Where Did Her Happiness Go?

Dear Vicki: I’m writing with a question regarding how I relate to myself. I’m hoping you can help. Over the past several years I’ve turned into a crabby person. I’m not that old, but I seem to have lost a lot of joy in my life, especially as it relates to the holidays. They are over now, and I’m happy about that, but I just never found the holiday spirit. I remember even 15 years ago I could sit with a cup of tea and feel the blessings of the season. Now, they are just one big whirl of anxious activity and sadly, pretty empty or meaningless. They are busy times, but as I’ve climbed the corporate ladder at the consulting firm where I work, the holidays and other times that used to be fun, magical, or even just happy don’t seem that way anymore. Is this part of growing up, or growing old? And can I change it back? Signed: Empty in Edgewater

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Dear Empty: Your letter probably could have been written by half the people in the United States. It’s a common problem that comes from believing we can/should/need to do it all. This tendency is especially strong in people with a primary Wood personality, and it sounds to me like that might be the case for you. Wood people do believe at some level that they can do it all. They carry the motive power and manifestation directive of Spring energy. That’s the energy that allows tender leaves to burst through tough bark, or crocuses to emerge from the snow. At some level, Wood personalities see everything as a personal challenge, one they are determined to meet. Climbing the corporate ladder is a perfect example, but it isn’t just about work. Creating a perfect holiday season – or the ultimate vacation – can also be taken up as a worthy challenge. Do it all, and do it better than anyone, often describes Woods who have taken on so much they are out of balance. Success will always matter to Wood people, but the wise ones know that balance in all things is important. I think losing sight of that truth may be what’s tripping you up.

No one human being can do it all, all the time, but the Wood personality will try. In doing so, they build up more of that “can do” aspect of their personality to a point that it becomes unbalanced. If we look at the Five Elements model, remember that Wood relates to the other four elements in the following manner:

  1. Wood feeds Fire, so too much Wood can lead to too much Fire, which can lead to more activity and anxiety than normal.
  2. Wood controls Earth, which can lead to less Earthiness, which is where home, family, and often holiday enjoyment sits.
  3. Wood is controlled by Metal, meaning it is Metal’s job to make sure that the level of Wood energy doesn’t get too high. But too much Wood for too long can deplete Metal as it continuously tries to manage Wood. This can lead to a loss of the logic needed to move rationally through life.
  4. Wood is fed by Water, and the more Wood there is the more energy it will demand from Water. This often depletes Water, which can affect our ability to connect with joy, wonder, and fun.

So over the long haul, if this pattern isn’t changed one can end up with too much Wood, too much Fire, and not enough Earth, Metal, or Water. A good image for this might be the hysterical bull in a china shop! For you, the end result is pretty much what you described in your letter: a sense of needing to do more (too much Wood energy), anxiety (too much Fire), emptiness around the holidays (not enough Earth energy to feel the connections), little meaning (this usually comes from Metal wisdom) and no peace and magic (both have strong representation in Water). Bottom line: you have worked yourself to a place that your Wood personality is out of balance, which really just means that your relationship to yourself is out of balance. But no worries, there are ways to address that.

First and foremost, you need to examine your workaholic ways, which are often a trademark of the Wood personality. The good news is that Wood people usually have a great deal of structure, so setting better boundaries for yourself will probably be something you can do. Create “work times” and “non-work times” and stick to it. The other personality that has lots of structure is Metal, and since Metal energy is what helps “prune” too much Wood energy, it will be important that you get very logical, rational, and strict about your new schedule, all attributes of the Metal personality.

In addition, to help balance you out you need more of what the Earth and Water personalities have to offer. Earth people love time with close friends and family, something that usually happens more around the holidays. Perhaps your busy schedule didn’t allow as much holiday connecting as you wanted (or needed), so start connecting more now. Spend time with close family and friends, or even just more time at home. And to build more Water energy, you can use some of that time at home to read, color (FYI, adult coloring books are excellent at tapping into Water energy), or even just listen to music. Not only will these activities help build Water energy, but that extra Water energy will help balance the too much Fire state you find yourself in right now.

As all of these aspects of your personality come into better balance, I think you will find that you become less anxious, more accepting, wiser, and even more playful. But don’t worry, you will never lose the strength of your Wood “make it happen” personality. It will always be your primary, it just needs help from all the others. And now is the perfect time to start. We are in winter here in the northern hemisphere, which is Water time, a time of new beginnings. Ride that energy to balance now so that when spring hits, which is Wood time, you will be balanced, happy, and ready to take on the world in a wonderful new way! Blessings to you!

