I was in the national library recently browsing through some books about happiness. Honestly, I didn’t expect any advice out of the ordinary. I have read numerous books about happiness myself. I know nurturing relationships figures prominently in all the books. Some of them advocated keeping oneself healthy and others talked about enjoying what you have. Still others talked about having personal goals that play to one’s strength and engaging in the flow of the moment. Most of the advice shun the blind accumulation of material possession as the source of happiness. This is most understandable.
But what caught my attention that day in the library was this phrase about happiness which I don't think I have heard often enough. It reads, "Happiness is having the right kind of sadness.”
Mm...now that was to me quite refreshing. The right kind of sadness, I mused. The juxtaposition between "happiness” and “sadness” had a compelling contrarian logic that somehow caused me to reflect deeply after I had left the library. What is the right kind of sadness? How is happiness about being sad in a right way? Is there a right way of experiencing sadness that translates into happiness?
I guess if my reflection had taken me anywhere, it would be the resilient optimism of confronting raw reality. For me, this is the kind of sadness that doesn’t paralyze or disable. In fact, it does the opposite. It allows me to wear two lenses at the same time, that is, reality and hope. Acknowledging my everyday reality is what keeps me grounded and staying focus on hope is what uplifts our spirit.
Without either, I am just happy for happy’s sake. It is no different from someone who goes bingeing on alcohol just so that he can forget about his pain or worries. Or someone who escapes from home just so that she can avoid the consequences of her choices. Or someone who attends a how-to-be-happy seminar and feels all charged up only to have his bubble bust when he returns to the unsparing reality of his life.
To me, the right kind of sadness confronts life and everything ugly about it. It is fully aware that growth comes with pain, uncertainty is a fact of life, full control is an illusion, mistakes are lesson to be learned (not a death sentence), death affirms life and not devalues it, time is the quiet healer and not a sadist, hope is not lost when loss happens, and the feelings of joy and sorrow are merely the flip side of the same coin (more importantly, both are transient).
I guess the right kind of sadness turns pain into purpose, monotony into meaning and disappointment into hope. It is forward looking because it rejects the time-stopping mindset to wallow in my own misery and self-pity. Personally, I believe that if I move forward in life, I will learn that failure and success become merely an innkeeper's rest where I stay for a night or two and then continue on with my journey. I should therefore not be paralyzed (by failure) or feel a false sense of security or invulnerability (by success). It is also about not being too obsessive or complacent with my present state of experience that I mistake what is impermanent (be it arising from failure or success) for what is permanent.
I recall a saying that life is like a giant eraser in the sky. I take that to mean that all my accomplishments can be wiped out just as completely as all my pain. Depending on them, and putting all my eggs in one basket, only keeps my focus narrow and my perspective closed.
So, happiness is having the right attitude towards sadness. And it is an attitude that is not consumed or crippled by a momentary victory or defeat. It is an attitude that accepts sadness as part and parcel but also views it as empowered by hope. Most of all, it is an attitude that does not shun sadness but embrace it as opportunities for growth. It is therefore not a dead-end or sink-hole mentality but a forward-moving one.
Postscript: I always wonder, how truly happy is an unbroken heart? How enduring is the happiness of an unfractured soul? Where is the happiness in a life that is forever shielded, protected and immune from harm, challenges and pain - even if good fortune should favor such a life to be sustained? What is happiness to one who has no need to overcome or to wait patiently for hope or to yearn earnestly for recovery or to travail in the furnace of a trial or to stand alone for what is right even when everyone has bailed or to struggle for the sake of undying love or to remain faithful to the end or to have faith when all is lost or to hang on to the future after surviving a tragic past? What kind of happiness will it be for such a bubbled life? And when will happiness for a life of such insularity break to reveal how tenuous or precarious its foundation has been, or will it ever break? And if it should break, will a heart that has broken into a million pieces be able to find happiness? And if found, how different will this newfound happiness be? How resilient will it be? How enduring then? And if happiness is having the right kind of sadness, then maybe such sadness or brokenness is not to be avoided at all cost. On the contrary, it is to be embraced. And to be embraced when one has finally come to terms with it. Food for thought? Cheerz.