sometimes happiness can only emerge from periods of unhappiness.

 

 

What we think we want: to be happy.

What we don’t know we want: to be whole.

We have turned the pursuit of happiness into big business. The irony is that striving to be happy often makes us unhappy, partly because we don’t know what to want. We miswant, which is the word psychologists use when we want things that we mistakenly think will make us happy (winning the lottery) or know will ultimately make us less happy (feeding an addiction).

The pursuit of happiness also keeps us focused on our own damn selves, which dovetails nicely with a culture fueled by hyperconsumerism and narcissism. It brings us temporary pleasures, but no real joy, and leaves us disconnected and miserable. Even spirituality can turn into “spiritual materialism” when it becomes what Chogyam Trungpa calls “an ego building and confusion creating endeavor” (the main purpose of which is to feel good and escape suffering).

How is this working out for us?

Healthline reports that depression rates rise by 20 percent every year. When you think about the things we do to feel better (eating, shopping, cruising the Internet, sex, gambling) the soaring rates of obesity, addiction and consumer debt underscore the fact that we are not a happy people, no matter how many blog posts we consume or seminars and workshops we attend.

What if we accepted the fact that we are not meant to be happy all the time? Or even that, sometimes, happiness must emerge from periods of unhappiness?

What if we recognized the dark times as a process of initiation into a deeper wisdom, that can serve to heal others as well as ourselves?

The hero and heroine’s journeys are not quests to be happy.

They seek to restore what was lost.

The hero ventures out into the world, and returns with a boon to heal a wounded community. In so doing, he heals himself, through learning how to lose or sacrifice that self for his community.

The heroine ventures deep within herself to confront psychological darkness, heal a split in her psyche, and turn her wounds to light. In so doing, she gains a sense of self independent of community. Her transformation inspires that community to alter the beliefs and values that no longer serve them (or serve to wound them).

Versions of these journeys compel us in story after story after story, whether it’s the hero’s journey made famous in Star Wars or the heroine’s story in films like FROZEN or the upcoming WILD (based on Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir). Since the best stories also serve as emotionally charged delivery systems of timeless wisdom, I can’t help but wonder at our refusal as a culture to apply that wisdom to ourselves, to move through the tough stuff instead of slowly killing ourselves as we seek to deny and avoid it.

I keep coming back to Jung’s observation that the great wound of modern life is the absence of soul.

That’s what the journeys are:

A call to soul.

Nov 17, 2014
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21 comments · Add Yours

As someone who sometimes feels like the curmudgeon of the coaching world I inhabit, I love this. Meaning and contentment I find with myself and clients are much more rewarding than the striving of happiness.

It’s interesting you mention gratitude. I was listening to the Art of Manliness Podcast (my husband alerted it to me because it was on story editing and at the heart of my Truce with Food model is editing the unwhole stories within women). The host was interviewing Dr. Tim Wilson. His team was challenging some of the Positive Psychology research on gratitude lists. They found asking people to write about imagining ” what their life would be like if this good thing had not happened to them.” Not just being grateful but thinking about what if this gratitude never happened. What they found in some studies was that this writing exercise was actually better at improving people’s moods and making them more grateful for what they did have.

I bring this up because in a path to wholeness/heroine’s journey, we really need to not be grateful perse of what awful things have happened, but work to appreciate what they now have given us access to.

I remember during one recent heroine’s journey pitstop, I was coming to the conclusion with the help of a skilled visual imagery therapist that I had never gone through the grieving of having had cancer as a teenager (a lot of my striving was keeping two steps ahead of this pain…all unconscious).

While I had dedicated my life to helping others with their health to hopefully make new meaning of the experience, I was indignant that I should be grateful for cancer or that it happened for a reason (my reason is all the chemicals and pollutants in the world!). He told me I didn’t have to be grateful for it but had to understand what it gave me access too (i.e. empathy, depth, etc). It really changed my frame of reference and realized that in that deep vulnerability, I was given access to more of a range of myself that I might not have known otherwise. I don’t have to “get over” my grief, which still arises in the strangest of places, but rather acknowledge the WHOLE (R) range of myself it gives me access to.

Brene Brown shared in one of her first Ted talks that studies with addicts show extremely joyful experiences will relapse an addict as much as a painful one. Without embodying vulnerability, one core of any heroine’s journey, we can’t have access to a whole range of who we are. And I am with you, what we are all really after is wholeness (it’s often what women project onto the perfect body).

Long post! I just love the heroine’s journey and path of the soul. I look forward to your e-book. I’m so glad you are bringing attention to this. It’s the stories that aren’t told that affect us just as much as the ones that are.

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You’ve written MANY powerful posts. This is one of the best. Yes, men, or at least some men, go through both journeys as well. Thanks for being balanced and not putting men down in the process of lifting women up. We all have a lot to learn and need to be pulling together. Thanks for bringing that awareness to your writing. I’ve been a reader and fan for sometime. With gratitude.

