Note: This post was influenced by the wonderful TED Talk by Andrew Solomon
“We are like the little branch that quivers during a storm, doubting our strength and forgetting we are the tree—deeply rooted to withstand all life’s upheavals.”
Imagine that you have the power to take yourself to an experience that you’ve had before. Where would you go?
Your first kiss?
Maybe the time you got your first acceptance letter to college?
Or, how about the time you jumped out of an airplane and lived to tell about it?
Feel good? Awesome. Now, I want you to put yourself in a time that sucked and made you feel really really shitty. Don’t just read that sentence matter of factly and carry on. Take a moment to honestly put yourself in that situation. Seriously, do it.
Perhaps a time when someone broke your heart?
Maybe when you got fired from your job?
Whatever it is, think about it and let it marinade. No, I am not a sadist. This is an experiment.
What emotions did you feel? More importantly, what did you do in response to those feelings? What did that experience do for you constructively?
These are important questions to ask yourself when your emotions are neutral because it allows you to address these situations with logic. When faced with a difficult circumstance do you give yourself time to let your emotions sit in and actually feel, or do you do what you can to push them aside and distract yourself by thinking about anything else that will cause you to feel anything but that?
If you veer toward the latter part of that question – like most people do – you are stunting your growth.
We’re conditioned to avoid sadness, suffering and pain.
Yet, those feelings afford us the only true currencies that allow us to really live. Without those experiences, we are deprived of the necessary tools to forge meaning in life and ultimately build an identity. And it is through the actions of forging meaning and building your identity from sadness, suffering and pain that provide you the ability to help others do the same and experience real, unmanufactured joy.
Don’t try to simply maximize pleasure and eliminate pain. That does not lead to the perfect happy existence. On the contrary, it masks your reality with a veil of numbing feelings that close you off from authentic experiences and prevent you from becoming who you are truly meant to be.
You don’t find meaning in happiness. You forge meaning through pain.
So the next time you experience something really shitty, don’t starve yourself of an opportunity. Take some time to acknowledge, accept and embrace the pain.
Then ask yourself, how can you forge meaning and build identity?