I have to be honest; I haven't yet finished reading Be Happy. The book is based on Robert Holden's 8-week happiness course and each of the 27 chapters contains exercises that mirror the work participants do throughout the course. I'd been working through one per day to give myself sufficient time to digest the often dense information and work through the activities suggested in each chapter. However, for the past three weeks I've had such a bad cold that often when I've sat down to read I've found myself unable to focus on the page or absorb anything that I've read. Instead of forcing myself to plough through, I'm giving myself the time that reading this book warrants. I'll probably post some further reflections when I've finished it, but today I wanted to share some general reflections on happiness. The book is based on an interesting combination of science, spirituality, and self-awareness. Holden has done a significant amount of research and conducted numerous studies that prove his methods work. The principle that underlies all of his thinking is that happiness is our natural state of being and the exercises he suggests are aimed at cultivating a greater understanding of our authentic selves and our own ideas about happiness.
There are many people who think that the modern day focus on being happy is detrimental to our wellbeing. Hugh Mackay wrote an interesting piece attacking the concept of happiness, arguing that it's "led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness." Instead he argues that we should strive for wholeness and an appreciation of all of our states of being - both the dark and the light.
I think that a major part of self-love is cultivating this type of acceptance, of not pushing away the darkness and pretending we're okay even when we're not. However, I disagree with Mackay's assertion that happiness "doesn't teach us much." He seems to discount the incredible power of joy to inspire compassion, creativity, and genuine human connection.
As someone who's spent a lot of time in darkness, battling my own demons and sinking into periods of depression, I think that these facets of my life have taught me a lot. Sometimes we need to sit with that darkness to understand the lessons it offers and without it, we could never appreciate the true power of the light. Of course my life and my mood still ebbs and flows, as it always will, but since I began making self-love a daily commitment to myself, contentment and even joy have become my default states of being. And as this has happened, the world seems more open. I see possibilities where before I saw obstacles. I've done things that I never would have thought myself capable of. I've created a life I had only dreamed of but didn't know I could actually live. The myth that genuine creation comes only out of misery is just that, a myth. Joy creates incredible possibilities.
I think that the trouble with a culture of striving for happiness lies in the striving, not in the desire for happiness, and I think Holden would agree. When we learn to truly love and accept ourselves, we understand that joy is always an option. We don't have to chase it; we can just be. We are joy. And while there will always be times of sadness, we can learn to move through them with grace and ease, learning from this other dimension of our human experience and feeling secure in the knowledge that happiness will greet us again on the other side.
What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts on happiness and what your own relationship to self-love has been like.