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This reminds me of what Parker Palmer has written about: “Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life. Knowing this gives me hope that human wholeness—mine, yours, ours—need not be a utopian dream, if we can use devastation as a seedbed for new life.” For me, exploring this concept has unleashed huge amounts of creative energy I’d once buried.

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very thoughtful. Your insight and perspective is right on. As human beings dwelling on planet earth – harmony, the delicate balance needs to be restored in order for us to move forward in our dynamic, changing world. You’re right on.

Thank you.

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I recently read Antidote by Oliver Burkeman and it changed the way I think of the pursuit of happiness. This post is aligns perfectly with my changing ideas. Thanks.

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“When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” Excerpt from The Prophet by Kahil Gibran

“The hero and heroine’s journeys are not quests to be happy.
They seek to restore what was lost.”
I believe seeking happiness works in a similar way. We are seeking for an achievable state of being we’ve been in before. That’s self-fulfillment.

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This is a very profound post. It spurs us to think and refect.

Is a baby born “happy” or in a state of “happiness”? How do we learn to be “unhappy”?

Would winning the lottery bring happiness to most people? Probably not, but it would afford most the ability to escape the daily stuggles of basic survival and provide opportunities to assist others in the enrichment of their lives.

I am new here to this blog, having discovered it this morning. I thank Justine and the others who have contributed for enriching my life.

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Well said. It is true that in the west we are in a dilemma of the soul. This is spreading in the east as well via Capitalism. The wholeness of the spirit is all that makes us what we truly are. The dispersive nature of materialism makes us weak and limp. The dilemma is that we need material objects to survive in this universe. A soul impinged on a mountain when all it wants it to be free of it. A mountain aching for a soul to direct it. Life hangs in the balance. Heroism is the overcoming of that balance to stand on top of it. Happiness is the reward for having done so. May we all reach that goal……….

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In my culture …we believe in happy and unhappy things come one after one..like a loop or circle…happy thing will be followed by unhappy thing

As a modification..i want to gave bigger happy thing…then small unhappy thing

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I have just started No Mud, No Lotus by Thich Nhat Hahn. I am always so surprised by the wealth of references you make in your poignant posts. I have discovered Carol Gilligan through this site and through her more. Maybe, if you haven’t read it I could return the favor.

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Happy New Year, Justine!

Just wanted to say I miss your blogposts and hope to see more in the new year.

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Thanks for the post, Justine. I think you’re right in what you’re saying about happiness and the pursuit of happiness, but I’d like to add another perspective.

I had the opportunity to see the movie “Hector and the Search for Happiness” several months ago, and the conclusion the movie (and Hector) come to at the end has stuck with me and seems to me to be the best perspective out there on happiness.

It goes like this (I’m paraphrasing from the movie) – The more you chase after happiness, the more it eludes you. Happiness is actually the by-product of the pursuit of meaningful work that you’re passionate about.

In other words, don’t pursue happiness. Instead, pursue your passion and make it meaningful, and you’ll find yourself to be happy.

My own experience, and what I’ve seen of others, says this is true. So this is how I plan to spend the rest of my life; finding ways to pursue meaning and passion, and let the happiness take care of itself.

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I hope everything is going okay for you and your children. We miss you!

I made a connection with this post after reading Simon Sinek’s book, Leaders Eat Last. Sinek includes a couple of chapters discussing how our selfish and selfless happy hormones are part of our biological incentive system. He emphasizes that workers feel and work best when protected by leaders. In addition to his books on why some organizations pull together better than others, Sinek’s TED Talks are incredible.

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I think you shared a true which I totally agree on it but it’s an incomplete one, only God through Jesus can give us true joy and contement. The premise love God above all ( talking about priorities), love your neighbor as yourself, when is live it as it is fulfill you. Accepting God as God, Father, friend and mentor give you identity, asking for his forgiveness give you peace and strength to start again and to accept your weakness, imperfections, your humanity and to understand others’. Only God can make you whole, truly whole and give you purpose in life not for just a season but for eternity. Great job writing this article/blog?

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Hi Justine!
Came across your blog through a tweet from Katie Aquino AKA Miss metaverse, anyway I read your piece and also watched one of your talks. “The art of my deep yes“
Thought I will share with you something I wrote about when I realised the end of my youth mixed in with some pain I felt at a later stage. I have now used it as the lyrics of a song for a short film I am doing about life.
Blue is the sky, green is the fields, dark is the sorrow that lies behind.
White is the flower, green it’s leafs, grey the colour of its destruction.
Purple the colour of my heart, black is the road that lies ahead.
I go down that road until it suddenly stops and you are gone, lost for me.
It will not hurt, nothing hurts, just the same old fears.
With thoughts that refuses to manifest itself
With empty eyes that refuses to see or be seen, I touch my bare soul and felt the sharp edges of my shattered soul. I am consumed by sorrow and out of my sadness and pain the truth of my life manifest itself. No place left to hide.
Yet I am alive and have been long before I arrived here.
It will not hurt, nothing hurts, just the same old fears.
George

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Where are you Justine? We miss You!! Come back!

