Younger male walking down a country road contemplating traits and states

Traits and States

We have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in this country.  We hear it everywhere we go. “Happiness” is often portrayed as the epitome of life, the ultimate, and often only, goal for which we are encouraged to strive.  If one is not happy, one begins to feel something is amiss. Ever been there? Is there a difference between a “trait” and a “state”?

The truth is, to make this one’s soul focus is generally self-defeating and often, the surest way not to find it. Why this irony?

Happiness is an emotion.  Emotions are a biological “signal system” that connects brain and body. By their very nature, they are transient and circumstance-dependent.  One way to think of emotions is as a state (or state-of-being). States can change in an instant.  Remember that time you were excited and wanted to tell someone only to meet a person you care for who was “down in the dumps”? What happened to your excitement?  At least momentarily, it slipped away, instantly replaced with concern, sadness, anger, or any number of other “emotional states”.

A trait, on the other hand, is more enduring.  When describing a state, one might say, “She is sad.”  However, if it was a trait, we would hear, “She is a sad person.”  Those seeking professional depression treatment often feel as though their trait is living in a continual state of sadness or numbness.

One way to think of it is to call the temporary state, “happiness” and the enduring trait, “joy” – just for ease of communication.

A lasting outlook that would empower joy in your life might require

  • Perspective – How does the current situation fit into the big picture? Even if this moment is difficult – if you can see it serves a purpose and will lead to health and wholeness, an underlying feeling of contentment, peace, and enthusiasm can remain.
  • Perseverance – Remember that childhood adage, “When at first you don’t succeed, try and try again”?  This is a fundamental and profound truth that is all too often overlooked. In fact, in our present world, giving up quickly can even be discouraged. Most people expect that step one of the road to their dreams should be success…but that is rare. Many of the greatest accomplishments of life – medical and technical advances, for example – “failed” many times before they finally worked.  Knowing this can keep depression and disappointment away.
  • People – No one reaches their full potential all alone. We need others to provide insight, guidance, resources, and support along the way. But, what if you don’t have anyone you feel you can count on for these things? You may feel alone, but the truth is you aren’t. Think about your favorite Barista, the one who smiles at you every time you come in – maybe even knows your drink before you order it. What about people who do TED talks or other helpful podcasts? Authors, teachers, pastors, neighbors, grocery store clerks, these are all examples of people we might not originally think of as “part of our tribe” – but they are.  We all desire close, intimate relationships – and we need them…but until we have them, there are others out there who can add to our lives. You are not alone.

We at The Center know the frustrations that come from struggling with the transient nature of emotions and we have tried and true ways to help you find the lasting traits of peace, joy, and optimism. If you tend to describe yourself with enduring traits that are troublesome – angry, depressed, or lonely, for example – and if you do not feel you have the life worth living that comes from having the trait of joy, consider coming to The Center.  Here, you will find a group of caring professionals who exhibit these traits on a daily basis. We want to walk with you on the road to find joy for yourself.

Are you struggling with anxiety or feeling depressed?  Do you feel that you have lost your energy, focus and joy? The Center • A Place of HOPE can help. Call us today at 1-888-771-5166 to speak with a n admissions specialist.  There is hope. You can regain your life.

Written by Hannah Smith, MA LMHC CGP, Group Therapy Program Coordinator, she is a Neuroscience-informed, Licensed Therapist and International Board Certified Group Psychotherapist at The Center • A Place of HOPE. The Center, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, co-occurring disorders and more.

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