“Why don’t you just shove all that into a box and leave it until you’re stronger?”
“Think on the bright side. At least….”
“You should just burn it all and be done with it.”
“I want to MAKE you happy.”
“Just smile, you’re so pretty when you smile.”
I’ve heard all of the above, some of them several times. On the surface they sort-of make sense. We all want to be happy, right? Isn’t that the goal? Never have to feel any pain or face any difficulty? Just think positive, focus on how much worse it could be and Be Happy.
I started to grow suspicious of this as my relationship with my first husband got more and more twisted and miserable. There’s something inherently narcissistic in one’s own happiness being the only goal and point of life. And something dangerously controlling in trying to force someone else to be happy in order not to face one’s own discomfort. Life isn’t always happy. Sad, distressing things happen. Grief and pain and suffering are part and parcel of living. The more he pushed happiness the more miserable everyone became. I could never be eternally happy enough to make him eternally happy.
Maybe happy isn’t the goal. The most content people I know don’t seem to give a damn about being happy, they’re too busy living and loving. And I can’t think of a single instance where a great teacher or wise leader has mentioned happiness as the goal. I’ve never seen a happy person pursuing happiness. Lots of really miserable people focus on nothing but their own happiness.
Can you force yourself to be happy? I sure can’t. I can’t make myself cry either. And worst of all is to attempt not to cry. Does it not make more sense to live through each moment how it is?
I know that I am most likely to find happiness when I’m not even thinking about my self. Drugs never brought happiness. Games never brought happiness. Having more things doesn’t make me happy. A hot bath might relax tense muscles but I’ve been known to sob until the water got cold. I like a chance to dress up but it doesn’t bring happiness.
I ran across a fascinating article confirming many of my suspicions about the cult of happiness.
I can’t say I agree entirely with everything in it. I think there is significant satisfaction to be had in simple gratitude. There is some power in positive thinking. And hope and optimism are useful tools, they are the food of dreamers and inventors.
But there is a lot of wisdom in just feeling what is. It isn’t possible to cry enough tears to drowned in. I’ve thought I might a few times. I’m still learning to just sit with my feelings and feel them. I spent a lot of years running from pain, numbing pain. It sucks to now have all of that shit I didn’t feel tumbling out of the closet. It is tempting to slam the door and not deal with it. I’ve even caught myself playing games on the phone and computer, justifying it as harmless when it most certainly isn’t. It’s just another way of not dealing, of not being present and here and now.
I am struck by the section on ironic error, doing the worst possible thing despite having resolved not to. I never played the white bear game, we called it pink elephant. And now you’ll be trying to sleep tonight thinking about pink elephants. What gets me here is the comparison with the Chinese finger trap. It is very similar to some parts of the 12 Steps. It seemed so backward to me to get freedom and sanity out of powerlessness and surrender. But it worked. And so I found myself with the faith to ask God to take ALL of me, even those dreaded character defects. I’ve discovered that I have to continually push my fingers in to free them. It only takes a second of trying to control myself on my own to leave me back in a cowardly puddle of dysfunctional. But it works, when I let go all attempts to control even my own words and let God own all of me I’m good. I proved this again this weekend. Someone said something that hurt my feelings and I spent the next 24 hours running a hamster wheel in my head.
Fear and self-centeredness. I can only speak for myself but I suspect that they drive most of the evil in the world. Including placing personal happiness on a pedestal. I’ve discovered something. God doesn’t want me to only be happy. He lets me experience a huge beautiful range of emotions. Sorrow and pain among them. And also something far better than just happy, there are moments of pure and indescribable joy. I used to think that serenity was some strange unnatural calmness, being entirely self contained and self reliant, a lack of emotion or connection. Haha, silly me. The more I ask for serenity, courage and wisdom the more I find that they are all wrapped around being able to take life as it is, to cry those tears and take the risks of connection and emotion. It is being able to respond rather than react, to be response-able rather than risk-adverse. And it is much better than a numbing pursuit of happiness.