“The cure of the pain is in the pain“
Rumi, Sufi mystic (1207-1273).
The conditioning has changed, people no longer respond to specific fears, no today it is all about human happiness. Happiness is the marketing breakthrough of the past decade, made possible by a disturbing new version of happiness. This means that unpleasant feelings must be avoided at all costs.
This has a sound that a culture in which happiness is rewarded, as if it were an achievement, and in which people once again instigate Instagram and audience-oriented life that merely consists of ‘peak experience’. Sadness and disappointment are not tolerated, even neutral or everyday life experiences are kept out of the picture. Those who are unhappy have not yet worked hard enough and or have insufficient faith in themselves.
Happiness is not always understood this way. According to the Greek philosopher Epicurus, happiness consisted of the absence of physical pain (aponia) and mental pain (ataraxia). This epicurean view of success is extremely simple, one should not strive for material gain or gaining satisfactory experiences, but for happiness that lends itself to perpetuating gratitude. As long as we have no mental or physical pain, we may be satisfied within that concept of happiness.
Perhaps we are never really satisfied until we also embrace our negative feelings. In fact, negative feelings may not be so negative. For example, grief has all kinds of positive applications. From grief we also communicate better and more convincingly.
We do not have to actively seek the grief, but we also do not have to struggle through the grief, grimace on the face, on the way to joy. Sadness is a “sharpening” emotion. It keeps us alert. It causes us to examine ourselves more thoroughly and mercilessly. Anyone who is sad is sharply geared to the world. Just the willingness to process difficult emotions leads to a great satisfaction in life.
Whoever relies on pleasure and a good feeling does not understand where the real satisfaction lies. Real satisfaction comes rather from an epicurean happiness, in which we may have the clarity of mind to control our feelings and to cope with the negative feelings that will always affect us.
The compulsive pursuit of happiness seems primarily to be an Anglo-American phenomenon. The pressure to minimize negative emotions is great in those two countries: people prefer to put on a face that is as happy as possible. Americans are known for their played smile and thick-to-each other attitude, while the British have the name to avoid pleasant conversations and to keep a stiff upper lip in pain and disappointment. Negative feelings are socially and culturally susceptible. In the Anglo-American way of thinking, negative emotions radiate negatively at people, as if we had done something thoroughly wrong, lived without the enthusiasm and positivity needed to find happiness.
But played cheerfulness gets stuck somewhere. Psychologist Brock bastion writes in his book The Other Side of Happiness: embracing a more fearless approach to living (2018) that someone who lives in a western culture is up to 10 times more likely to develop clinical depression or anxiety than someone in an eastern one culture. In China and Japan, people generally viewed positive and negative emotions as essential and equal, Bastian said. Fortunately, the east should not be actively pursued, nor should sorrow be actively avoided. Bastian attributes this attitude to religion, especially to Buddhist philosophies, who try to encompass the whole of the human condition.
But if we continue to be manipulated to yearn for new worrying experiences, we not only expose ourselves to market manipulation, but also to loneliness, misconceptions and, sadly enough, a lasting sadness. Epicurically happy may not always make us “happy” in the sense in which we use the word, as a synonym of cheerfulness. But life would not be worth it if it only hovered between peak experiences.
What would happen if we realized that happiness is something like ebb and flow, that negativity is fundamental to life and enough to our happiness too? Suppose we would condition ourselves again: to find satisfaction and all feelings?
Secrets to happiness
7 Secrets of Happiness
- Sunshine & birdsong
- Drinks & drugs
- Food & chocolate
- Good physical & mental health
- Good Personal & intimate relationships
- Capacity to see beauty in art & nature
- Good life standards & satisfactory work
- Spiritual point of view to cope with life challenges
7 strategies to be happy
- Make friends
- Keep a diary
- Cultivate intimacy
- Be more playful
- Develop your emotional literacy