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Is Happiness Our Only Choice?

by Christine DeSadeleer Nov 18, 2009
The quest for what brings happiness is eternal. At least seems that way.

Swept up in the notion that life is meant to be happily lived, many of us often struggle with what it means to be happy on any given day. Am I feeling good at this moment? Was I feeling better yesterday? Why can’t I get to that balanced state of bliss?

Ah, yes, the “balanced state of bliss.” What in the world could that possibly imply? Some sort of a delusion, at least on my part. After a better part of my childhood and 20s fraught with depressive tendencies, I feel a daily pull of that which remains, on some levels, an enigma. Which gives me full appreciation for something I recently read on the Happiness Project blog:

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned (through a decade of practice with Zen Buddhism) is that melancholy is perfectly normal – it’s neither happy nor unhappy – and it’s all right to walk slowly through it.

Sometimes, I feel with all the positive affirmations, law of attractions, and 2012s being thrown around, we are forced, in a way, to feel “happy” all of the time. Even when we don’t. It’s as if sadness, anger, and discomfort have become four letter words that we beat to a bloody pulp as if they were a rabid raccoon attacking our child.

Here at Matador, we’ve searched far and wide for the ingredients to happiness, best summed up in Carlo Alcos’ piece, 5 Key Ingredients in the Search for Happiness. He found that introspection, freedom, compassion, generosity, and contentment were all necessary aspects for happiness.

But can’t these just as easily be ingredients of melancholy? And is that necessarily a bad thing?

To be human is to feel all the emotions available on the spectrum. I sometimes want to cry out that to accept where you are right at this moment is to be free. The problem comes in when those emotions, whether happiness or sadness, take over. Then we are no longer who we are – we have instead become the emotion.

The Absolute End of Happiness

Within the context of feeling happiness is necessary all of the time comes the idea that death is looming to take life, happiness, and – as Ian MacKenzie recently explored with filmmaker Patrick Shen – meaning away.

We all only have a set amount of time here, and we best power-pack it full of smiles, giggles, and moments of perfection.

A recent post over at the New York Times contemplates these beliefs around life (and death). Author Todd May explores our fear of death, as it “extinguishes” the light of our future, which we are programmed as humans to be constantly striving for.

But May argues for the validity and awareness of death in truly living life:

It is equally true that a life without limits would lose the beauty of its moments…this is the paradox death imposes upon us: it grants us the possibility of a meaningful life even as it takes it away.

He continues, “we cannot live forever, to be sure, but neither would we want to,” and I believe the same is true for happiness. Would I want to be happy forever? No, because then I could not truly understand what it means to be happy.

And though I believe fully in shooting for a middle-ground, and understand how important this is for the sake of mental health, I also revel in the ups and downs that the universe hands me (or I hand myself?) as a way to feel fully alive.

We can’t get rid of death (well, according to most, though Jason Silva disagrees), and by the same token, we can’t get rid of melancholy. The question is, why do we continue to fight so hard against both?

Do you think sadness or melancholy should be avoided at all costs? Share your thoughts below.

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