May You Be Healthy & Happy!
In a world where everyone is desperately in search of happiness, why grief comes as a universally condemned feeling?
Some say happiness is delusional, yet the overwhelming majority of us would do anything, perhaps even criminal, to attain a short sense of happiness. We are constantly educated about the benefits of happiness — that it’s good for health, it’s meaningful, and that rich, healthy and successful people are happy. The pursuit of happiness is even a sacred and constitutional endeavor. The U.S. constitution does not limit the “pursuit of happiness” to any legal or ethical boundaries and so citizens are entitled to follow happiness liberally. Nonetheless, the U.S. is the richest but not the happiest country in the world because happiness is falsely linked to be in certain places, having certain things or being in the company of certain people.
Happiness maybe an internal feeling but some try to capture it electronically and show it off on digital platforms. This display of the happiness comes with a strong desire for measurable digital engagement i.e. likes. For some, the ultimate determinant of happiness turns out to be the volume of digital engagements than the actual events they’re showing off on Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook.
A very dear friend who teaches yin yoga once said that all she wanted in life was happiness. Ever since, I’ve adopted the prayer ‘May You Be Healthy & Happy!’ for her. The adjective “healthy” may appear supplemental in the prayer, but I think health is more important than happiness. Had the U.S. constitution mandated citizens to pursue healthiness, critical public health problems such obesity, alcoholism, depression etc. would not have been so rampant.
The widespread pursuit of happiness, meanwhile, points to our grave bias in between the two human feelings of happiness and grief.
We are educated to think that grief is bad. We should prevent it at all costs. Grief is for others.
Ironically, as much as happiness appears elusive, grief seems in the waiting for every human being. Getting too ill and death, if nothing else, herald the coming of grief. As Buddha is quoted to have said suffering is in our nature and comes from our experience of impermanence.
A recent experience of grief made me think whether it is always good to be excessively pro happiness and against grief. Grief offered the opportunity to see too many little things that otherwise were invisible under the dusts of happiness or normalcy. Like bitter medicine, grief can be healing. Looking back at the experience in its entirety, a feeling of gratitude and appreciation comes first and last to me. There is no need to run away from grief. Accept it. Own it. Welcome it. Grief can offer you what happiness, with all its fame and wanting, cannot deliver.
Surely, easy said than done. No matter how much we read and hear about the courage to accept grief, as products of a society that is mandated to indefinite pursuit of happiness, we will always reject grief and run after happiness. It’s okay to do that. But, beware that grief will hit you from time to time. And, when you’re grieving, just raise your senses and notice new things. It will be an invaluable education.
As you try to do that, try remembering this quote from the 19th century French novelist Victor Hugo: “Adversity makes men, prosperity makes monsters.”