I’ve been thinking about the meanings of happiness and sadness versus joy and sorrow.
For starters, applying the word “happiness” to myself like I have this week feels new and strange and almost dangerous. Is it wise to say that good things make me happy? After all, I live in a world where the pursuit of happiness is both an idol and an inalienable right which leads to obsession, selfishness, and meaninglessness.
I feel like Qoheleth, thinking about the futility of it all. Is happiness the fleeting feeling and joy the thing that lasts? Can we have both and live as fulfilled human beings or must we choose one over the other?
Your brow is broken with the heavy weight of sorrow that you bear.
In this culture we are taught that happiness is the ultimate goal and the only good emotion. The good feeling. The rush. The dissociation from anything slow, tedious, dirty or unpleasant. Some people embrace happiness full-on and then struggle for the rest of their existence to retain their immature grip on it; the notion of outgrowing the initial spark is absurd to them. Others live in a monotonous haze – happiness gets only a side-hug, and so does everything else because the fear of loss is greater than the will to thrive.
I don’t want to be like that.
But happiness is just a single note in the song of life, and we are forgetting the value of all the other notes. I want to embrace every season of my song with equal fullness because it makes sense to me that true meaning is found in a whole, not its fragmented parts. It’s why I don’t lick the icing off the cake anymore.
Your brow is broken; in my pursuits your pain I cannot share.
If happiness were everywhere, life would truly be meaningless.
If happiness is everything, then we forget joy and peace and compassion and perseverance; love, self-control, sacrifice, honour, mercy, justice and faith.
If happiness is everything, then life is shallow: we cannot grow from pain, nor create beauty in suffering because pain and suffering become the ultimate evil – not the results of it. Suddenly, the consequences of evil are re-dubbed “evil” and evil is renamed “good”.
It’s easy then to demonize happiness. But happiness is good, and that is important to remember too! Rather, it is the pursuit of happiness at the expense of other things that leads to all kinds of evil. Obsession. Selfishness. Meaninglessness.
I want to live in the tension, fully present in every season of life. I don’t want to grow miserable with age because of health issues or because of the loss of the happiness that I am blessed with now.
Maybe it’s important to remember that no matter what the American constitution says, happiness is not a right; it is a blessing. A gift. And the pursuit of it is not our goal. We cannot earn a gift – earning a gift is completely beside the point! The pursuit of happiness is like the love of money. Both happiness and money can be good things – unless we abuse them. And to love something that never deserved our trust or affection – and to pursue something that was only meant to be received – that can generate enough evil to destroy lives. It is destroying lives.
Your brow is broken for my wounds –
your hands are open for my scars.
You bear the brunt of every sorrow I deny and then discard.
I don’t want to be happy forever; I want to live a full and meaningful life. There is a big difference!
Written March 2014, Emma Dumitra.
Image from http://www.moreurope.com.