“In science, a healthy skepticism is a professional necessity, whereas in religion, having belief without evidence is regarded as a virtue.” – Paul Davies, writer
“It’s December, we just want to have a Happy Christmas!”
Janice and Jake had been married for twenty five years when they first called me, in early December several years ago. They had two children, a daughter, Jenny, aged 20 and a son, Josh, aged 19. Both Janice and Jake were born in Britain while their children had been born in Canada in the years following their arrival.
Jake has contacted me initially saying he and Janice weren’t happy together anymore and wanted to get ‘the magic’ back into their relationship. He explained that the kids were both away at school now and he felt their empty nest was aggravating their situation.”
Janice was a short, stout, dark haired woman about 40 years old, while Jake was tall, gangly and had light coloured hair and beard. Janice was well dressed in expensive, coordinated apparel, while Jake, in contrast, looked like he had just climbed out of bed. They were both, in true British tradition, friendly and polite toward me.
As we got acquainted, I discovered Janice worked in the gardening section of a local box store to appease her ‘green thumb’ as she put it. Jake, on the other hand, was a high school teacher and avid reader in his spare time, especially science fiction.
While Jake had made the call to my office for the consultation, it was Janice who seems the most upset by their situation. Jake, sensing her distress and affirming his English roots, jumped in with,
“It’s December, we just want to have a Happy Christmas!”
“I am not a big fan of positive thinking. The term suggests that there is something negative that you have to counteract by being positive. That is an artificial duality.”
– Srikumar Rao, educator
“I want a Happy Christmas and a happy marriage!”
Janice added, with trepidation, “The children are coming home and while I’ve missed them, I’m also worried they will notice the tension between us. I don’t want to spoil their Holiday!”
“So you’re concerned your relationship challenges will ruin your kids’ Holidays?” I asked.
“That’s basically it!” Janice replied.
Jake was more specific. He added, “I guess we have different views of our marriage. I’m actually OK with it! But, Janice is not!”
“What kind of marriage do you want, Janice?” I asked looking at her.
She looked at me briefly, then with an air of indignation and a glassy, wateriness to her eyes, said,
“I want a Happy Christmas and a happy marriage! Is that too much to ask for at my age and this stage of life? We’ve been married twenty five years. Surely by now, I should be able to expect and get a little happiness in life.”
“Education has failed in a very serious way to convey the most important lesson science can teach: skepticism.”
– David Suzuki, scientist
“You use the word happy a lot Janice.…”
Jake stared at her for a moment in silence. Then he added to her statement.
“I didn’t think things were that bad, Janice! We have had our ups and downs over the years. But, I thought we were doing OK! I think, we both miss the kids. And, we are in each other’s faces and spaces more now that they’re away in school. But, I guess I don’t know what you really expect after all this time together, do I?”
“I think we have very different pictures of our marriage, Jake! You seem to be satisfied with the way things are. But, I’m not at all! Sometimes I’m not sure what I want anymore.” she said, her voice trailing off into a whisper.
“You use the word happy a lot Janice. I’m wondering what it actually means to you at this point?” I asked.
She stared at me now, the confusion and frustration rising slowly. She studied her hands for a minute, then, looked me straight in the eye, saying
“I’ve worked my whole adult life raising two children, working full time and being part of this marriage, and I think it’s time I had some happiness…some relaxation, some comforts of life, maybe even some luxuries.”
“A character on screen that’s the ‘good guy’ or the ‘bad guy,’ they’re never interesting. There’s got to be an internal struggle, the duality is important to find.” – Bill Skarsgard, actor
“I was so happy, I was beside myself with joy.”
“Do you remember a moment in the past when you were happy, Janice? In your childhood, perhaps?” I asked.
“Yes I do! December and the Christmas season brings back the happiest memory of my life. I was only five years old, Ken.”
“Would you tell me about it?”
“It’s one of my earliest Christmas memories. It was Christmas morning. I was the first awake, and the first downstairs to check under the tree. I found what I had asked for…this Cabbage Patch Doll. I was so happy, I was beside myself with joy. I remember dancing around the room by myself!”
