The Misery Paradox
What do you like? Who do you like? What do you love? Who do you love? If we were surrounded all the time by what we like and the people we love, logic says we would be happy. Why is this not then always true?
It isn’t true because of our imagination, and because things change. We can imagine things changing for the better, and we can imagine things changing for the worse. This is natural. Things do change for better or worse in nature.
For those of you who know me, you’ll be aware of how much I detest the word: problem. For now, I’d ask you to put this to one side and go with me on this…….
The problem of excess is one such example – it’s when you’ve had enough of something or someone you really like ….and you all know exactly what I mean! Seriously, just how many ice creams or chocolates can you eat without eventually feeling sick? Even too much water can start to taste distasteful!
Anxiety is another problem – this is the fear that what you have will evaporate or be taken away. Anxiety is the natural reaction to any threat.
Excess can be overcome with patience and restraint. If you wait long enough, you will, in time, be hungry or thirsty again for what you like. Often, though, we don’t want to wait. We seek new pleasures, new distractions or turn again to other favourites. This can become a never-ending pursuit. To find true and enduring satisfaction or contentment like this is rare.
Anxiety is more difficult to overcome. Whilst this, too, requires patience, it also requires wisdom. This is because, deep inside, we each carry the knowledge that nothing, no one thing or relationship will last forever, however much we attempt to hold on to it or make it last. We ourselves must one day face death. As miserable as this concept is, it is this that is the real threat to our happiness!
The real answer to anxiety is to grieve, to suffer the pain of grief and then allow your grief to resolve. Strangely then, the path to true happiness lies through letting go as opposed to holding on, and through the painful feelings of grief, through suffering these emotions in the sense of experiencing and allowing them to be felt. The truly wise folk amongst us always encourage people to face their misery and grief.
A real paradox, is it not? A guide to happiness that says we must suffer! Surely, there must be some other way? Really folks, I wish there were!!
A man and a woman meet. They fall in love. They make a point of seeing each other as often as they can, all the time if they could. When apart, they keep in contact by phone, non-stop. How do they know they care for each other? By how much it hurts to be separated!
To want something or someone, to desire like it hurts, is already proof that we suffer painful emotions. There is anxiety when the object of your desire is present….and there is grief when it goes or is lost. Lock up your treasure or your beloved in a tower, make your home a fortress or a prison and something essential will be lost. Even if you deny it, your delight will already be ruined.
If you feel angry, either against friend or foe, whether this is justified or not, it is only you who experiences the painful emotion, no-one else. If you then feel shame or guilt at your own anger, you compound the situation and get caught in a trap from which escape seems truly paradoxical ….because, in order to escape, we must actually allow, permit, experience, feel, in fact we must really suffer the painful emotion, rather than resist it, to be completely free! This means learning to feel ok about anger, feeling ok about shame and guilt, too. ….and why not? These are all inescapable experiences for every one of us who is alive!
Unfortunately, few people have been educated or conditioned to examine their emotional lives to such an extent. It is only when, perhaps, misfortune or tragedy strikes that they question what’s really important in their lives. To be able to sit quietly by yourself, in an undistracted way for anything more than just a few minutes is a comparatively uncommon skill, seen by many as a wanton waste of time, but one of uncommon and enormous value.
With the challenges (not problems!) that we have lying ahead, I can’t stress enough the importance of developing such a discipline. May the autumn equinox bring about the start of a future that is both prosperous and peaceful for us all.