No Substitute for Happiness…Or is There?
Article Written by Linda Hunter, Originally Posted on Life as a Human January 23, 2015
What is it about the state of HAPPINESS that has it in such high demand? Parents often wish only for their children to “be happy’ while the world and the web are filled with ideas and strategies around searching for and finding our bliss. Some suggest that we may be able to create a world of fulfillment, that we may even have control over our own happiness; invite luck, work hard, aim high, be the best, have more, be more, do more. Still others, with a different view, teach us to merely enjoy small pleasures, the simple things in life and that by going within we can intend it, create it, and manifest it. Either way, it is apparently within our own means to find and maintain it; worthy of a lifetime of searching, because the alternative, being without it, should somehow leave us feeling ‘less than’.
I think we have it all wrong, it’s an impossible quest. While I agree that happiness is a beautiful thing, the preferred state, worth finding and keeping when we can, I also think it is fleeting, difficult to maintain continuously or at a high level, and tenuous; anything can happen to us at any time, and happiness can leave us more swiftly than it came. We have created an expectation that we ‘deserve’ to be happy, that it is an ideal within our grasp, and that feeling less than joyous means that something must be wrong; with us, with the way we are living, with our current state of being, with the choices we are making. And once we fall from a state of happiness, we are encouraged to spend time, energy, and effort, searching for it once again, as though our current state, whatever it may be, is somewhat less than perfect.
We have grown uncomfortable with that uneasy feeling that lies between the last and the next bout of happiness. And while we live in hope of joy returning at some point, we can never really be certain; that it will come again, that it will stay, that it won’t forsake us. Arriving usually from the outside, it stops in for a short visit or sometimes settles down for a longer stay but is impossible to maintain in any permanent state as it is completely dependent on circumstance and criteria.
For if it were possible, would we not be saying that when suffering, sadness, and darkness find us, that happiness can remain alongside, or push out those new unwanted feelings entirely. Surely, this cannot be the case. When our state becomes one of grief or suffering, when we are depressive, or feeling the world’s overwhelm, weighed down by worry, how can we possibly feel happy? And would it not be healthier and better, to in fact, honour that new state, regardless of how painful, so that we can work through it, rather than stuff it down or ignore it’s pangs. All emotions serve us in some capacity and rarely does it help to stifle what is true and present, for what we desire or wish for the future, even when it hurts, regardless of how unwelcome.
What I believe might serve us better than happiness, is PEACE. Peace can be with us continuously and maintain a steadfast state. What is remarkable about peace is that it can withstand the test of time, can live in a place that is happy or not, in darkness and in light; it can accompany us in our worst of times. Subject to criteria or circumstance, happiness ebbs and flows, but peace is not contingent; it is a constant, an unwavering companion, with us always, available at all times, in our moments of greatest need. When we suffer, are lonely or alone, are without and overcome, overwhelmed and underneath, ill or even dying, it may be impossible to be happy. But it IS possible to be at peace. Even in despair, we can lean in and surrender to what is, accept that which is going on in and around us, provide a calm and serene place of spirit. We can fall to our knees; find a safe place to land. A sense of peace allows us to be still and vulnerable, to take on what we encounter and to find a way to accept it, walk alongside it, pave a path of grace. It allows us to remain grounded, comfortable in our own skin, on an even keel, neither up nor down, but sitting still, in a good place, or just ‘in place.’ Not dependent, peace does not arrive or leave, but can sit quietly, forever present, able to take on whatever comes our way.
Imagine what we might do for our children if we could raise them with a sense of peace, heart centered and spirit fed. What if we told them this truth; that there may be hard times, difficult, gut wrenching, sad, lonely and empty times, heart aching, bone weary, lower than low times, but that, with a sense of peace, feeling surrounded and held, that they can handle it, regardless of the outcome. What if we told them this truth; this may be as good as it gets, the road may be longer than they have the strength to step, the journey may be painful, harder than they anticipate, frightening and difficult, but that, with a sense of peace, they can not only accept it and endure it, but can eventually find a place of serenity in their steps and perhaps even gratitude for the lessons and the learning; a place of wisdom and welcome for the gifts.
We cannot save our children from the planet, from truth, from sadness or heartache, from darkness or their destiny. But in a world that is ripe with conflict, chaos, hurt and hurry we can re-frame the answers, show them a way to peace, a place where they can relax their opposition, simply say ‘yes’ to whatever is coming, has arrived, has stayed, won’t leave. We can take the pressure off their ‘finding happiness’ and we can help them find a way to shine a light on the moment, open their minds to possibility, and lean into a shift in perspective. Rather than argue what cannot be altered, we can help them surrender, to be ‘present’ to what is present, to embrace rather than resist, to pull strength from faith or fact, and to wade in, knowing that they can weather the storm, able to face rather than fear.