“... once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.”
~Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love.
There’s a school of thought about that derides the passion for happiness, but surely it’s a common human need and good desire to be fulfilled. This doesn’t contend against the opposite school; what’s to be learned from suffering. Suffering gives meaning to happiness. Its overthrown urges are vindicated by it.
Happiness is an elusive thing.
The more it’s sought the more it runs the other way. But there’s a middle ground in seeking and finding, as there’s a skill in retaining that which many find impossible to embrace with any durable confidence.
A Cherished Prize and Happiness ‘the Choice’
When happiness eludes, can it be willed or chosen for? Some think so. It depends, of course, on hope. The repealing presence of fear finds itself (paradoxically) at the receiving end of joy. Hope produces joy. It extinguishes fear.
It’s hard to feel hopeful when you’re not. No brainer really.
I’m not sure happiness can be willed—simply a choice. This is even more reason it’s to be prized, per the Gilbert quote.
There we go; just proved correct those suffering contempt at happiness’s mocking hand. And those are many! Despite the most proximal wish many are those who cannot secure a sense of lasting happiness.
Even more is it to be prized. Against the naysayers, happiness, the drug for life, is to be grasped and held tight enough not to be easily lost, whilst loosely enough we don’t strangle it.
Can we frustrate ourselves by becoming polarised by it? Sure.
Being Gentle with Ourselves
When thought is given to great works on happiness it’s hard to go past Max Ehrmann’s, The Desiderata.
These last three lines offer up the overall mood:
“With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”
This ode reeks of acceptance. Happiness can only be assured at the behest of a place of greatest personal protection.
Being gentle with ourselves no matter what happens is the skill of humility—a hard-earned character trait. Happiness and self-pity cannot coexist. Instead of kicking against the pricks of life it’s best to project to oneself copious portions of self-understanding for whatever transpires. And there are so many traps!
The happy medium (pardon the pun) is being thankful for times of happiness whilst investing for it when it’s scarce. That takes courage—to resist a flimsy coping mechanism for the bravery of embracing the fear unhappy times bring.
Then again the Gilbert advice—whilst we’re happy—is good advice.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.
The Desiderata in full is available here.