Pursuit of Happiness

I was just perusing facebook when I can across a friend’s post, “Life can be amazing and miraculous one minute and horrible the next, here’ to waiting for the next amazing moment”. And it got me to thinking – We hear a lot about the pursuit of happiness and our right to it. What we fail to see is that it is precisely our pursuit of happiness that causes our suffering – and thus keeps us from that “happiness” we are looking for. I have spent much of my life in that same pursuit – barely tolerating the less than pleasurable experiences in desperate search of the next happy moment. When that moment comes I cling, and maybe you do too, not wanting the feeling or experience to change or dissipate.

I remember the day I gave birth to my son Henry. It was the mist intense experience I had ever had – anticipation, joy, pain, absence of pain and pure joy. I felt each emotion as if I imagine it would feel like if I were born blind and one day was able to see. The visceral feeling of each moment of that day will never leave me. And while I was very focused on the moment and appreciating each second (with the exception of the excruciating pain of the last stages of labor of course) I was terrified for the experience to pass. I instantly started worrying that my 12 weeks of maternity leave would not be enough – and I mean immediately, as in hours after giving birth I was crying and anxious. So I clung to each day as if it were my last – and I cried each day anticipating the day that I would have to leave my perfect little boy at home while I went to work. That extreme clinging to the moment and anticipation of the future took away from my ability to just enjoy and cherish where I was.

And then one day, a month into my maternity leave as I was rediscovering my meditation practice and study I read a paragraph from Mark Epstein’s “Thoughts Without a Thinker” that jolted me into a brief glimpse of awareness. Awareness that I was causing my own suffering. It was around the idea that the pursuit of pleasure leads to dissatisfaction as pleasure itself is not sustainable, primarily because we become content with what felt “pleasurable” initially, so we seek more.

“When any situation that is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged it only produces a feeling of mild contentment. We are made so that we can derive intense enjoyment only from a contrast and very little from a state of things. Thus our possibilities of happiness are already restricted by our constitution” – Epstein

It was an awareness that the contrast of my pain from labor allowed me to appreciate the absence of pain once he was delivered. And that if I continue to seek that moment, even if I have the moment again, it won’t be the same, it is not sustainable in a constant way. By yearning for my environment to not change I was not appreciating what I had in the now. So I slowly let go of clinging to the idea that this utopia we had created in Henry’s first few months would change, and pursuit of a constant state of anything only leads to discontent. We are not wired for contentment.

So if you are like me in any way, and are clinging to a moment, a feeling, a touch, anything – let it go and know that the next painful, frustrating, or even mildly annoying experience you have will only help you enjoy the next “good” moment that much more.

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