Western society often assumes that suffering is abnormal, and to create a more fulfilling life, we must get rid of all negative feelings and experiences. The goal quickly becomes finding ways to avoid feelings of “unhappiness.” For some, this means desperately trying to control every aspect of their life in order to escape any potentially uncomfortable feelings. For others, acquiring more wealth briefly gives the illusion of happiness. And for those struggling with addiction, drugs and alcohol offer a very temporary way to avoid “unhappiness.” Russ Harris, author of The Happiness Trap writes,” it is not by accident that drug users call their methods of doing so a “fix”- because they are chemically trying to hold something in place.” We have been conditioned to believe that we should always feel good, and that if we don’t- we are doing something wrong.
The reality is that life is full of pain, sickness, ambiguity, as well as joy, love, and even happiness. The goal then becomes to accept all of these emotional experiences- even the ones we don’t identify as “good,” or “desirable.” In order to break down the stigma of negative emotions, one must have direct contact with them. Acceptance of negative feelings is the first step in finding healthier ways to successfully manage, but not eliminate these feelings. Acceptance is found in many different forms- being in relationship with God, finding meaning in suffering, cultivating a spirit of gratitude, and the creation of a sober life worth living. The sooner we can accept and understand that happiness, like any other emotion, is temporary, we can began to seek out what is truly satisfying.