“I believe the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness … “
– The Dalai Lama
and yet …
“We all live in a happy ending culture, rather than a what is culture.… When it comes to difficult emotions like anger, grief or fear .. what is, is.”
– Miriam Greenspan
How do we reconcile the wisdom of both perspectives?
Frankly, I have found happiness a perfectly reasonable, albeit elusive, end goal. It works for me to consider which choices stand a better chance of moving me toward, or away from happiness. It works for me to value my own happiness and that of people around me. It works for me to notice what is working for me in my life, and to be grateful for it.
I am also a staunch realist. I value authenticity, honesty, emotional integrity. I am firmly committed to, as Kate says in the movie, French Kiss, using “the corresponding face, for the corresponding emotion”. I truly believe the only real way out, is through. I am not a quitter, and I will sit with discomfort to learn what I can. I've been told this makes me a little bit unique. In light of our current culture, maybe I am.
We have created a culture that has a frightening inability to tolerate discomfort of any kind.
Our culture diagnoses, labels, medicates anything below the baseline of contentment. Many people seem to think happiness is their god-given right, and also believe it should just “happen”, with no work or effort – or it’s not really happiness. I watch our culture hyper focus on the “positive”, on “letting go”, as quickly as possible, of anything that doesn't fit easily into the happiness box. We are admonished to ‘get over it”, “quit moping”, “smile”, to reject anything difficult, to blame and then dump people that don’t live up to our ‘feel good’ measure, have a drink, see a doctor, take a pill. We’re very good at flitting from one “make me happy, look after me person” … to the next.
Our DIY (do it yourself) culture has become disturbingly DIFM (do it for me). We’re all about the quick fix, the nothing but happy club … and it’s costing us big time.
Many people simply don’t know how to be with “not happy”. We haven’t been taught how to tolerate difficulty. I've had a “dark night of the soul” a time or two. I know what it is like to sink deep into black, relentless despair and genuinely feel you will never make it back up and out. I wouldn't wish the experience on anyone … well … maybe one or two people. If I did wish it on them, it would only be because of the utter transformative possibilities on the other side of it.
Desolation can be opportunity for immense growth, self understanding, spiritual awakening, if we can sit with the discomfort of ‘Difficult” feelings. If we learn to stay present and see it through once, we know we can do it again. Each time we master sticking with difficulty, we up our confidence and our sense of capacity.
We don’t get to confidence and capacity if we numb out, turn off, tune out and disconnect.
Instead of sticking with discomfort, exploring it with curiosity and a desire to grow, we run from it and in the end, we run from ourselves. Because we have disconnected from our discomfort, and our intuition, we also frequently don’t run, when we should. We fail to get out of relationships and situations that are toxic, abusive, dangerous, even lethal because we’re brain washing ourselves with happy clappy don’t look, it’s not happening, crap.
Anything – new age hype, religion, spirituality, affirmations, well intentioned try try again help, diets, alcohol, food, shopping, sex, therapy, drugs (prescription or street, doesn’t matter) —- anything ….. that allows us to avoid feeling uncomfortable, to avoid feeling, to avoid having to turn around and face up to ourselves – and to then be fully present, accountable and responsible, is a problem. There is an adage that says, we can’t heal what we cannot feel. I believe this is true. I also believe if we can’t sit still with discomfort and unhappiness, we cut ourselves off from all the wisdom and insight we require to create change and healing.
You can run away, dress up or ignore “difficult” emotions and hard times – but I have learned, you only run from yourself and only postpone the growing. Life is a great teacher. We can avoid, numb, run again and again; and again life will give us the same patterns, themes, difficulties to deal with.
Trust me, Life can out wait you.
Maybe we need less people and resources telling us how to be happy, how to bypass pain, how to trick our spirits into thinking we are happy – and more resources for being “with” ourselves, trusting process, trusting the wisdom of deep, emotional transformation. We definitely need more fearless, compassionate, wise guides who are willing and able to sit with us through transformation, in all its messy, uncomfortable, complicated glory.
We might need to learn to say no to instant gratification and embrace longer, more complex and infinitely more enriching life journeys. We surely need to understand that life was never meant to be sunshine, lollipops and roses, 24/7 and that it is the hard times, the not so easy relationships and the BIG pushes from life that force us to look at ourselves and learn. It is these experiences that also make us able to appreciate when things do go swimmingly.
Oddly, I have discovered that even when experiencing tremendously difficult feelings and experiences, that it is possible to be happy … at the very same time, even.
So maybe it’s not uncomfortable feelings, or hard times that rob us of happiness, maybe it is our inability to be still, to tolerate difficulty and to listen and learn from our own innate wisdom.
Maybe unhappiness is simply resistance to growth.
ps/ This is not a push to remain in dysfunctional or abusive relationships, but rather a challenge to face up to the places we feel are too uncomfortable to sit with, which includes facing up to our own innate wisdom, intuition and power.