Having, as I do, a ‘ready, fire, aim’ personality, I unwisely offered to review a book for this blog without reading it first. Natalie Fee’s ‘The Everyday Alchemist’s Happiness Handbook’ is written in short, sharp little chapters (a bit like this blog...oh dear) and is liberally peppered with the irritating English word ‘whilst’ (I recoil at that word) whilst (see!) offering tips and techniques for cultivating more happiness. But a deal’s a deal, and as I read her book and pondered what I’d like to say, I was inspired to deepen my own understanding and experience of this much heralded pinnacle of pursuit: happiness.
The quirk of living in a duality, as we do, is that we can’t have one thing without also inviting its opposite any more than we can separate the poles of a magnet. (Positive and negative are inherently inseparable.) Dr. Demartini, a favourite philosopher and teacher of mine says that, “We attract the opposite of what we seek as a way of breaking our addiction to the thing we seek.” A bit of a tongue twister, that, but in a nutshell he means that making happiness a goal will only invite unhappiness.
Can this be true? And if so, what’s the alternative?
I believe we have an inner duality that matches the outer one. Thus there are two possible ways to experience life. The first is from the “I” or ego perspective. This “lower” part of us thrives on drama and the roller coaster of emotions. It is the part of us where our personality resides, which is a rather fixed and habitual animal containing our basic traits such as optimist or pessimist, light-hearted or serious. (Just try challenging someone’s pessimism and you’ll discover that ‘for them who believe, no proof is necessary; and for them who don’t, no proof is possible.’) The second, and perhaps more elevated way to move through life is from the “I am” perspective. Accessing this “higher” part of ourselves allows us to experience life from a slightly detached, observer position. From here we do not get swept into the dramas of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or the distortion of our personality, but rather accept everything we encounter and feel as part of a complex whole. This ‘meta-position’ is, in my view, a much worthier goal than mere happiness.
In ‘The Seekers Guide’ Elizabeth Lesser says, “We have such romantic expectations of “happily ever after” that we miss joy when she comes calling. Joy is actually a more complex emotion than sorrow. I hesitate to talk about it for fear that I will betray its complexities and make others feel as though they are missing the party. A joyful soul often lives in a state of what I call enchanted melancholy. This kind of happiness contains within it many shades of feelings: joy and grief, passion and sobriety, love and longing, innocence and wisdom. It holds the paradoxical nature of existence in a warm and wide embrace. More than anything, it is a sense of wonder.” (1999, p 230)
Turns out, by the time I got to the last section of Natalie Fee’s book I discovered that this was what she was getting at all along, (making our differences are more stylistic than anything else.) And although I can’t say her book was exactly my cup of tea, it did open the door to a deeper exploration of happiness and may lead you to do the same.
A sense of wonder is the new happiness. Now that’s a goal worth having.