Why is it so hard to be happy?

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: hippopx.com

Do you recognize the following?
You’re out on a fun day with your friends or family. The weather is great, there’s good food and people are smiling. You have every reason to feel content, blissful, even ecstatic. Yet you find yourself smiling not quite as brightly as you could. You find yourself worrying about the next activity on the schedule, or about what’s going to happen at work tomorrow.

Somehow in moments that are only filled with bliss, the feeling of true happiness seems to elude us.

It’s not like we don’t know this feeling. We were all children once. Many of us are fortunate enough to remember what it’s like to play without worry. We knew how to have fun just for the sake of it, and to take life as it came, one moment at a time. We drank lemonade without worrying about sugar and built sand castles without thinking about sun burns.

And then, we grew up. In my case that meant I learned to live in my head. There were enough painful feelings to escape from, so I decided emotions were for the feeble hearted (oh irony!) and I’d go with full rationality instead. This helped numb the pain, but it also took that spontaneous joy with it. During the depression I suffered from in college, this numbness became so overpowering it was hard to feel anything at all. It became very clear to me that the opposite of happiness is not pain, but the absence of the ability to feel happiness at all. The empty void in which nothing matters at all.

Fast forward a few years and I’ve since had a wedding and the birth of two children. I’ve travelled to different continents and met the most amazing people. All truly wonderful moments that were in many ways filled with joy.
And yet, when I look at my children it’s still hard to truly appreciate the happiness they bring. When I am out with friends it’s still a challenge to seize the moment and experience it to the full. When I look at a sunset, I have to consciously remind myself to enjoy it.

Why is it so difficult to just dive into that feeling of pure joy?
I think it is because we’re afraid. Happiness is a vulnerable place to be at. When you’re joyful, your heart is open to the world, open to take it all in. Yes, ALL. In that moment, it’s taking in all the good, but it’s also open to the bad that might follow. We’ve been very much trained to know that there’s rain following the sunshine, and that every silver lining is brought out by a cloud. In opening yourself to happiness, you are also opening yourself to pain.

The only way around this issue that I’ve found so far is to go through it. It takes courage to go up to someone and say that you’re really happy they are there. It takes courage to open your hearts to your children knowing that as a parent the worst thing that could happen is that they get hurt. It takes strength to give your all at a job and get excited about it, knowing you might fail miserably the next day.

But it’s the only way.

If we want to dance, we have to risk tripping up on the steps.
If we want to play, we have to be willing to lose the game.
If we want to love deeply, we have to also open ourselves up to the possible grief that might follow. 

You can practice happiness. It starts by acknowledging what makes you happy, and at the same time accepting what you fear. Your fear is the road map to your true happiness: it shows you what matters through showing you what you’re afraid to lose.
So yes, I want to fully fall into joy. And yes, I realise my heart might get broken.
But if it’s going to be all or nothing, I’ll take it all any day.

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