The Pursuit of Happiness
We live in a society where crying is seen as a sign of weakness, the go-to Instagram pose is “okay, now pretend to laugh on 3” and we stick band-aids over our wounds instead of enduring the pain of the needle to stitch them back up. Happiness is idolised as the ultimate end goal and the pursuit of it is prevalent. We’re told that an enviable vacations, perfectly rolled joints and one night stands are the quick fixes. We’re told that a good job, a flashy house, and shiny car will get us there for good. We’re lead to believe that if we are not happy all the time, something is seriously wrong. Why is it that we are born with a full spectrum of emotions but we try to feel such a small percentage of them? I mean, according to Einstein, we're already only using 10 percent of our brain!
Last month, I went back to Auckland for a few days for my Nan’s funeral. There haven’t been many times in my life where I’ve had to grieve and, honestly, I’m really awkward at it. In a black dress, I sat staring at the wood grain of the pew in front of me trying to distract myself from what was going on around me by thinking of happier times. Every second leading up to the funeral I spent out with friends, putting off having to internalise anything and avoiding my own company like the plague. Sitting in the service, I’d got so far down a different train of thought before I pulled my wandering mind to a screeching halt. I realised I was letting an unwillingness to feel anything stop me from doing what I’d taken days off work and flown all the way to New Zealand to do - honour and remember my Nan. As the service progressed, I leaned in a little closer and took down the wall I’d put up to protect myself from feeling anything. By the end of it, I was a soppy mess, feeling the kinds of emotions that couldn’t be drowned in cucumber sandwiches and cups of tea. I was seeing things from a totally new perspective.
I realised that I’d been so caught up in the pursuit of happiness but insights, creativity and wisdom come from experiencing a whole array of emotions. We are always told to “just do what makes you happy” but sadness actually has a place in our lives too. In the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, it says “Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us. A wise person thinks a lot about death, while a fool thinks only about having a good time.” It also says “You learn more at a funeral than at a feast— After all, that’s where we’ll end up. We might discover something from it. Crying is better than laughing. It blotches the face but it scours the heart...” This isn’t implying that we should live in a permanent state of negative emotions but that we can learn from them and channel them into something beautiful. Sorrow, pain, fury, frustration and disappointment are all part of the human experience and it's actually okay to not be okay. Experiencing the fullness of these emotions allow us to empathise with others and can give birth to some of our most ingenious ideas and precious insights.
I want to stop using the pursuit of happiness as a distraction from dealing with things that I need to deal with. Instead of suppressing my emotions, I want to become more aware of them. If I am feeling stressed out and fatigued, maybe I need to step back and look at the reasons why, instead of trying to find the emotional energy to get through the day by demolishing half a packet of TimTams. If I am angry, maybe I could channel my rage into fighting for a cause - standing against poverty, injustices and prejudices. No feeling lasts forever but they are all part of the human experience. I want to feel deeply again, and channel my emotions into things that are meaningful, creative and worthwhile instead of pretending they don't exist.