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They Weathered the Crisis, but Their Relationship is Failing

Dear Vicki: Last September, my husband and I were in a serious car accident. We both survived and have recovered completely, but for six or seven months, life was a blur of hospitals, medicines, doctors appointments, and physical therapy. Initially, we seemed closer than ever. My husband Frank managed all the little details of the appointments, pharmaceuticals, live-in care, etc. for both of us. I didn’t have to worry about anything except keeping our hope alive and trying to stay optimistic. It all worked great, too, until we got back to “normal” the beginning of summer. Now, Frank seems preoccupied with his work and barely notices me, and I have to admit I’m feeling pretty depressed about everything. When we do interact, we disagree and fight. How could we have made it through the tough times and now be falling apart? Signed: Down in Denver

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Dear Down in Denver: It’s not uncommon to tough it out during a crisis and then fall apart afterward. It’s very instinctive to focus all of our resources on survival, but that leaves us depleted when the crisis passes. This certainly happened for you and Frank, not only physically, but also emotionally. You pulled together when you had to, made it though, and now are each retreating within yourselves to rebuild your resources. The good news is that each of you will likely build your stamina and zest for life back to pre-accident levels by the first anniversary of the accident. That happens automatically when we take care of ourselves and give ourselves time to heal. The concerning news is that healing after a trauma is not necessarily automatic for a relationship. You may need to help it along, so let’s look at what can be done to get you and Frank back to your pre-accident connection.

You don’t mention where you think you and Frank fall within the Five Elements model, but you have given us some excellent clues. The fact that Frank was good at managing all the details of your respective recoveries suggests that he has a lot of Metal energy in his personality. Metal people are excellent with detail; organizing minutia actually makes them happy. Your gift to the joint recovery process was optimism and hope. These are natural places to go for someone with a lot of Water energy in their personality. We also see your primary elements manifesting in out of balance ways after the crisis abated. When unbalanced, Metals can become unreasonably focused on work and dismiss anything unrelated, and Waters can easily become depressed.

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New Wood Boss Threatens Her Water

Dear Vicki: I know these are difficult times for many people, but the chaos became personal for me last month when the art gallery where I’ve worked for 20 years was sold. The previous owner was a kind, gentle soul who ran a gallery that allowed the joy of discovering art to steal over his patrons in a quiet way. But he retired and the new owner, Mr. Cardon, is a bombastic man who thinks he needs to hit people over the head with ads, promotions, and events to increase attendance at the gallery. And honestly, maybe he’s right; I have no idea if the gallery was making money before or not. But for me, it was a sweet place to work, and now it’s not. The chaos Mr. Cardon creates on a daily basis terrifies me and makes me want to quit. What can I do? Oh, if it helps, I’m pretty sure I’m a Water/Earth. Signed: Terrified in Tennessee

Dear Terrified: It’s always difficult where there’s a change in leadership, whether at a personal or national level. We tend to appreciate reliability and steadiness, and by definition, change will disrupt this. Your situation at work is an excellent example. The previous owner was someone you enjoyed working with, someone who created an environment that pleased you and made you happy. As a Water/Earth, quiet and comfortable will be very important to you. Water carries full yin energy, an energy of withdrawal, peace, and silence. Earth is about comfort and long-term connections. You clearly found a perfect job at the gallery and it sounds like you had 20 years of happiness there. But now that’s changed.

The new owner, Mr. Cardon, sounds like a Wood. Remember that Woods like personal accomplishment. Quietness and sameness usually aren’t appreciated by Woods; they enjoy shaking things up to make their mark. The good news is that Woods are usually excellent planners, so there should be some degree of reasoning behind what Mr. Cardon is doing. The best you can hope for is that he is a balanced Wood who has a reasonable plan for the gallery. This would mean that the chaos you’re experiencing will eventually subside into a more stable routine of events that he deems effective. The worst-case scenario is that he isn’t a balanced Wood and life at the gallery will be forever changed while he owns it. Either way, you have options for making this time of transition easier for you.

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Earth Choking Sister’s Water?

Dear Five Faces: I have a sister I’ll call Cate who is a Water, but over the years she’s become the exact opposite of a happy Water in her actions and attitudes. She doesn’t seem to have any hope or optimism anymore and always assumes the worst in a given situation. She doesn’t trust anyone or anything (except her six cats) and appears overly frightened about whatever is going on in the world. We didn’t have a great childhood, so I can understand Cate being somewhat reticent to trust and share with others, but is there any way I can help her return to some version of her true Watery self? Signed, Worried Sister

 Dear Worried Sister: It’s understandable that you want to help Cate return to a happier state of being, and there are definite steps that you can take. But first I want to mention that if you think it’s ever warranted, you may need to suggest professional help. You will know if that’s necessary, so enough said.

From your description, it’s pretty clear that Cate is in a deficient state of Water. Balanced Water people have a keen awareness of their inner resources so trust that they can handle whatever life brings. They also view life through the filter of depth, so deep, profound issues matter to Waters. They love to go deep, but sometimes they lose their way back up.

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