If our words for happiness and sadness were different, we wouldn’t feel muddled
Posted February 4, 2010on:
I want to follow up Gaye’s comment
“ I’ve not seen happiness or sadness as fixed points. My own experience told me long ago that both come and go. While I’m not that good at going with the flow, I remind myself of that old Quaker saying “this too shall pass”.
However, I find it hard to be so accepting of grief and hurt and sadness and pain, and I am surprised at the anger I feel in the cold-blooded way that many casually brush all those feelings aside with this quote from Gibran, as if one compensated for the other. Contrast yes, but compensate no.”
I don’t disagree with Gaye. I would like to extend the thinking.
Discussions about happiness become complicated when we are entangle questions about the nature of happiness and sadness with our ability to understand the happiness and sadness of others.
We vary a lot in our ability to empathize with others. We are also more empathetic in some situations and less in others. I suspect that we find it easier to be empathetic when we have been in a similar situation to the one we are observing.
Quite often we look for empathy from people who are simply don’t understand. They are out of their depth.
If someone does not have experience to understand our distress, it does not really matter. What matters is that guiding them may be an extra task when we are already strained.
What really matters is when they are in power in some way. Their lack of empathy denies our reality and we experience rejection on top of grief. In theory, the two together could be sufficient to spin us out of the natural butterfly loop of life and out of the natural recovery from grief as time passes.
Almost in contradiction, but not completely so, close relationships such as marriage are more likely to flourish when one partner helps the other partner elaborate good times. Yes, listening in bad times is important. But of more importance is drawing out positive stories in positive times. Recounting good stories deepens our understanding of how good things work and our capacity to come back into the butterfly loop of flourishing when we have spun out of the orbit is widened.
In plain language, when we are struggling with the awfulness of life, we need the good times as a map to find our way back into the natural cycle of happiness and sadness. Becoming trapped in either is illness.
Semantics of happiness
The real issue is the ‘theory’ that we brought to the discussion. When we define happiness and sadness as separate and different, then we ask how much of one should we have and how much of the other should we have.
If we had a word in English to define happiness and sadness and the seasons of our life as one thing, stretching in a straight line or in that looping butterfly shape, we would ask different questions.
If someone is sad, then we act accordingly knowing that there will also be a time when they are happy and we will act accordingly them too.
I like Khalil Gibran’s words because he illustrated this notion of oneness. We find it hard to grasp the idea because of the words that we begin with.
If we had started with a different kind of word, we would have a totally different understanding. What that word should be, I don’t know, but flourishing and thriving are good starts. Languishing is the opposite of flourishing.