“Happiness is not a goal; It’s a biproduct.”
Why settle for just happy?
I have a number of clients who are either naturally positive people, or who have worked hard to become so. It’s important to them to “look on the bright side,” especially when things are hard. They intentionally seek out a counterbalance to each negative thought, negative situation or disturbing challenge.
I say, good on them! But that’s not my personal goal.
WHAT?!?!? Fun fact – I once lost a client for a period of time because I said that “happiness” was not one of my personal goals. Before you cancel your next session, un-invite me to your virtual birthday party, block me from your social media or drop me from the family gathering, please consider the following:
East Meets West on Happy Street
Being “happy” tends to be very high up on many, if not most, American’s agendas. Most of us were raised with the idea that our constitutional “right to the pursuit of happiness” means we should be happy; That we deserve happiness.
If this is your desire, I am … >ahem< …happy… to help you pursue that goal. However, I believe we can do better. I want more for you than just happiness. As I listen to people at the deeper levels of their existences, I believe that most of us want more for ourselves.
What could be better??
Many things are “better,” more satisfying, more fulfilling than being happy, just as many wonderful foods are more satisfying and fulfilling than our favorite desserts.
The inevitable truth of our existence is that we have all kinds of nuanced experiences. Some things that happen are beautiful. Some are terrifying. Some are profound, poignant, awful, stupid, silly, enraging, wrenching, sweet, gentle, harsh… and so on and so on. The potential for an amazing and fulfilling experience in each one of those opportunities is ripe.
Benny and Janet
Benny and Janet had been together for seven years. In that time, they had both finished college, started careers, made and lost friends, married each other and contemplated having children. They reported that they were mostly happy with how things had gone.
Until Janet’s father, her greatest cheerleader ever in life, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Janet was struggling, hard. Her usually infectious positivism was taking a major hit. Janet was moody and sad and angry and sleep deprived.
Benny understood and wanted very much to be supportive, but he really didn’t know how. He felt like he was always saying and doing exactly the wrong thing. Janet had always been the one that “made everything better.” The person he loved most in the world was in pain, he couldn’t do a thing about it, and, she seemed to be taking her unhappiness out on him. They came to me for help.
“See,” Janet began, with tears starting to fill her soft eyes, “I used to always look for the silver lining. I decided when I was a kid that every time something bad happened, I would find something just as good, to balance it out.”
For a moment, I could almost see the indomitably hopeful child she had been. She continued, “Sometimes it was hard to find something big enough to make the bad ok, but I always did. Always.” Through anguished tears, Janet managed to choke out the words, “There isn’t anything that could ever be big enough to balance this.”
The things we tell ourselves
Janet had decided a very long time ago that the way to manage life was to label things “good,” or “bad,” and to employ any strategies she could to be sure that she was more aware of the “good” than the “bad.” Many of us do this, or something similar.
Some take that same concept and turn it inside out. Countless people have explained to me that they are afraid to be happy when something good happens because they are quite convinced that something negative will come along and squash it. “It happens every time!” they exclaim. Clearly the magic formula is correct! We’ve proved it!
But did we?
What if there is no need to “balance” these things? What if there is no magic formula that keeps us safe? What if the thing that’s kept us safe all of these years isn’t a belief or a formula or luck or Divine favor, or even how many ticks there are in our “good” and ‘bod” columns?
What if there are not “good” and “bad” experiences at all, but rather, a plethora of different experiences in life that leave us feeling all kinds of different ways? And what if those different ways can all be used to shape us, to move us, to enable us to experience life at its fullest and finest?
I don’t think you’re looking for happy
I think you’re looking for wholeness.
What if there is an opportunity to move toward wholeness in any circumstance? Even in the horrible ones that we wish had never happened. What if wholeness rests in what we do with the circumstances?
Janet and Benny were in a tremendous amount of pain. They were deeply embedded in one of the hardest circumstances we face as humans: Losing people that mean everything to us, that we can’t imagine ever being without. Janet recognized that she would not likely be “happy” again any time soon.
Where is there wholeness in that, Tiffany??
Sorry, not psychic
I can’t tell you the answer to that. However, now, looking in hindsight, Janet can.
I met with the couple throughout Janet’s father’s decline, his transition to home hospice, his passing and for several months afterward. In our final session, Janet summarized:
“When we first came to see you I couldn’t imagine how I could live through my father’s death. It was just too much. I had spent so much of my life trying to be happy and trying to avoid things that would knock the ‘happy’ out of me. I didn’t know how to life differently. I really didn’t think I could. All I could see was this great big dark gray cloud over everything that was supposed to be good.”
Benny reached over and put his arm around Janet. She leaned into him tenderly as she continued,
“I hate this, I hate all of this. I hate that my father got sick. I hate that his pain wasn’t controlled until we got him into hospice. I hate hate HATE that he left me!”
The pause as Janet gathered herself from the inside out was thick and swirly.
“And,” she continued, “Benny and I went through it all together. When I was hurting, he held me. When I was mad, he used the stuff we talked about in here and he learned how to let me know that he cared and that my pain mattered. I mean, neither one of us did it perfectly, but it was enough.” Benny nodded his assent.
“He saw me, snot-nosed and ugly-crying, yelling at random drivers on the road like I’ve never done before, breaking down and having to call out of work. He stayed with me every step of the way. I will never be happy that my Dad died. But at the same time, oh my God! I feel so much closer to Benny. I feel like I’m more of a human being somehow. We know each other so much better, and we both know that the other person will be there through thick and thicker.”
And that, my friends, is transformation toward wholeness.
You deserve more
Things happen. All kinds of things happen. And when they do, we learn who we are, what we’re made of, who will stand with us, and just what they mean to us. We learn, we change, we grow. When we resist pain and aim exclusively for “happy,” we miss all of the barbed wire-wrapped gifts that come with it.
No, Ruth, NO!!!
As I was writing this blog, I got a text telling me that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away. I am most certainly not happy. Whatever one’s political beliefs might be, the gaping hole that remains in her absence is daunting. Many people are filled with fears about the political maneuvers that will likely follow and the destruction those choices might cause.
And yet… I see a path toward greater wholeness for all of us. I see hope.
In the words of Anne Lamott:
Hope begins in the dark; The stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You watch and wait and work.
You don’t give up.
To my mind, there are few sentiments that better sum up the life of Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She brought her gifts into fruition in the world against all odds, against societal norms, against expectations, against severe illnesses, against personal grief and profound loss. She helped to reshape our country in such a way that the voices of women could be heard with clarity and authority in places where before we were supposed to be thrilled that we were asked to get some man a cup of coffee. She then used her power to blow down the doors, making way for all of the humans.
Her fierce dedication and tenacity have changed the way many of us see ourselves for the better. May we grab this hope that’s budding here in the dark and see all that we can do with what we’ve been given.
Hope begins in the dark
At times our darkness can completely swallow our ability to be happy. And yet, even there in the darkest dark, hope remains. Where there is hope, there is an opportunity for greater wholeness.
Dear ones, I encourage you to do like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as encapsulated by Anne Lamott:
Show up • Do the right thing • Watch, wait, work • Don’t give up.
“Hope begins in the dark.”
Rest, RBG. We thank you for your inspiring example. May we pick up where you left off, and may we find our way to greater wholeness.
“The greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government.”
(Ruth Bader Ginsburg)
Are you trying to make your way to wholeness? Please contact me here. I’m happy to help any way I can.