I’m fascinated with what brings people joy, or what I like to call, the Universal Search for Happiness. There are scads of movies about finding it, exhaustive studies that attempt to define it, experts that instruct how to feel it, and umpteen songs and books that describe it.
Don’t you want it too – that feeling of weightless bliss that curls your toes and tingles your insides? That “thing” that makes you grin and giggle and glow?
“I only want you to be happy,” says the mother to the child.
“I’ll give you a lifetime of happiness,” say the lover to his mate.
“I’m tired of drama. I just want to be happy,” says the widower looking for love.
I’ve felt and experienced happiness. I’ve reveled and marveled in its power. I adore those scintillating moments of elation whenever they occur, and bask in the warm and fuzziness of it all. And while I am the first to recognize how wonderful it would be to exist in a heightened state of pure elation, I am also well-familiar with the pesky but unavoidable universal truth that always gets in the way: happy doesn’t last.
Yes, there are miraculous moments of bliss peppered within each of our journeys on earth, but they are blended with perpetual doses of the mundane, the ordinary, the day-in-and-day-out business of living.
And then on the other side of happiness is pain, heartache and disappointment. Because that’s the game and those are the rules. We all know and expect hard times, yet when they come, it’s so easy to be taken by surprise. Really? Do we have to do this now, when things were going so well?
Pain happens everywhere – when loved ones leave or when promises are broken. It happens when stars collide in a world far beyond your reach, sucking you helplessly into a monstrous black hole filled with the whys, what-ifs and why-me’s.
The pain that comes from loss and hurt keeps on giving. It might be in a decade or two of milestones that will never be celebrated, seaside vacations that will never be booked, or an endless string of wishes and promises – all lined up like birds on a wire – that will vanish, one-by-one, until there is nothing. Nothing.
People or opportunities will come into your life and present themselves as miraculous cures, the loves of your life, answers to countless prayers, roads to success, sprinkles on your ice cream … your champions. And through chance and circumstance, or perhaps deliberate acts, everything that you thought you had or would gain will be gone.
There will be tragedies and trauma that will shake you to your core and drag you to your knees, leaving you fragmented, shattered and empty inside. And you will wonder if there will ever be light and laughter again, smiles and hopes, dreams and new beginnings.
You will question your sanity and feel confused, disoriented. You will doubt your ability to reason, to see clearly, to make wise decisions and lead your life the way you always heard or thought it should be.
This is life, and it’s not for the timid or frail. There are no clichés or adages or well wishes that can make the hard stuff go away. There will be conflict, detours, brick walls and insufferable sinkholes that swallow and destroy and suffocate.
Sometimes there is no justice or sense or understanding. Sometimes those same people who profess their love and loyalty will hold your past for ransom, assigning debts you cannot possibly repay. Sometimes the memories of tenderness, expression and laughter will be overshadowed by unexpected cruelty, anger, hurt and suffering.
The pain will come. It will envelope you and take away your breath. It will squeeze your heart, rip your laughter and kindness and hope right out through your belly and leave you quivering, immobilized and defeated.
But then, just on the edge of surrender, you will feel the shroud of sadness gradually release and peel away. You will force your feet to hold still, settle, and take root in the soft, warm earth below while your arms reach upward, bathing in the light as it finds its way back into your soul.
You will breathe again, and notice the friends and family that have been surrounding you all along, standing watch. With patience and kindness, they will wipe away your tears, and remind you of your truth, your gifts and value. You will learn to believe in yourself again. You will recognize your own strength, beauty and worth.
Then one day it will happen – the smiles and laughter will return. And you’ll look in the mirror, study your reflection and say, “Well, hello there. I remember you. Welcome back.”
And for the time being anyway, your personal search for happiness will be complete.