“Sounds like a magic moment, Janice. So, my only question is, ‘What, at the very same moment, were you sad about?”
“Ken, there was nothing I was sad about at that special moment…how could there be?” she asked, bewildered by my question.
“It is seen that both matter and radiation possess a remarkable duality of character, as they sometimes exhibit the properties of waves, at other times those of particles.”
– Werner Heisenberg, physicist
“But I still don’t see the sadness in my dance around…”
“There has to be, it is a law of nature. There is a duality going on in every moment of our lives. That’s why we can’t be happy if it means pleasure without pain. If there is pleasure, there is equal pain at the same second. It must be there to comply with nature’s law of symmetry.” I suggested to her.
Jake jumped in at this point saying,
“As you say that I was reminded of my mixed emotions when we took the kids to the airport for school. I was sad they were leaving us but glad they were pursuing their goals. Is that what you mean?”
“That’s a good example. The counterbalance is always found within our own values. So, valuing your children and valuing their education must both be among your higher values, Jake. Is that true?” I added.
“I think Janice and I both share those values. That’s why we both shed tears that day. Would you agree Janice?” he asked his partner.
“Yes! Of course! But I still don’t see the sadness in my dance around the Christmas tree that morning.” she said with a challenge to her voice.
“Just as we have two eyes and two feet, duality is part of life.” – Carlos Santana, musician
“I kind of ignored that rule that morning.”
“Janice tell me more about the context of that Christmas day in your life. Did you have siblings? Where were your parents at that moment? How come you were the first up that Christmas morning?” I asked looking for a broader perspective on her memory.
“I had two older brothers who shared a room. And, my parents had this rule you had to eat breakfast first, then we would all go in together to see what Santa brought.”
Then she added, “I kind of ignored that rule that morning.” she said in a child-like, sheepish manner with a half smile.
“How did you cope with breaking that rule that day, Janice?” I asked.
“Truth be told, I didn’t dance around for long. Realizing what I had done, I hid the doll behind some other gifts and snuck upstairs waking up my brothers and pretending I didn’t know about it. I don’t know if my parents suspected or not. But, they never said anything.” she said.
“The main ingredient of the first quantum revolution, wave-particle duality, has led to inventions such as the transistor and the laser that are at the root of the information society.”
– Alain Aspect, physicist
“…what are we supposed to be aiming for in life?”
“Can you see where the pain was in getting that doll that day, Janice?”
“I think I can. It was the guilt I felt knowing I had not followed the family Christmas rule. It was a big deal and my brothers really had a harder time with the rule than me. And, my dad had a short fuse. And, especially since he and mom use to go partying at a neighbors’ every Christmas Eve.” she replied, the insight surfacing on her face.
“Can you now see how at the moment of happiness, there was that counterbalancing sadness, in compliance with this law of balance?”
“Yes, I can see it now. And, you’re saying it occurs at every moment of our life? Ken, that would mean, we can’t get happy without getting sad at the same time. And, that would also mean, it’s futile to try to be happy at all?” she said, confusion and discouragement replacing her former awareness.”
Jake jumped in again supporting her confusion and asking perhaps the tough question,
“Ken, if we can’t be happy without being simultaneously sad, what are we supposed to be aiming for in life?”
“The words we use describe our expectations.”
“Jake, it’s my experience people are not really seeking a one sided happy view of life. I think they are looking for a two sided, balanced perspective that is about appreciation or gratitude. And, I think that’s what Christmas, and other holidays, draw from people…a sense of appreciation or gratitude for themselves, their loved ones and their life.”
“Aren’t we just nitpicking here over semantics, the words we use?”
“In a way, yes we are! But, in another way, not really! The words we use describe our expectations. If we expect pleasure without equal pain or more pleasure than pain, then we are creating false expectations for ourselves.”
“Why is that such a big deal?” he asked.
“This will cause us confusion and it slows down our learning and evolution.” I replied.
Janice joined in again with, “Would you give us some other examples, Ken?”
