The Pursuit of Happiness- Pursue Living Instead
I write a lot about happiness. And health, and balance.
The other day, my friend, Mary Catherine of Better Ice Creamed, posted this quote by Hugh MacKay, author of The Good Life:
"I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that—I don’t mind people being happy—but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down three things that made you happy today before you go to sleep” and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position. It’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say, “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness.” Ask yourself, “Is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is."
Reading this quote made me realize something- I, along with all the other bloggers and Instagrammers of the world, tend to emphasize happiness as if it's the only emotion that can exist. Sure, these curated feeds are predisposed to painting happy images of a life, but life and living mean so much more than happiness. Health and balance includes it all.
When I quit my miserable job a few years ago and embarked upon a new journey of self-discovery, I thought the goal was to find my happiness; to find out what made me happy, what fulfilled me, and who I was. Fast-forward to present day, I have learned that life is not about striving for happiness-- it's about striving for the wholeness of life. Life entails happiness, yes, but it also relies on pain, struggles, and discomfort to provide the entirety of the experience.
Nobody likes to feel the pain and discomfort of feelings like sadness, failure, and frustration. It's so much easier to try to gloss over these feelings like they are a yucky cold you just want to get rid of and not think about again, right? It also doesn't help that common advice for handling these types of feelings are to just "cheer up, everything will be alright" or "don't dwell on the negative things!"
Of course no one should get stuck with their head in the ground and only focus on the negative. But I contend that if you don't let go and let yourself fall into those scary feelings, you'll never learn how to get yourself back up.
Every thing that happens to you and because of you is an opportunity. An opportunity to explore the new and unknown feelings of experiencing something you don't know the outcome of. An opportunity to grow as a human in your maturity and perspective. You could just shut your eyes and barrel through it, but then you don't get to see and remember your journey through it all. And you could have missed something beautiful in the darkness that will stay with you forever, and continue to teach you.
I only began learning how to understand the things that truly fulfilled me, once I started to let go of the relentless chase for this societally-created structure of "happiness." Forcing myself to feel all the things- the good, the bad, the happy, and the sad.
I challenge you all- the next time you feel the instinctive urge to push feelings aside because it's scary and uncomfortable, sit with them. Pull up a chair for those feelings, and let it sit next to you for a moment. Let yourself swim with that feeling, understand it, see where it's coming from-- give yourself that time to process.
I'll finish this post with one more quote that explains the perfect metaphor for this, found on my favorite Facebook page of all time, Humans of New York:
"If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?"
"When a wave comes, go deep."
"I think I'm going to need an explanation for that one."
"There's three things you can do when life sends a wave at you.
1. You can run from it, but then it's going to catch up and knock you down.
2. You can also fall back on your ego and try to stand your ground, but then it's still going to clobber you.
3. Or you can use it as an opportunity to go deep, and transform yourself to match the circumstances. And that's how you get through the wave."