"Most people would rather be certain they're miserable, than risk being happy." -- Robert Anthony.
I believe there is a rather large kernel of truth in this quote. I know in my own case, in the past I have let myself get bogged down in the misery at times, rather than grasp at the possibility of a happiness that may or may not have been just beyond my reach. Sometimes going so far as to doubt a happiness that is right before me offering things that I knew without doubt I craved in the deepest parts of my being. I don't believe that I am unique in this, which brings me to the inevitable question of why. Why do many of us do this to ourselves? Why do we occasionally work against our own interests? And what does it take to release ourselves from this self-imposed misery? As with so many of these issues, I believe a great deal of it can be boiled down to fear and external expectations.
How do we come to the point of embracing our miseries? I seriously doubt it is a conscious act for most of us. Perhaps it is cumulative. We have innumerable small nips and bites take away small but essential pieces of our happiness over a long period of time, until all we notice is the pain and forget the happiness or potential for happiness that once inhabited the places now filled with pain and loss.
Perhaps it comes with an awareness that risk can equally lead to much worse misery as easily as to happiness, and the fear of that outcome deters us from reaching for the potential happiness that also could come about. Better the devil you know than the devil you don't.
Also, there is the risk of possible censure of family, friends or society because the happiness that calls to us falls outside acceptable norms and expectations. Perhaps our true happiness lies in running away and joining a circus. Without a doubt, others would warn against pursuing pipe dreams and not being mature or responsible. Conformity or fear of criticism frequently suppress the true desires of our hearts, sometimes to the point of killing them completely. In time, we become a self-policing organism that will not allow itself to acknowledge that the stars exist, much less reach out for them. Once this self-policing is firmly in place, we frequently don't recognize gifts of happiness that appear before us wrapped up in pretty paper and a bow. And, if we do notice it, we may be suspicious that the contents can truly be what it appears to be, thus perpetuating the all to familiar misery. In holding tight to the familiar misery, we seemingly hope to block out even deeper misery. But, of course, there is no guarantee of that either.
How do we shake off the shackles of long standing conformity, misery, pain, that restrain our hand's reaching for the possibility of finding our true bliss? I suspect it requires a conscious focusing on how we can move deliberately toward joy and release our hold on the constant niggling pains that we've allowed ourselves to claim as our own. Not an easy task, certainly. It is terribly easy to lapse back into familiar patterns. Too easy to substitute acceptance for happiness. To cling to stability rather than risk change for the sake of happiness and fulfillment. To exchange a proper public image for all out goofy joy.
As I was examining some of these questions with a friend, discussing the potential for a great happiness that had suddenly appeared in my life, she offered very wise words. "Accept it and say 'thank you'." And so I did. And so I shall. It is the only truly rational response.
"Say yes quickly, if you know, if you've known it from before the beginning of the universe." -- Rumi.
Teacher Voices: Kate Bartlett - This is a continuation of my series of interviews with former students who are now teachers. The interview on this page features Kate Bartlett, a teacher ...
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