The Search for Happiness

At this writing, I am reading a book by Natalie Goldberg called The True Secret of Writing.  On page 34, she talks about when she was in college, she studied Descartes, Bergson, James, Kant, Socratres, or as she puts it, “The full gamut of dead white Western men.” The essence of each reading was the question of happiness:  How to get it?  How to keep it?

I know in the past, when things went wrong, I wanted to fix it as soon as possible – to be happy again.  My thinking was that if I was struggling, I had made a wrong decision and therefore, had to fix it right away.  Or if someone died and it made me sad, then it was my responsibility to try to be happy again.  On the surface, this seems like the logical choice doesn’t it?  We all want to be happy.  And why not, happiness feels great.  But the truth is, bad things happen in the world every day to each and every one of us, and yes, we want to be happy again.  We may do it by having a drink to numb the pain, or perhaps even turn to drugs, sex, religion or just plain run away from our pain, either physically or psychologically.  This can’t be good.  The pain is still there, just like when the sun is hidden behind the clouds, it doesn’t mean that the sun has disappeared.  It’s still there, unseen, like our pain and suffering.  If that is the case, then perhaps we need to learn how to sit with our pain.

We live in a world of constant distractions and instant fixes.  We haven’t got the time to sit with our pain.  Yet, without pain and suffering, we can’t recognize joy.  For joy is all we would have.  Pain and suffering are like a bridge, we can either walk across it to the other side, or we can blow that bridge up and never get past it.  There is also the option to live with the bridge in front of you until you are ready to cross over.

It has been my experience that those things in life that we are not ready to face, will come up again and again until we are ready to get past it.  Why?  I believe it’s because this is part of our life’s journey.  The obstacles we must overcome are part of the map of our lives that take us ever forward.  The journey never ends, except maybe in death, and maybe not even then.  So, I think that it would be in our best interests to accept each bump in the road, or to use my present analogy, to cross the bridge to the other side if we are to move forward in life.

There’s a quote that says, “Enjoy the journey.”  Interesting, it talks about joy or happiness, as in, “Be happy on the journey.”  Perhaps we need to change that to “Be present for the journey.”  Every part of the journey.  The good and the bad.  Because we can’t have one without the other.  And as much as we’d like to, we can try, but we can’t run away from the pain and suffering that is an integral part of all our lives. It will be waiting until you are ready for healing.

For Goldberg, happiness is just a thing that shows up unannounced.  For others, happiness is a choice we make.  But I wonder, is it happiness we’re really looking for, or peace?  Peace in the midst of our sorrow?  Peace in the midst of our losses?  Peace in the midst of war?  For isn’t peace something that we carry inside?  Something that co-habitates with all life’s experiences?  I don’t know the answer.  But the question is certainly worth pondering.

Categories: Memoir


  • Nancy Broadley

    Wow! This has given me great food for thought. Is it that we are all looking for peace? In my life I take that one or two steps further, peace, simplicity in all things and contentment. Happiness is fleeting, it will come and it will go…but the basics…being present, simplicity, peace and contentment will carry with you no matter the environment or situation…thank you for writing this wonderful blog…I enjoyed it tremendously and love it when I can read something…and then say…aha! Yes!

    March 14, 2017 at 3:12 pm Reply
    • Gillian Andrews

      It sounds like we appreciate the same things: simplicity, peace, contentment. I’m sure you get plenty of that living in a cabin in the woods. Solitude is not an easy thing to embrace in this day and age when where are so many distractions. That’s why we have to find it within ourselves. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      March 15, 2017 at 10:39 am Reply

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