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A welcome fresh blast of honesty that my parched, thirsty soul has been longing to hear.thank you for all that you do Justine

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I hope I can make this partially coherent. My writing usually only makes sense to me, but this post and a few others have common threads. Unfortunately, I have obligations to the exact animal I am about to partially skewer.

I think that during this epoch of human history we are experiencing a melding of Discovery to Comfort/Happiness. The indoctrination is almost unavoidable. Just think of any type of media advertising, digital/visual/audio/sensory, I mean we have reached an unfortunate proficiency in how to make someone feel good by buying something. Even tampon and condom commercials give most people a warm feeling, and they don’t even know why. Another example, you just have to have a new camera. So, perhaps you employ Google’s shopping search to price out the options and find the best deal. All of the sudden, it’s four hours later. You’ve found the perfect camera, but your purchasing triumph is tainted by a creeping feeling of, well, disgust. Couldn’t that time have been used better? Like to tell someone you love them, kiss your kids and give of yourself to them totally for four hours…..play with your dog/cat/pony/giraffe. Be satisfied with your phone camera.

The media is centered on promoting happiness as the goal of everyday life. Even “journalists” of today deny ethical consideration to spin as story (lie) to provide a article that will comfort the targeted demographic.The media conglomerates invoke the psychological methodology originated by Harry Hollingsworth…followed by Watson, Gale, the team at Disney (Steamboat Willie to Mickey) and now we have true expertise behind this Machiavellian engine. Digital website psychology, Search Engine Optimization and the ClickBait and Spam empires. Society almost guarantees some exposure to this indoctrination and is driven by the pursuit of comfort, read Happiness.

You wrote about self-love and Gucci in another post, which is related in a sense to me with this subject. My title might have been, “My Buddha Comes with a Mercedes Ornament”. Your point in general was about consumerism as an avenue we take to find or substitute Happiness and Comfort. Also some people, who realize the empty lives they got stuck in, use it as a temporary fix for fulfillment.

At some point in the past you wrote about a key tool to use in everyday life is identifying motivation as a way of finding answers. So as for the motivations for comfort and happiness, when did true discovery, hopefully with some altruism involved, become so attached, melded with comfort seeking?

Why take away the necessity of being uncomfortable? Perhaps that’s why kids are not going to college. It’s’ hard to be happy and comfortable if you have to work a couple part-time jobs to achieve an education which will, in the future, enable a wider choice of paths to happiness.

At this point I will plagiarize George Burns and point out the universal constant of opposites. The existence of up necessitates there being a down. The state of happiness has sadness tagging along. More simply, there are different types of happiness the obvious example being Love. Also, there different types of sadness. Melancholy is just a degree of happiness that has it’s purposes, for me it’s insight by rebooting the brain and enabling me to turn on and filter out the media’s bombardment of Happiness Indoctrination. Humans will always seek something although I wonder if evolution is catching up with our successes? Could happiness make us the next Dodo?

Today’s takeaway, for me, is that perhaps a useful approach to probing problems for solutions or insight would be designing an analytical method which will filter out and unstack the Matryoshka doll-like layers Happiness Indoctrination. Original? Maybe not, but I think I will give it a go, if just to remind me to be aware of the need to be aware, Clarity is the goal.

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It is a blessing to have someone of influence finally declare this publicly. “Happy’ is addictive because “happy” is a drug…literally. When we giggle and laugh, eat sugar, do “fun” stuff, consume caffeine, coke, crank, or molly…we release relative amounts of dopamine (or is it serotonin? or both? I always mix those two up…I know the molly also releases waves of oxytocin…i dunno, doesn’t really matter for this present discussion, tho). “Happy” is something you can buy. It’s a little red button that we can “push”. The problem is, we gotta keep pushing it. It’s our body’s little “reward” system to motivate us to DO stuff. Stuff that matters. Like joining the Truth. Not finding it (it’s already there)…joining it. This will make us whole. One with the Truth.

So, why don’t we join the truth? Haha, ’cause the truth hurts, silly! …but that hurt is merely the cracking of our shells that methodically become dislodged as the Truth inside of us begins to blossom and burgeon and can no longer be contained in such limited flesh…so it expands as the universe is expanding…and then contract back into one…and then expand again…then contract back into one…this is the singularity…the Truth…breathing.

…and what’s the Truth? i dunno (in words)…I’m still cracking…

The flesh is happy.
The Truth is Joy!

(Love your Quora posts, J…they led me here…enlightening)

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I know there is a lot of sorrow and pain out there in the world, the way I look at it is much like a forest: when you are in it, it is dark, strange, scary, full of sounds and shadows, however, it is only a forest; eventually you hopefully get to get out of it and see it for what it really is, just another patch of existence in a wide, endless experience. There is always a struggle, always an obsession that seems never-ending. What we have to look at is that it is normal, a lot of successful people had very trying times. The question is, are the trying times there, on the road of successful people, or are they successful because of it?

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Justin, you are amazing!

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