When I talked about how the gods may challenge us, Helgaleena made some great comments about not wishing distress on anyone even for the sake of learning, but that happiness exists as part of a bigger cycle. I want to jam on those ideas a bit today.
Much of human understanding depends on knowing things in comparison with other things. When we make subjective judgements, a great deal depends on what our context is. My idea of luxury will be very different from the ideas held by a millionaire, and from the ideas of someone in a war or famine zone. However hard we try to be objective, we experience the world in the context of what we have already experienced. Thus there is a relationship between my knowledge of joy, and my knowledge of pain. I might appreciate things less if I had more. Experience of bad relationship makes me count my blessings in this good one. A great deal here has to do with what we choose to believe about our experiences and what we choose to focus on. Some people can find the good in anything, some people always see the one thing that isn’t perfect. Recognising that as a choice, and seeing where other choices can be made, can radically change life experience.
Familiarity may well breed contempt. If we eat cake every day, then cake seems like a staple, not a luxury. We may enjoy it less as a consequence. We may even grow bored with it, or we may balloon in the midsection and become miserable as a direct result of too much cake-related happiness. Excess of indulgence can lead to both desensitisation and misery. Excess of pain or horror can also desensitise and is equally miserable. Happiness lies in the balance, and requires things to be less than perfect some of the time.
It’s only after slogging my way up the hill in the rain that I feel the exhilaration of pushing my body to its limits. Only in learning how to jump from a moving narrowboat have I become confident in my judgement and physical abilities. Only in confronting the anxieties of the court room could I have come to this current place of confidence in dealing with my ex. My fear of him has reduced, my confidence in the system increased, but only because I’ve gone through a thing. The celebration of success, the joy of achievement, the knowledge of being better than you thought you were, only comes by taking on a challenge. The challenges themselves may well be fearful, may include risk, cost, pain… to be meaningful they cannot be easy. The challenge of climbing a mountain or learning to swim is no different from this.
We only learn and progress by taking risks – the bard risks public humiliation if they muff up the words or forget the tune. The Druid risks satire and public attack if they get on television and defend their faith. But until we act, express, step up, we cannot fully be ourselves. Being happy requires that self expression. It’s a lot easier to be happy, or at least upbeat and optimistic when you have a sense of your own strength and potential – a sense that can only come from being tested.
Of course when there’s no respite between tests, it can be harrowing and exhausting. The places of respite are vital. Otherwise there’s every chance of being worn down. When we’re picking our own challenges, that can be managed, but life dishes it out with little consideration of whether we can take another blow. There is always a far side, or a moment when things ease off. It helps to know that on the far side you will have greater confidence in yourself. At the very least, you will know you were the person who was tough enough to survive. You learn to trust yourself, and you learn how precious all the small things are.
The person who needs adulation, wealth, material possessions, cheerleaders and all the rest to feel happy, is going to spend much of their time being sorely disappointed, or trying desperately to get on some reality tv show. The person who knows how to relish the small things, can find little pockets of happiness in almost any day. A person who knows how to cherish the little things can get out there and make those moments, put on the song that makes them dance, play with a dog, call a friend. Happiness is not something mysterious that happens to us, it’s what we make out of what we get. Life is life a box of chocolates… leave it out in the sun too long and it gets sticky and unpleasant.
Today happiness is not being rained on too much. Happiness is a warm cup of coffee, and sitting next to a very lovely man. If the sun comes out, I shall be ecstatic. I have chosen a life in which it does not take much to make me smile, and so, I smile a lot.