Fleeting Happiness; Enduring Sadness?
Have you ever noticed that moments of happiness are often short lived, while less enjoyable feelings like sadness or anger can last what might seem a lifetime?
I don’t see too many folks getting hung up on joyful events, whereas it seems more common for someone to dwell on an experience that brings grief, anger, resentment, or other emotional pain.
I’d never given it much thought until browsing the bookstore yesterday I happened across this intriguing title: Working On Yourself Doesn’t Work.
The authors share three principles to transforming your life, including that
- whatever we resist persists (we know that one well)
- you can only be with what is right now (theme of allowing, being present, and no judgment, although I could be remembering this one wrong)
- and the third one I especially liked: Allowing yourself to be with it will complete it
With that third principle (which clients will recognize from the Tom Stone homework I often assign of feeling your feelings fully), the authors suggest releasing any agenda of getting rid of something, and rather letting yourself be with it fully. Then whatever it is will complete.
They told a personal story that involved the experience of physical pain, but shared that we also see this with emotions as well. Like how happiness is often fleeting, while sadness can last for weeks. Or longer.
The reason, they say, is that when we don’t let ourselves feel something or be fully present to what is, it will continue. Conversely, when we do allow ourselves to feel it fully, it completes.
(Whoa, thinking of the physical examples of orgasms vs. headaches.)
Anyway, since happiness is easy to feel fully, it completes faster than things like sadness or grief or anger which we might not be as willing to fully feel.
Some of you have heard me tell the story about how I accidentally practiced this several yeras ago when my dog Sophie died at home:
It was the first time one of my animals died at home when it was just the two of us. Usually I’m either at the vet’s office, trying to keep it together. Or the vet is at my house, and I’m trying to keep it together. Or I’m with a (human) friend, trying to keep it together.
This time there was no reason to keep it together. After Sophie died at the front door, I walked to the back porch, sat down on the top step in the sun, hugged my knees to my chest, and let myself be sad.
I was REALLY sad. I was so sad, I remember being in absolute awe of how sad I was. I actually observed it with the thought, “Man, look how SAD I am! I didn’t know anyone could BE this sad. This is really sad!”
I felt it intensely; it was the saddest I’ve ever been.
For about four minutes.
And then it was gone.
Just that like that.
There was no more sadness. Instead, just peace.
It was really bizarre – and cool – that the sadness could be that strong, without being overwhelming. And then be gone, just as fast as it came.
When I ran across Tom Stone’s “feeling fully” work a few years later, I realized that’s what I had accidentally practiced that day on the back porch. I let myself feel the sadness all the way.
And when we do that, it completes pretty quickly.
I thought it was a useful awareness when it sometimes seems like happiness can be so fleeting while other feelings seem to drag on forever. This seems like a pretty good key as to why that’s the case, and how we could work with it differently if we wanted to.
Anyone else have experience with this?
Ha – or does anyone have any experience with resisting happiness to make it last longer? (I’m not sure I even want to attempt that experiment.)