"I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that—I don’t mind people being happy—but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down three things that made you happy today before you go to sleep” and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position. It’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say, “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness.” Ask yourself, “Is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is."For most of my young life, my Mum used the adjective 'bubbly,' to describe me to new people. It is an adjective that I am proud of (thank you, Mum!) because it means light-hearted, animated, and lively. I believe these are all accurate pictures of my personality, but not because I'm innately a 'happy person.'
Just like everyone on the planet, I'm not always happy; I experience regularly (daily...sometimes hourly!) frustration, anger, sadness, guilt, worry. Instead of scolding myself for being unhappy though, I use these emotions to filter my feelings and then focus on gratitude. It is important to preserve my bubbliness by having all of the emotions on a regular basis. In that way, I am not surprised or caught off-guard by the regular unpleasantness of life, which allows me to experience it and then move on to the next one.
Happiness is not my end goal (although I enjoy quite a lot of happiness); but rather, as explained by McKay, I strive for wholeness. Wholeness for me represents the ability to experience all of life's emotions while recognizing that each of those are contained within the same bucket of Gratitude. I want to recognize that life is hard - for every person in different degrees and ways - and that no matter my current situation- gratitude is hidden in the moments that accompany every emotion; the pleasant and unpleasant ones equally. When I am frustrated, I can be grateful for a lesson a learned for next time. When I am disappointed, I can be grateful to have the extra boost to go for it again. At the end of even the very worst days, at the very bottom of the barrel, gratitude still sits for all the small pleasures that we take for granted; a warm drink, a friendly smile, the chance to try again better tomorrow.
This description of striving for wholeness also describes the way that I feel about my role of parenting. It is not my job as their mother to make sure my kids are always happy. First, that's unrealistic and impossible, (you already know this if you've ever spent time with a two year old who whines about a cookie that broke in half). Secondly, there will be endless amounts of time that my kids will be unhappy in their lives and that is something that they need to continue to learn how to overcome and experience again and again.
|happy to be visiting puppies; disappointed to not keep any|
I stand firmly in the parenting thought that being a little uncomfortable is good for the soul and for growing into a whole person. We are lucky and acknowledge that we have a life in which our versions of being uncomfortable are chosen instead of endured out of necessity. We regularly remind family, friends, and ourselves that it's perfectly fine for our kids to want and to not be perfectly comfortable all the time. I love the line from The Descendants in which the father said you should "give your kids enough money to do something, but not enough to do nothing." We try, as parents, to apply this concept to not only money, but all sorts of aspects; activities, parties, everyday life. We look at our job as their parent to not give them everything they want to be happy all the time, but rather give them enough to experience, learn, and grow creatively and confidently; and to support them emotionally through the all the feelings that come along with life and to help them see the gratitude that lies hidden in each of those moments.
Our strongest desire in parenting is to raise kids who are grateful and kind. As their parents, that is the foundation we want to lay; all the other stuff can be dumped into it. As they grow up, we and and other people (it takes a village, right?) will help teach and encourage them to be all the other things a person can be; imaginative, competitive, knowledgeable, curious...all that other stuff. But we believe wholeheartedly that without the gratitude and kindness - everything else is too easily wasted.
Gratitude (thankfulness, appreciation, acknowledgement) is not the same as happiness (pleasure, contentment, satisfaction). Perhaps the issue with creating a fear of sadness (or other unpleasant emotions) in today's world actually comes from a misuse of the word happiness; that when people focus or list the things that made them happy - they actually mean the things that they were grateful for throughout the day.
I think a shift from focusing on happiness to gratitude could do a lot of good in a world that sometimes feels overly sad, scary, and frustrating. A world where happiness appears to not reign supreme does not mean that it is a world where gratitude does not exist. On the contrary, from the gratitude that we can recognize out of the unpleasantness that surrounds us, it creates abundant opportunities to imagine, envision, and dream about how each of us can grow, learn, and create a world in which we find a balance for both the pleasant and unpleasant emotions. A world in which wholeness and gratitude shower each of us and the whole world in kindness.