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the value of uncomfortable emotions in a joy-chasing world (article)

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People have always strived to be happy. The pinnacle of life seemed to be this concept of joy, elation, absolute contentment with life.

However, there are two key problems to the pursuit of happiness:

a) There is no true point where a human being “attains happiness” — not only will there will always be more to strive for, but happiness as a concept is intangible, and:

b) Whoever is happy will always deep down fear its absence, because happiness is inherently an emotion, and emotions are temporary.

Just by the nature of happiness — that it can be lost—makes even the presence of happiness an uncomfortable state to be in.

There’s also a dangerous precedent that feeds into our lifelong chase of happiness, and that’s the intolerability of negative emotions.

Emotions such as anxiety, sadness, anger, jealousy, are seem villainous in our search for happiness; they are roadblocks to get over and obstacles to get through.

But there is a reason negative emotions evolved alongside positive ones. They serve vital purposes in our lives.

Just as we can feel physical pain and that pain can alert us of issues we need to pay attention to, negative emotions are guides, not barbed wire traps to be avoided at all costs.

Strong negative emotions stem from the same sources as strong positive emotions: things that we care deeply about, and issues that are the most meaningful to us.

When we lose a loved one, we are meant to grieve. Happiness in that context is rather absurd, and grief in that context isn’t something to be ashamed of. That grief is painful, but important, and ultimately far more useful than denial or fighting the natural sadness that is felt when someone we care deeply about leaves our lives.

Although we shouldn’t deliberately seek out negative emotions, when they do come knocking, we should listen to them with acceptance and openness, and let them stay, but not overstay, their welcome.

They are only temporary visitors passing through, and when it’s time for them to go, then also let them go.

So if not happiness, what are we really looking for?

Stoics have used the term “stoic calm,” referring to an internal state of acceptance and indifference; the unshakeable peace of knowing that nothing that can happen to you will permanently shake you, a sort of calm faith in yourself.

Euphoria is not the end goal; it is about the process and state of being open minded and open hearted, of giving what is uncomfortable and painful a place just as valuable, but not more so, than happiness and euphoria.

You are constantly communicating with yourself and understanding yourself and your life through emotion.

Your emotions are valuable – the entire spectrum of them. You can entertain each and all of them without getting sideswiped into the current, and you can grow far more holistically if the right balance is found.

“Stoic calm” isn’t about apathy to the world, rather, it is about faith in your own resilience and acceptance of change and discomfort. To allow yourself to be tall grass able to and open to being bent and moved by winds, and not a brittle stick rigid and easily snapped by adversity.

Happiness isn’t the end goal. Open mindedness, open heartedness, and acceptance towards both the positive and negative of our lives, will bring us far more peace than the endless and futile pursuit of euphoria.