You know that analogy about clutching something so tight we’re afraid we’ll lose it, and we end up killing it instead?
That’s sometimes how I feel about happiness—only, I tend to do the opposite and be so afraid of losing it, I don’t even want to go near it.
I sometimes think that I don’t know how to be happy.
Happiness has always felt like some far-off concept that I’d just wake up one day and magically have, only the days keep passing, and I’m still wondering where it is.
It’s not to say that I’m not happy, it’s more that I’m scared to admit it and embrace it if I am. I’m scared that if I do, it will go away, and I won’t ever get it back.
It’s how I feel when I start to like someone. I don’t know how to just be and enjoy our time together, because I am terrified that something is going to go wrong.
The first time I really fell in love, I didn’t feel this way. I was in blissful joy, unaware that things could fall apart in the way that they did. And maybe that’s where a lot of this stems from. We don’t know what we don’t know until we know it—and then there’s no turning a blind eye.
Ignorance is bliss. What we don’t know can’t hurt us.
Of course, it doesn’t actually work that way. We still get hurt, and we are only doing ourselves (and others) more harm by not facing those possibilities head-on.
And so, I’m sitting here, wondering how I am supposed to reconcile these two truths. That ignoring it won’t help but facing the fear might make me squeeze too tight and kill the experience.
How do we find this middle ground?
I’ve been (really) slowly reading Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart, and this particular section speaks to this struggle:
“Impermanence is the goodness of reality. Just as the four seasons are in continual flux, winter changing to spring to summer to autumn; just as day becomes night, light becoming dark becoming light again—in the same way, everything everything is constantly evolving. Impermanence is the essence of everything. It is babies becoming children, then teenagers, then adults, then old people, and somewhere along the way dropping dead. Impermanence is meeting and parting. It’s falling in love and falling out of love. Impermanence is bittersweet, like buying a new shirt and years later finding it as part of a patchwork quilt.
People have no respect for impermanence. We take no delight in it; in fact, we despair of it. We regard it as pain. We try to resist it by making things that will last—forever, we say—things that we don’t have to wash, things that we don’t have to iron. Somehow, in the process of trying to deny that things are always changing, we lose our sense of the sacredness of life. We tend to forget that we are part of the natural scheme of things.”
I remind myself of this today. That I have loved and been loved and hurt and lost and I have come out the other end of it okay. That these endings have made those moments all the more beautiful. And that if I didn’t experience those losses, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. And who knows what other losses could lead to in the future.
It’s not an attitude of everything happens for a reason, but an acknowledgement that these two truths can and do coexist. That “happiness” isn’t some end goal to achieve, because our state of being is constantly in flux.
I am learning to approach this kind of thinking with curiosity, whereas a few years and even months ago, I would have approached it with self-loathing and despair.
I think about the current state of the world, how I don’t feel like my voice is one that can contribute to the conversation. I think about how I’m sitting here, contemplating my own happiness and relationships, and I do not know how to channel these emotions into something productive.
Yes, life can end at any moment, our everyday lives can drastically shift to a “new normal”—and we adjust. We protest in the streets for change. We amplify voices that need to be heard. We demand reform on a systemic level and see some of those shifts happening. We shelter in place. We sing from balconies in isolation. We walk through the park and recognize the beauty of the trees blossoming in spring.
I don’t know how to be happy, and maybe that’s not the point. If I can sit in this discomfort instead of doing everything I can to avoid it, then maybe there is more space within me to be part of the changes I’m witnessing.
And I think I’d rather spend a lifetime trying to do good than pondering what it means to be happy.
“Everything that ends is also the beginning of something else.” ~ Pema Chödrön