Thursday, January 10, 2013

Happiness - Pursuit and Perspective

I remember the first time I had a running injury that affected not just my running but also bothered me in when I wasn't running.  I remember lying in bed at night with my foot throbbing and thinking about how I hadn't appreciated being injury-free before I'd gotten hurt.  In time, the foot got better and the pain went away; I went back to running and back to not taking much notice about how lucky I was to be pain free.

That's kind of how it works when someone you love is seriously ill.  Except that in many cases, I would venture to guess, that perspective sticks ...  

... because seeing a loved one suffer physically and emotionally and going through all the things that grave illness entails changes a person, not just for during that time period but forever.

Since my dad's diagnosis and his subsequent death ten weeks later, I've begun to view happiness as the absence of sadness -  and goodness in life as the absence of, well, badness.  

People talk a lot about the pursuit of happiness, the quest for the Holy Grail, thinking they will be happy if ... if they win the lottery, if they get a promotion, if they lose weight, if this or that happens.  I've been guilty of such myself in the past.  

But that was Before. Before Cancer.  Before Loss.  Before I knew.

And so here's another perspective for people who are perpetually in search of something more: conducting such a vigorous search for happiness or peace or satisfaction or whatever it is they are looking for eventually becomes a self-defeating quest; the crusade itself is a constant source of stress and anxiety that is likely interfering with the attainment of that very objective.  Instead of always looking for something more, something "better," it might be helpful if they take a few steps back and consider how lucky they are to have their everyday lives, to be in the midst of the usual stress and chaos, rather than the alternative, which I guess is either being completely alone with nothing or no one to care about - or trying to cope with such extraordinary problems that going back to those everyday things becomes the goal with happiness as the reward.

In the thick of the usual day in-day out struggles, it's so easy to get caught up in thinking that life is tough, that things aren't great, that there is something better out there that you wish you had.  But when adversity comes along, especially when it affects your health or that of your loved ones and especially when it is life threatening, you realize that you just want to go back to having things the way they were.  Your perspective becomes that you didn't need anything more, because life was already good.

I think that's what tragedy gives away, or at least that's one thing that we can choose to take away from tragedy.  Once we've been through it, we have that special realization, that insider's knowledge that things could always be worse, because we are all too aware that, because adversity can be lurking just around the corner, we need to appreciate the calm, the ordinary, and the mundane, and that happiness is not something that we need to pursue - it's something we need to recognize in what we are already fortunate enough to have.

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