Happiness: The Dance of Shared Joy and Shared Pain
Happiness Results from Full Participation in Life
How many of us have groaned or sighed when some happiness guru or another has said ‘just think positive’? How many of us have growled at the speaker or the book and thrown the remote or the book across the room in anger?
Do you know why you get so angry? That kind of deep anger covering up an even deeper injury? It’s because you’re being asked to take half (more or less) of reality and pretend its not real. It doesn’t work, because ‘think positive’ is only a bit of the answer, and the wrong bit, at that.
The real answer, the one that isn’t insulting, and doesn’t negate your sense of reality, is that both joy and pain are real and necessary to life and happiness – and that acknowledging and accepting each, and carefully tending joy and tending to pain can greatly enhance your overall happiness in life.
Tending to Pain
All of us feel pain, physical, psychological, and spiritual. Even in the midst of transcendent moments of joy, little particles of pain intrude – doubts about our ability or worth, or a sore foot intruding on the beauty of a perfect run, or the inevitable pain of age and rot and loss that comes to us all.
How much pain is magnified by the advice to ignore it, to run away from it, to fight it? None of those things are effective. There is only one thing to do with pain: accept it.
There is no need to thank it, or to honor it, or any of the rest of that mystical garbage. But acknowledging it? Allowing ourselves to feel it and then to move past it? Essential.
Consider the loss of the one person – that one person – that means more to you than anyone ever has. That loss is inevitable. Time does not stand still, and whether that loss is through betrayal, death, or some other inexorable force, it will come. Fighting won’t stop it. Running won’t stop it. Refusing to act won’t stop it. One or all of those may actually hasten the onset of the loss.
Try instead, accepting it. Picture that person, and imagine that he or she is not part of your life anymore. Perhaps you are the one to leave, or perhaps the other. Perhaps it is your death, perhaps the other’s. What do you have? Memories. Memories until there are no memories any longer, and then simply an end.
Allow yourself to feel the pain. Notice it, feel it, and release it. Let it go. Even physical pain responds to this, albeit slowly and only with practice. It’s not nearly as handy as a pill – but it’s much more lasting and less negatively addictive.
Only felt a little relief? Do it again. Go ahead. Feel it. Release it. Call someone you trust and share it.
And do it again.
Then, when a friend calls on you to share his pain or her’s, go ahead. No need to offer advice or empty words, just be there, accepting, feeling with, and loving.
Tending joy involves curating – searching for things, or places, or sounds or sights or smells that lift you, even a little, and building on them. Does your faith or spirituality give you joy? Expand it. That love that makes you smile all the way to your toes? Cherish it.
Take care of the things you can take care of. Appreciate the little things, and savor the bigger things. Robert Heinlein had it right in Stranger in a Strange Land – drink deeply of life and love and it will fill you.
Joy requires observation or participation. Be. Do. Dance. Joy is not a static state, it moves, and you must move. It sits still, and you must pause to be be still with it. Sometimes you must move with it, and sometimes you must walk away and let it be, because deeper still than the need for joy is the need for peace, for rest, for rejuvenation.
Sometimes joy is odd, and it comes from unexpected directions. Sometimes its so subtle, or so wrapped up in something we are used to thinking of as pain that we miss it (or almost). Sometimes it’s huge, and awe inspiring. And sometimes delicate, as fragile as a snowflake on a warming wind.
Collect joy in all its forms, feel it, and use it to balance, before and after, before and after, the pain of life, like beads of different colors strung from one end of life to the other.
Joy doesn’t exist apart from life, and those who retreat from life to find it are missing the point. Dive in, dance, take a break, grab a bit of refreshment, hold a conversation with a friend.
And don’t forget that over there, under the pretty blanket, is a pile of pain. Let it out, clean it up, and make room for joy to grow. Get help if you need it. Help others if they need it.
In the end, that’s all there is. Moments of joy and pain, experienced and shared. There is nothing else.
- Scatter Joy (nrhatch.wordpress.com)
- How Pain Teaches Us to Live Fully (tinybuddha.com)
- What is Happiness? (coca-cola.com)
- Can You Admit What You’re Feeling? (psychologytoday.com)