Be wary of fall­ing into the ‘Hap­pi­ness Trap’ il­lu­sion in 2019

Saturday Star - - METRO -

I’VE BEEN think­ing about my New Year’s res­o­lu­tions and some­thing that used to be right at the top: hap­pi­ness.

Over­all, it’s over­rated.

For this rea­son, I’ve de­cided to take it down from its pre­vi­ously prized place at the top. Give it a lit­tle less space on my shelf. Why would I do that?

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 No 1 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 kerb – 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.

Not any more. 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’m 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, cosy 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 way over in the cor­ner; the rick­ety ta­ble with the fold­ing legs and the sag­ging cen­tre that some­body al­ways drags out and throws up 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, move on over. Make a lit­tle room at the ta­ble. I’ll 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.

| The Wash­ing­ton Post

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