Photo: Genevieve Biloski and Chloe Cushman
We are a nation obsessed with happiness. Every time we turn on the TV, look online, or turn the pages of popular magazines, we are seduced to spend our money, change our lifestyles, eat foods that we know are not good for us, follow dreams that we know are made for Hollywood, drink alcohol, and take drugs to escape the realities of our lives. We are taught that we deserve to be happy and we must get rid of pain and suffering at all cost. We are encouraged to walk away from difficult jobs, divorce difficult spouses, and medicate difficult kids. After all, we are told that we deserve to be happy and that God certainly wants us to live happy lives. So when the culture offers easy escapes from our dilemmas we sign up immediately. Even our politicians tell us that should be “winners” and not “losers.”
But it is never that easy and real life rarely imitates Hollywood’s good endings! The good guy does not always win in this world, girls don’t always marry the most charming guy in the end, and the rebellious kids don’t always submit and come to their senses and realize what great parents they have had and how badly they have wronged them. Dr. Todd Kashdan, a professor of psychology at George Mason University, who is critical of this positive psychology movement, summarizes the message we are bombarded with: “If you can just have more positive emotions — be more optimistic, more cheerful — then all these other benefits will come to you: you’ll find your purpose in life, you’ll have more money, you’ll have more friends, you’ll be less likely to be divorced, you’ll have better relationships with your kids.” We believe the idealistic and glitzy images sold by the culture, strive for them, and when they seem out of reach, we feel despair.
Life is messy and painful. We cannot ignore the darker side of life. Don’t be fooled by happy pictures on Facebook pages and Instagram posts. We all share in the drama. Dreams can get shattered, loved ones become ill, friends betray, spouses leave, our bodies gain weight, our skin loses its luster, our memories fade, and we lose our flair. Instead of relentless self-criticism, it helps to accept what we cannot change and focus instead on how to benefit from the season of life God has given us. As someone once said: “Bloom where you are planted!”
Our experiences are unique and precious. As the Preacher, the son of David, has told us in Ecclesiastes 3:
There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—
2 A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
3 A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
4 A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
5 A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
6 A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
7 A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent and a time to speak.
8 A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.
Yes, there is a time to weep, and a time to mourn, and a time to give up as lost. I hate pain and suffering as much as every other person. But I have learned that if I focus too much on my pain I lose the chance of any joy that God may have planned for me. At times by embracing my difficult condition I come to find my joy in my relationship with God which is beyond all other joys—A precious joy that is out of my grasp when I am relentlessly trying to gain happiness in this world.
Dr. Michael Bennet, a Harvard educated psychiatrist says, “[t]he more we pursue happiness, paradoxically, the unhappier we become. The higher we set up the expectation, the more we beat ourselves up if when we fail to achieve it.”
The following article resonates with my thoughts on this topic. A disclaimer: I don’t condone profanity. However if you can allow a couple of dirty words not to bother you, you may benefit from the essence of this article:
Refute of happiness: How our obsession with positivity is making us miserable — and insufferable
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