We all have a common goal in life. We want to be happy. In fact, this desire is so universal that very few of us will dispute this point. However, it is interesting to pause a moment to observe how we conspire against ourselves to prevent us from experiencing the happiness that does come our way.
Consider for a moment the belief which we have often heard, "Don't laugh so much, because later on you will cry!" The assumption is that we should hold back from fully enjoying the present joy, because if we do it will cause us to feel sad later on. Presumably, we must maintain a certain level of unhappiness so that the sadness which may follow later will be more bearable!
Another statement, I have heard often from people is, "Even though I want the best to happen, I train my thoughts to expect the worst!" So, as we wait, hope and yearn for the best to happen, we build images of the worst things happening. We believe that if we wish for the best and if it does not happen then it would be a terrible tragedy! Instead of just facing the disappointment if and when it happens, we choose to create a miserable state in anticipation of the worst which may or may not happen! And suppose the best does happen, chances are that we still won't rejoice completely because, "You never know how things will turn out in the future."
It appears that, though we want to be happy, we are actually afraid to feel happy! If we look closely at our reluctance to enjoy our happy moments we realise that this reluctance does not stem from the fear of being happy, rather it stems from the our insistence that we must continuously feel happy.
This is the problem – we don't just want to be happy we want to feel happy all the time! I have called this expectation a problem because it is this unrealistic demand that we have from life which keeps us unhappy. Since we all know that realistically a state of continuous bliss is not possible, we develop beliefs, like those mentioned here, which appear to protect us from the disappointment of facing the changing conditions of life. We are afraid to face the low points in life so we don't let ourselves relish the high points. If we did not fear the sad moments in life then we would not subscribe to beliefs which teach us to temper our joyful moments. We would simply be more open to the present moment and allow ourselves to fully savour the happiness that it offers.
Unless we accept that the graph of life will have it's high points and it's low points, we may never let ourselves experience the happiness that comes our way. In fact, so great is our dread of the future sadness that we actually start thinking illogically. We don't stop to consider that there is really no casual connection between how intensely we experience the highs and the depth of the misery that may or may not follow the highs! The degree to which we feel happy does not directly create the sadness that we may experience at a later time.
Ironically, it appears that, in order to feel happy we have to develop the strength and confidence necessary to manage and handle the sad moments of life. It is only when we are ready to face the depths of sadness which may come our way, that we can reach our goal of fully experiencing happiness. Or else, we will dismiss, dilute or fear experiencing the many moments of happiness that are a part of lives!
We spend too much time building a shield of sadness to protect ourselves from future disappointments. As a result, we confide ourselves to living in a narrow band of feelings in which there is no room for true happiness.
We can be happy if we accept the simple reality that life is composed of moments which pass – whether they are happy or sad.
By Dr Rani Raote, a practising psychotherapist.