the founder and director of Freedom4U, a youth non-profit organization. (freedomcommunity.com). Freedom4U provides counselors to 20 different public schools. Dr. Allen is a frequent community speaker. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pen