We know leaning into fear and vulnerability can be uncomfortable, but do we talk enough about how the fragility of happiness can make it equally difficult to relax into joy? 

Happiness has, at times, felt unattainable to me; visible in friends, society and media but otherwise seemingly often out of my actual grasp, for long periods of time. I’m referring to true happiness, when it’s not just a good day, but there is sunshine at our core on a consistent basis. When even on a bad day we’re able to be grateful for all we have and feel aligned with that which surrounds us. That level of happiness has been a foreign concept during certain seasons of my life. 

That is not to say I haven’t experienced happiness, I have at times of course. But as I witnessed it come and go, more times than I’d have liked, happiness began to feel impermanent, unassured, fleeting. The pattern of that narrative continued to come to fruition repeatedly, for a multitude of reasons – a great job came to an end, a living situation was uprooted, a messy end to a relationship. In retrospect those things shouldn’t have necessarily single handedly brought an end to my general happiness, but it possibly talks to other misalignments in my life also. 

What I witnessed over time, with the repeating pattern of dissipating happiness was my internal calculator start to deem any happiness I experienced as fragile. Which is often something we can feel about things, or even people, we care about – we so desperately want to protect and preserve them because we care for them that we can perceive them as vulnerable, fragile. The happiness never felt like it would stay, it often felt conditional, it was precarious. Like if we were playing word association and someone said  “happy” I’d have likely said “short lived”.

I know that I’m much more aware of how I deal with struggles and stress than how I deal with happiness, given how many times I’ve had to call on the strengths for the former versus the muscles for the latter. I’ve become more familiar with having to lean into difficult (“negative”) emotions like shame, fear and pain. And, before I thought too much about it, I always felt that we should just be able to enjoy happiness. Like, duh. Otherwise how dumb are we… encountering greatness and not being able to enjoy it?! It seems counterintuitive. But with reinforced examples of happiness being fleeting, it’s understandable that it may make it hard to “just enjoy it”. 

But what happens when the fragility of happiness we’ve always previously experienced starts to wane and is replaced by a feeling of solid, stable, consistent, reliable happiness? As we start to align all areas of our lives, and we have a more consistent handle on our thoughts and gratitude practice, and good things happen. 

Brené Brown talks about how we need to start rehearsing for joy more in our lives, stating that we as humans are much more likely to rehearse for pain and disappointment. Our nature is more inclined to catastrophise in order to be more prepared for when something does go wrong, and so our brains are more focused on working through negative scenarios than believing in the possibility of good outcomes. But by putting our focus on the bad we are potentially opening ourselves up to the catastrophes? We create what we focus on after all. 

While being prepared is a motto I like to live by, this particular preparedness for negative emotions can catch us in a loop – we achieve happiness > we believe it can’t last > we catastrophise > our fears are realised > happiness is reinforced as fragile. Rinse, repeat. With the additional note that each time happiness leaves us it can get harder and harder to continue to open ourselves up to happiness again in the future, and the inherent risks we know that involves.

Given our propensity for assuming the worst and also believing happiness is fragile, there’s a need to focus more on appreciating happiness, and sitting in it without fearing it will leave us. Trusting it. Or at least knowing if it does dwindle or depart entirely, we can always get it back. While it may at times be inconsistent, happiness is never gone forever, life has taught me that. Everyday we get to choose to seek it out. 

The practices of gratitude, positive thinking and manifestation are as popular as they are because they encourage people to rehearse joy. They focus on the good things and require us to imagine ourselves already having everything we would want or need to make us happy. It’s essentially role playing happiness into our lives. 

Maybe there’s also something to be said for the more times we’ve experienced the loss of happiness, when it returns could it be more emphatic? Like the Japanese art of Kinstugi, where they repair broken pottery with gold – can we create a deeper, richer, and more resilient sense of happiness than the one that existed previously? And as it becomes more resilient, it becomes less fragile. 

I’m striving for happiness that I can lean in to enjoy and be grateful for, knowing there is always fragility in the things we value.

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