By: Lauren Freier, Guest Blogger
It is well understood that it is human nature to want more, reach higher, and push harder. Good enough quickly becomes subpar as new baselines and targets are established in our tireless race toward infinity. This infinity—happiness—is actually not a destination, but a state of mind, constantly in flux, that requires work and intention to maintain. How nice it would be if we could reach happiness and never leave, but doing so would posit that happiness has its limits.
Milan Kundera analyzed the unstable nature of happiness, noting that “therein lies the whole of man’s plight. Human time does not turn in a circle; it runs ahead in a straight line. That is why man cannot be happy: happiness is the longing for repetition” (The Unbearable Lightness of Being). Happiness, or rather perceived happiness, often comes from a desire for “what was” or “what will be,” but accepting “what is” is an entirely different animal. Humans both crave and are debilitated by future uncertainties, both yearn for and flee from past experiences, and juggle these emotions while simultaneously working to survive in the present. Nature’s most complex balancing act, it seems life really is one big circus.
Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development articulate this happiness conundrum, as it is no coincidence that the transition from one stage of life to the next is deemed a “crisis.” In fact, I see no term more fitting. As individuals grow they move forward along a path of development, regardless of whether they have completed all tasks in the previous stage (that unfinished business may be what lands someone in my office later on). Ready or not life’s changes still come, amidst the nostalgia and the hope, leaving people with no choice but to hop on board some train. But with transitions come chaos, excitement, emotionality, fear, and regret. Containing all of these feelings simultaneously will undoubtedly lead a person to distress.
So what to do? How can we accept the one-way ticket of life without constantly trying to turn it into a round trip? The first step is awareness, the realization that not all endings are bad or sad, some just are. Closure that lacks conflict can be confusing, but is often a sign of maturity and growth. The distress often comes from this tireless search for an explanation or justification for the transition, when in fact one may not exist. We can blame the human unconscious and natural course of life if we must, or we can choose to trust the process, let go, and allow room for the happy.
Lauren is a passionate writer, Beatles fanatic, celebrity gossip junkie, therapist, and mental health advocate. Her personal and professional experiences in both LA and Chicago have inspired her dedication to emotional wellness, resiliency, and self-acceptance. She holds an MA in Clinical Psychology and is a therapist at InnerVoice Psychotherapy and Consultation, a Chicago-based private practice, as well as a social-emotional health educator at a non-profit organization.
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