The pursuit of happiness has become such a conspicuous ideal that it has birthed the notion that identifies sadness to be the foe. This is perilous because if happy is the supposed default position, all the other shades of emotion become irrelevant.
Life in its wholeness will hurl everything our way with no discrimination on how it’ll make us feel. The plethora of our reactions will assuredly cover the whole spectrum. Yet we always seek out happiness, joy, or fulfilment. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this; I like everybody else welcome such sentiments with open arms. It’s just that the danger in constantly looking for joy means that not only do we refute the occasions we aren’t, but we are belittling what we are actually feeling. Thus we unwittingly concoct a nasty cocktail of bitter disappointment and frustration on top of a good measure of whatever else we were also feeling.
We are a product of our environment and society today has conditioned certain norms. Happy has always been the go-to hasn’t it? As babies we were rewarded from the very first giggle, then as children we’re told to smile for the camera, our teenage angst is disparaged and as adults we are barraged with the How To Laugh Yourself To A Happier You articles, the self-help books and the everlasting proverbs and sayings telling us to look on the bright side. Its no wonder that we think happiness is the be all and end all.
I too am victim to this: I tend to base most of my decisions on whether or not it will make me happy; not just the monumental ones — do I really want to go back to University if I’m happy with what I’m doing now? — but the ostensibly small ones too – do I really want to watch this new docu-drama when binge-watching Friends would make me happier? It’s a decision making process I passionately encourage: do what makes you happy. But what I stress is I think I’ve finally managed to distinguish between being happy and being at peace, and the latter doesn’t necessarily call for the former.
Enduring the bad is okay because you know you will overcome it. I know this because I’ve been there. Grief, pain, hurt, disappointments, shame, guilt, regret, you name it. Devastating as it is, excruciating as it may be at the time – you inextricably learn from these things. Yes they might tear us up, but there is no denying that those very experiences and emotions build us back up again. Make peace with this: it’s liberating.
When we acquiesce to sadness we do not have to succumb to it, we are merely allowing an unfolding of ourselves, one that will teach us and let us grow in ways happiness cannot.
Who doesn’t want happy? Of course it is not a concept to be turned down. We just need to observe that we grow when we’re not happy. In the dark it is natural to look for the light. But what happens in perpetual lightness? Do we even know how bright it is? Such elusive the goal of happiness has become, that we probably have let the rascal abscond us anyway.
Because there’s that possibility too isn’t there? That maybe we are already here? Years of being told to chase it, that we’re still running towards something we’re completely oblivious to? Slow down, pause. Accept this moment in its entirety. This comfort, the familiarity? This might be the happiness that isn’t so intangible after all.
We should be in awe of the strength it takes to simply be. Accept that yes it’s a struggle, but not one we won’t overcome. Maybe stop wondering if the grass on the other side is greener and just water our own. Or plant a flower. Plant a bloody tree. Do whatever the hell it takes to simple be whilst recognising that happiness isn’t the infallible truth.
So, right now in this moment if you’re happy? Most importantly: recognise it. And relish it; bask in that feeling of bliss.
And if you’re not? Be okay with it. Know that this like everything else is temporary. Acknowledge the inescapable lessons that come with it, learn and grow.