Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Happiness Trap

In my study reading yesterday I came across this notion: The Happiness Trap.  That, in fact, focusing too much on whether everyone is happy will lead to stagnation, the status quo, and stunted personal growth for all involved.  In this sense, when we work hard to "keep everybody happy", we are actually failing to promote spiritual growth, and often failing to live our greater mission.

Times of conflict and discomfort, then, would actually be times of great growth and a necessary phase in community life.

This notion is simultaneously eye-opening, comforting, and discouraging to me.

Eye-opening because I recognize in myself the traits of a people-pleaser, and because I know that it is easy to evaluate your work with the question "is everybody happy about it?".  If that is truly my only goal in life, I can see that I could be doomed to be pulled this way and that, and never actually get anywhere in the end.  It might be like trying to spread out pizza dough by pulling it to the right ... and then noticing that it is too thin on the left so you pull it to the left ... oh dear now it is misshapen so you pull it upward ... and you never get it right.  But if you just give it a good spin ....

It is comforting because in times of conflict or discomfort I can become depressed, which is associated with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.  No matter what I do, it will be wrong in someone's eyes.  No matter what I do, somebody will still be unhappy with me so what's the point.  I can't please everyone, so there is nothing to be done. But if I realize that this phase is normal, that we are all growing, and I focus on healthy growth or myself and others and on the fact that we will be stronger afterward - made wiser by the conflict - perhaps not happy about it but better in someways.  Well, that is comforting and gives me something to hold onto.

And then it is discouraging also because really - as someone recently said to me - "if I grow anymore I'll be in the stratosphere".  When I was in Grad school we got to the point where we would say, "oh great, another f-ing Learning Opportunity".  Growing and learning is exhausting work, and it would be nice to imagine that at some point we are Done.  As though there were a point where you had Graduated From the School of Life and now you will walk around in perfect wisdom and live happily ever after.  It's discouraging to realize that we are never done.  There is no happily ever after, just Happy for Now.  If we are lucky, the Happy/Comfortable times come often enough to get us all rested up for that Disequilibrium phase where we will be made uncomfortable and forced to grow.  But the comfortable phase won't last forever.

Oh great.  Another Learning Opportunity.  Another Growth Experience.  Another time of discomfort and disequilibrium.  And I'm alive and growing, and that's how it works.

1 comment:

  1. I just read this post aloud to my husband. He wants to add that when you are in the comfortable happy phase, don't ruin it by immediately worrying about the inevitable disequilibrium. (He's referring to a habit of mine!)

    I'm going through a growth experience at the moment...made all the more more uncomfortable because of the part I played in creating it.

    All I can do is throw myself into my work and wait for the discomfort to pass. Oh, great, another f-ing learning experience! :-)