Because this happiness thing sometimes feels like a snare.
I’ve even got a name for it — the Happiness Trap — and I’ve become tangled up in its web more times than I care to count. Perhaps you have, too, without being aware of it. See if this sounds familiar:
You overhear a conversation where one person asks, “What’s your number one goal in life?” and the other person responds with something noble-sounding, like, “My only true goal is to be happy.”
That is the very definition of the Happiness Trap, and from this moment forward, I’m leaving all that nonsense in 2018. I’m kicking it to the curb — not happiness itself, mind you, — after all, I’m not a fool — but the berating and beating-up of myself during those moments when happiness is not present.
As I step into 2019, I’m stepping out of the Happiness Trap. I’m wiggling my foot free from the misguided notion that happiness is the most important thing in the world and the primary thing toward which I should be striving.
My heart needs something larger.
If my only goal in life is to be happy, does this mean that in those moments when I’m not happy — in those moments when I’m in the middle of some other intense emotion, which is very often — that I am falling short of my goal? If I’m not in a Happy Place, then I’m in a Bad Place? Hogwash.
It’s as important for me to feel the deepest depths of sadness and the caustic, fluttery feeling of fear or confusion as it is to feel that warm, cozy glow of happiness. Each emotion of mine deserves to be embraced and fully experienced; each of them deserves a full seat at the table.
For too long now, when they come to visit, I’ve been seating all of my other emotions at the kids' table — or at least the card table waaay over the in corner; the rickety table with the folding legs and the sagging center that somebody always drags out for the unexpected guests.
In the new year, I’m going to bring myself more balance. I’m going to embrace this age-old thing called the Theory of Opposites: You cannot truly know the essence of something without fully knowing its opposite.
You can’t know the fullness of happiness without having known the depths of grief; you can’t experience true clarity of mind without also having experienced heart-stopping confusion. Go through the emotions and fill in the blanks with their opposites. It works.
Here’s why. Opposing forces help create greater balance and clearer contrast; one almost helps define the other. They belong to each other. This is what I choose to believe.
So to happiness I say, scooch on over. Make a little room at the table. I will still seek you, but there are other guests waiting at the door who want to sit down, other emotions that are equally deserving of being encountered and lived through.
It reminds me of a miraculous moment I experienced almost an entire lifetime ago, as a very little girl: I was standing at the open screen door of my grandmother’s porch, and we were gazing out, together, at the falling snow.
She told me as we were standing there to learn to look at beautiful things through two prisms: with a first-time freshness, as though it were the first time I’d ever seen falling snow; and with a finality, as well — as though it might be the last time I would ever see it.
This First-Time-Last-Time prism helps widen my vision. It’s how I try to look at the world today.
As I face this new year, I’ll embrace it in the spirit of being fresh and new — as though this is the very first time I’ve ever experienced 2019 (and it will be!), but also with a solemn reverence, as though it might be my last year on earth, so cherish it I must.
So there is this business of not just cherishing but of choosing. In 2019, will I choose to be happy, or will I choose to be sad?
That’s an easy one.
I will choose to choose both.
Note: After this essay published, I learned there was a 2008 book by author Russ Harris called The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living: A Guide to ACT. On The Happiness Trap website, Harris explains that ACT is an acronym for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which he describes as a science-based model of behavior change. The essay that I wrote does not have a connection to this book.
Kristin Clark Taylor is an author and a freelance journalist. She can be reached at WriterKristinTaylor@gmail.com