Group therapy is the express lane to healthier relationships and lasting happiness.
So often we feel consumed by our problems. Overcome one obstacle, another appears. Solve one dilemma, another one taps you on your shoulder.
Let’s face it, life is full of suffering. Illness, injury, aging, death of loved ones; no one can escape these universal challenges. Yet the most stubborn problems we face are the ones we generate ourselves. They live inside us and manifest in our environment, our relationships, our families. No matter how many times we think that we’ve solved such deep-seated problems, they continue to haunt us.
The problem with solving problems is they often distract you from deeper, unresolved issues. Without taking time to reflect on your choices, to build healthier relationships and take responsibility for your behavior, enduring happiness remains a phantom city forever out of reach.
“The Basket of Troubles” is a parable I share in group therapy sessions to illustrate how remaining problem-focused frequently isolates and blinds us to the true cause of our unhappiness.
The Basket of Troubles
There was a man who carried around a basket of troubles. He wondered town to town calling out, “Who will help me with my basket of troubles?
Some folks felt sorry for him, some laughed at him, but no one helped him.
Then one day an army general took pity on him and said “I will free you from your troubles. I will make you a soldier and teach you to fight. Then you will be happy.”
So the man joined the general’s army, became a soldier and learned the art of war. But then one morning he awoke to find that his basket of troubles had grown heavier. And so, while the general slept, the man slipped away and left his warring life behind.
Struggling under the weight of the basket, he continued to travel the land pleading, “Who will help me with my basket of troubles?”
A wealthy man took pity on him and said, “I will free you from your troubles. I will teach you how to make money and live a comfortable life. Then you shall be happy.”
So the man learned the ways of business and accumulated great wealth.
But one morning the man awoke only to discover his basket of troubles had grown even larger! So while his servants slept, the man slipped away and left his life of wealth behind.
The basket was difficult to bear, yet the man pressed on, asking, “Who will help me with my basket of troubles?”
A beautiful woman took pity on him and said, “I will teach you to be a great lover. Then you shall be free of your basket of troubles and finally be happy.”
“This sounds familiar,” the man thought to himself. But the woman was lovely and the man was eager to be saved.
So he went to her and, as promised, she taught him to be a great lover.
But the man awoke to find his basket of troubles had grown massive. And so, while the beautiful woman slept, he slipped away and left his lover’s life behind.
By now the basket was crushing him. With every step, he groaned, his heart ached with disappointment.
“I shall never be free,” he lamented, and he sat down in defeat.
A beautiful beach lay before him. On the sand, he saw a small boy collecting seashells and singing songs. The familiar looking boy, turned to the man and asked him, “Sir, why do you carry around a basket of troubles?”
The man did not answer. This saddened the boy, so he said, “Come play with me.”
The man stretched his legs and finally spoke. “I have too many troubles. I cannot play.”
The boy insisted, “Anyone can play. Come and try.”
The man examined the boy’s kind eyes and realized he was lonely for companionship. So he put down his basket of troubles and joined the boy on the beach.
The sand cooled the man’s tired feet, the sun warmed his body, and the water tickled his toes. The boy taught the man how to make sand castles, to chase the white waves at the water’s edge, and to dance and sing songs. The man laughed for the first time in years.
Just then, something magical happened. When the man returned to his basket of troubles, he discovered that it had grown smaller and lighter. Overjoyed, he turned to thank the boy, but he’d disappeared.
“I shall come back in the morning. I must thank him.”
The next day, the man returned to the beach and found the boy. Again, they played together, sang songs, and splashed in the water all day. By sunset, the man’s basket of troubles was so small that it fits in his pocket.
Sensing their time together was ending, the man quickly called to the boy, who was already a distance away. “How can I ever repay you?”
“It is I who must thank you!” said the boy with a gentle bow, “For so long I wanted someone to play with and you gave me my wish.”
With those words, the man finally recognized the boy. It was himself; his youthful spirit he abandoned so long ago.
Tears of joy sprang from the man’s eyes. From then on, he never felt lost or weighed down by his troubles again.
Group Therapy For Lasting Change
In my group therapy sessions, this parable never fails to inspire a lively examination of what we value. It touches on issues that so many people face—loneliness, depression, feelings of being incomplete—and offers a simple remedy, such altruism, playfulness, laughter, and compassion.
Like the man in the story, you may yearn to be saved. You may hunger for great wealth, strength, or sexual power. You may search for completeness in achievement, recognition, and admiration. Too often, such fixes have a short shelf life. They sap your freedom and keep you in a state of dependency. The same problems reappear again and again. Even victories begin to feel hollow.
In the end, there can be no lasting peace without winning over one’s personal demons.
How Group Therapy Helps
Most people think group therapy is a bunch of people, sitting in a circle, complaining. Nothing could be further from the truth. Therapy groups are supportive environments for self-exploration and emotional intimacy. Community and playfulness reawaken our youthful spirit and strengthen our life force.
I make sure that in every therapy group, we spend a good deal of time laughing. Laughter is a way to put down our basket of troubles, get some distance, and become more attuned with others. Living in the here and now, mindfully considering your feelings and the feelings of others, working on closeness and unguarded intimacy—these are the indestructible tools for enriching your life. Tools that will never let you down.
So, step away from your basket of troubles. Perform an act of service, attend a concert, write a poem, enjoy a good laugh with a friend, add group therapy to your weekly schedule. When the space between you and others is filled with light, you never lose your way. And your basket of troubles will always feel lighter.
*“The Basket of Troubles” is based on Rabindranath Tagore’s poem “The Price.”