There is a great song by Sting off his album, Mercury Falling. This lyric captured my attention for years, “I’m so happy that I, can’t stop crying – I’m so happy I’m laughing through my tears.” Fantastic when I first heard it, and 10 years later, they are still profound.
I recently read a post about dissatisfaction that was passed on by a friend. It is a ‘must read’: “Internet Monk – I Can’t Get No…” Chaplain Mike suggests that some people are meant to live in a state of unhappiness/dissatisfaction dismissing the romantic premise that a painful pathway is only temporary and inevitably leads to a good ending – many are meant to live a life time in a state of unhappiness (my rough summary).
Sounds depressing? Well, I am not surprised! We are not programmed to consider such a path, the ‘happiness industry’ and it’s 10 steps to significance, happiness, wealth, peace, health etc…messes with our intuition that would tell us unhappiness is a real and sometimes unavoidable pathway for many. It gets vigorously defended for a whole diverse set of reasons, mostly by people who haven’t been confronted with intense trauma.
I remember the first time I realised no matter how much counselling I had unpacking my tumultuous childhood, I could never change the base line story and the ramifications would continue to bring pain for the rest of my life. The most helpful advice I had was to accept this as part of life and consider it my ‘normal’. What was actually more painful than the terrible things done to me as a child was the deferred state of hope caused by the belief that somehow I could rid myself of unhappiness if I tried hard enough, ate the right food and read the right books.
What I am actually doing when I subject myself to the wisdom of a counsellor is learning to live with my figurative amputations rather than hoping my arms and legs would grow back one day . I think… some people enter themselves into the Olympics of life with no arms and legs and feel disappointed when the gun goes off because they have been led to believe everyone can run, you just have to try harder.
Unfortunately for me, I was distracted for a while by people who kept suggesting that despite my journey, I could live denying the informative impact of my past as though it was foreign and not part of me. Well, my past is completely part of me, it has informed my views, shaped my disposition, crafted my emotional capacity, given me unique skills, and along with that, unique vices too! To rid myself of unhappiness would to be in denial and numb the person I have become.
When I recall my past, it comes as a recollection of events but also an easily accessed set of painful emotions – that is the composite of a memory and can’t be changed. These emotions don’t somehow disappear or diminish, the intensity of those emotions was set back at the actual event, in other words time doesn’t change what happened. Time gives us the opportunity to learn to live with our history. Instead many take the pathway offered by the happiness industry to trade the ‘event’ for ‘success’ at the expense of becoming bland, superficial and disconnected from their soul.
There may be some people reading this that think everyone can overcome their unhappiness and is part of life’s ultimate goal, truly, it will never be the option for the war widow nursing her dead child in Syria right now – it is a callous suggestion to say she will be anything but unhappy for the rest of her life. Many people have their own version of the war widow in Syria – I do. My experience would have me believe you can’t decide with the power of your mind to lose the emotive and primal reflex of unhappiness, you can only deny it.
So why would anyone suggest that being unhappy is something to embrace rather than avoid? Having a base line of unhappiness does not mean you can’t experience joy. As I have written about ad nauseam, the reason I recognise joy in my life is because it is juxtaposed against the pain in my life. My joy has context and a scale because I have experienced a ‘zero’ so when I experience a ’10’ it actually means something – although that 10 is always tempered.
Embracing your true state allows for a sobered and refined mind. For me it is a magnet that keeps drawing me towards spirituality, not the pink candy kind with all the promise in the world for a ‘good life’ but the kind that costs me something and may never give me a ‘finish line’ in this life. If I allow the temptation of not acknowledging the true state of my heart, I will be drawn towards perfection and so many of the good things in life are not ‘perfect’.
Sunshine is one of 2 daughters I have the privilege of parenting. She lives with severe cerebral palsy. She can’t talk, eat via mouth, hear (without her cochlear implant), or walk let alone hold her head up independently. The reason I have the capacity to love her is, most times, I take the path that connects to unhappiness, this allows me to fully appreciate who she is without wishing for something different and I am a better man because of it. If I am not comfortable with the pain of life and choosing to live there, I will be intoxicated with happiness and I won’t be able to identify as strongly with my daughter – in fact I may even resent her. The proposition then is, would I be a worse parent if I chose the happiness path?
I will be racked with unhappiness for the rest of my life and I am becoming more content to live there while still experiencing joy amongst the reality of life – I have no intention of escaping to Nirvana. Honestly, if I pursued the path of ‘happiness’, I probably would have left my wife and kids and continued my career as a helicopter pilot. Happiness is not a virtue to be pursued, being present and immersed in all that life presents and doing it honestly is far more noble and useful.
So, you won’t find me ever reading a book that promotes an ‘escape clause’ for real life – a proposition of ‘happiness for everyone’, is in my opinion, the core of so many problems we face on earth.
By the way on another important note, when my wife and I were first married someone broke into our house and stole our Sting CD with the song I refer to, I was very sad. Then we brought a new one and I was happy again!