“I never noticed the power of the words we use with our kids.”
“Many parents tell their children they ‘just want them to be happy!’ But I don’t think that’s what they really mean. The kids go off seeking, and expecting, pleasure with no or little pain…which they can never find because it’s against nature’s law. So, they can feel like failures because they are seeking a one sided fantasy life.
“I can see that in a way because that’s what is usually portrayed in movies and television.” Jake contributed.
I continued with, “Parents really want their children to be appreciative of their life, to expect to work hard for whatever they achieve and to be grateful for what their parents have done to help them. Is that not true?”
“I see what your getting at here, Ken!” Jake said.
“I never noticed the power of the words we use with our kids. That’s very interesting to me especially when I think of how Jake and I have talked with our two kids over the years.” Janice added.
“The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, skepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin.” – Thomas Huxley, scientist
“…You can have an AM or PM marriage…
“I’m also suggesting to your both, the same law applies to your relationship. If you’re expecting to be happily married…it’s impossible to achieve.” I said emphatically.
Then added, “But I can show you how to be grateful for yourself and each other, and appreciative of your special relationship.”
“Sounds like you’re saying I want a fantasy…a happy marriage, instead of a grateful one. Am I getting warmer here, Ken?” Janice said with a small smile.
Then Jake said, “So, we can have an appreciative marriage but not a happy one? And, an appreciative marriage is filled with moments of pleasure and pain, simultaneously, eh?”
“Yes! And, Yes!” I said, turning to each of them.
Then I added, “Here’s a way to remind yourself, ‘You can have an AM or PM marriage…an Appreciative Marriage or a Painful Marriage. The first is a truthful, natural learning tool for your evolution while the second is a nightmare.”
“I think we both want an AM marriage, but, how do we do that, Ken?” Janice asked, while Jake nodded in agreement.
“Have a wonderfully painful Holiday, just like everyone else!”
“It requires each of you to find the two sides to each significant painful memory you carry about your marriage, and sometimes your earlier life as well.”
“But, how do we do that?” Jake said.
“I have done it successfully with many couples, I can show you how. But it requires each of you to commit to this focused accelerated learning opportunity. Are you each ready to do that?”
They looked at each other for a brief second and nodded simultaneously. Then they scheduled their next consultation for the following Monday.
They worked hard over the next several weeks into the early part of the new year, each uncovering the truth of their relationship. Every dark, cloudy memory they found had a silver lining. And, every bright, clear golden memory had a painful price.
After just a few consults I could see, and they noted to me, the shift in their perspective, not just about each other, but also about themselves. They also reported a greater appreciation for many other parts of their life.
Near the end of their work with me, Janice said, as they were leaving my office one day after a consult,
“Ken, I remember when we first started here last December, you said to us, as we were leaving one day, ‘Have a wonderfully painful Holiday, just like everyone else!’ I was really confused by that statement. Now, I know what you meant.”
Jake added, “Me too! And, I can’t find any moment, at any time of the year, where it doesn’t apply!”
“Well now you know you’re cured…cured of the illusion of a one sided life! Congratulations!” I said smiling at them.
“Skepticism: the mark and even the pose of the educated mind.” – John Dewey, philosopher
Until Next time…
Now you know there is no happy without sad and no pleasure without pain. They are always balanced at every second of your life. So, expect both at all times, and especially when those around you are trying to ignore the negative and focus entirely on the positive, like during holiday celebrations. When you see both, and honour both, you learn and evolve, toward greater appreciation for yourself and others. Apply it to any second of your life you don’t appreciate yet or any relationship, and learn to be grateful for it as it is because it somehow got you to here, right now.
Our next seminar is entitled, “How to Bring balance to Life and Purpose to Work!” It will be on Saturday, January 28th, 2017. Details are available at www.kenpiercepsychologist.com
Send us your feedback and topic suggestions…we love to hear from you! If you have a specific question or wish to schedule a consultation, feel free to contact me.
Namaste, (I salute the grandly organized design of the universe, manifested in you!)
Further information: www.kenpiercepsychologist.com