I was sitting with a child client this week and he sang me the above lyrics. We all have those special plans. It’s is so exciting to think about how life will be so much better after we graduate. It will be so much easier when we get the new car and we don’t have to take the bus anymore. Or when we are finally married and settle down. And probably every one of us has thought the same thing...
“When I finally do x I’ll be happy.”
And so, we are happy for a while, we feel we are in the “right neighborhood” and life is grand, but then unhappiness begins to seep in again. We had a sad day for no reason. We yelled at our spouse. Or the depression and anxiety started again. We aren’t happy anymore. And we begin to look around to find what needs to be fixed to get back to that happy state.
The unfortunate truth is: Happiness is not forever.
Learning this secret can be one of the most painful and freeing events in our lives. The good news is that sadness is not forever either. All emotions, and in fact everything we experience, is just a temporary event in a lifetime.
I was recently in a beautiful relationship. I had longed for a good partnership for years. I had done visioning and “Calling in the One” classes and ceremonies in other countries, match-makers and dozens of first dates, all to manifest this desire. Once I found this amazing man and was in that relationship, I was elated. He was perfect and I was happy to be creating life with him. But soon anxiety that we wouldn’t last started to creep in, and differences in what we wanted started to show. And suddenly my happiness had shifted. But what I am learning is that feeling sad doesn’t actually mean that anything is wrong. It just means the energy has shifted, an event has ended.
Acceptance of the temporary nature of everything does not mean that you let whatever bad feelings or bad events just happen. No, it means that you let yourself have that sadness or defeat in the face of change and not fight it, or yourself. Give yourself permission to feel this way, and move on from there.
Why am I talking about the acceptance of these feelings? One of the problems that often happens is we start kicking ourselves when we are down. We have the idea that we are supposed to be happy. We did it. We accomplished that amazing goal. We should be happy. But we still aren’t. And that just makes things get worse and worse. We are upset, and then we get frustrated because we are upset, which makes us more upset, and we get more angry at that, and then…
You see how it spirals out of control? Acceptance that we are feeling this way, and that it is normal for feelings and events to be temporary. As the famous quote from the Bible says, “This too shall pass.” This goes for our happiness, our sadness, our anger, and everything else in life. Acceptance that life keeps moving and changing will go a long way towards minimizing how painful and saddening some things may actually be.
I lost someone close to me a few years ago. When they died, for me the world stopped. I sat in my home and watched the world still moving around and around, not knowing how life could keep going when it felt like my world had just ended. That was part of the beauty and mystery of life. It keeps going no matter what. Eventually, I was able to rejoin the world, and then was slowly becoming myself again. I was happy, then I was sad again, and then regretful, then joyful. It kept moving, and I had the opportunity to flow with it all. The beauty of acceptance is that you get to move with the experience, and don’t waste your precious time and energy fighting it.
The other piece of this I want to point out is how acceptance does not mean we just sit back and let life happen to us. No. We have every right, and every responsibility, to take what control we can of our lives, ourselves, and our emotions.
If one part of our lives is not working for us any longer, and something we desire is causing us more frustration and regret than anything else, it is time to change it. Allowing ourselves to sit in misery, and let things that are obviously not helping us continue is not ok.
We are dynamic and tenacious beings. We have the capacity to accomplish so much, and yet we limit ourselves to thinking that if we do this one thing everything will be ok forever. That is delusional. Accepting that things, events, feelings, the high, are all only temporary, and we have the capacity to keep searching and finding new ways to bring ourselves joy is such a gift. We deserve to give that to ourselves. Although it has been said in other ways, pain is inescapable in life, but suffering is optional. Keeping on the journey and working towards goals, accomplishments and other things that bring us joy and fulfillment will lead us to happier places with enriched lives.
Karen Wolfe, MFT offers depth therapy with practices to deepen your connection to your Self and to others for individuals and couples in the Bay Area and via video conference across California