“If only we’d stop trying to be happy we could have a pretty good time.”
– Edith Wharton, Author
I just want her to be happy like everyone else!
Sharon was a fast talking, quick witted, working mother with two daughters. The eldest, child, Bonita, was 18 years old. The other child was an unexpected, late, pregnancy named Bethany, the apple of her parents’ eyes and… just five years old.
Sharon was a hardworking engineering consultant while her partner, John, operated a thriving, small, manufacturing business. Sharon was in her mid forties. By her dress and appearance she obviously took care of herself. She presented herself with an air of professionalism suggesting she was at home in both the boardroom and the kitchen. Sharon’s seemed satisfied with her 25 year marriage. They had a busy life but made time for regular family vacations and trips to exotic destinations.
When I asked her how I could be of service she hesitated and then said in a soft voice, really a whisper, …as if saying it too loud would make it even worse than it already seemed to be, “Bonita tried to hurt herself!”
“In what way?” I asked.
“Pills!” she replied and then added, “But she is getting help and really likes her therapist!”
“So what brings you here today?” I asked her.
I feel like a failure as a mother!
“Ken, I feel like such a failure as a mother…my daughter tried to kill herself and I didn’t even see it coming…I just want her to be happy like everyone else…is that too much to expect?” she said, confusion and frustration spreading across her face like a red, slow moving wave.
“Well,…actually Sharon, it is too much to expect!” I said.
She looked aghast,…her mouth hanging half open in mid sentence. She sat back in her chair as if to make sure I really said what she thought she heard and stared back at me.
Finally, having composed herself once more she said, “Ken, are you saying it is too much to expect our children to be happy in this world?”
“Indeed I am! …Also, it’s impossible!”
“I don’t understand what you’re saying!” she replied twisting her head back and forth as if to shake off the whole idea.
“Sharon…are you looking for pleasure without pain, good without bad, happy without sad…is that what you mean by happiness?”
“Of course!” she replied testily.
Nature doesn’t allow it!
“Nature doesn’t allow it Sharon! Nature doesn’t allow happiness! Nature doesn’t allow pleasure without equal pain!”
“Are you kidding me? … How can that be?” She asked.
“In physics they call it the law of symmetry or equilibrium and in biology the law of balance or homeostasis. Each of us see it daily …but generally… ignore it. One example… our weather system is high and low pressure systems balancing each other. Another,…the beauty of a rose is counterbalanced by its prickly thorns.” I explained.
“Ken, are you saying it applies to people as well?”
“Most definitely it does. Every successful relationship, like a marriage for example, will have an optimist and a pessimist; a spender and a saver. This is to create a stable, balanced relationship. Sharon, can you see how this applies in your own relationship to John?”
She stared off for a few seconds and then said thoughtfully, “That is SO true Ken. I was accusing him, just the other night, of being too pessimistic about what Bonita might do next. He said I was being naive. It is kind of scary to think we are that predictable!”
Nature only allows appreciation!
Then she added, “ So what are we here for… if not to be happy? What are we all supposed to be striving for if not happiness?
“Nature only permits appreciation…or if you prefer…gratitude!” I said.
“But how is appreciation different from happiness, Ken?”
“Most people think of happiness as some form of pleasure without pain…that is the impossible part I mentioned before. Nature ensures we always get both equally and simultaneously. In this way we learn to survive, or if you prefer, evolve, in an effective and efficient way. So, striving for pleasure and avoiding pain is nature’s way to motivate us to learn. But neither pleasure or pain travel separately, they are always together”
“So are you saying we always experience equal pain and pleasure at every moment?” she said sarcastically.
“Sharon, your skepticism is healthy…it speeds up your learning. Check it out from your own life experiences. Tell me a really clear memory of pleasure in your life…what comes to mind?” I asked her.
She flashed her eyes to the extreme right and piped up, “Ken, the birth of each of my children was pleasurable…I remember it clearly!”
You managed the pain of labor by anticipating the pleasure of your child…
“Do you remember the labor pains you experienced at Bonita’s birth?” I asked.
“I sure do…I remember clearly she was born on a Saturday morning at 10:17 AM, …three days overdue…and it was snowing outside…I could see it out the window.”
I asked, “Sharon, how did you manage the labor pains before and during her birth?”
“Ken, she was our first, John and I were so excited…we had her room all decorated…our families were just as excited as us…it was wonderful!” she said her eyes beaming as the images flashed by in her mind of these events.
“Can you see how you managed the pain of labor by feeling the pleasure of your new child?” I said.
“ I never thought about it that way before…but it kind of makes sense doesn’t it?”
“Yes it does! And do you recall, perhaps a special moment, when you held your new baby and experienced both the pleasure of her existence and the pain of her responsibility?”
“Yes I do Ken! And I remember John saying much the same thing one night when he was rocking her to sleep.”
“Happiness is an enlightened appreciation of your life as it is, right now!” – King Ayles, Author
Parenting is a painful pleasure!
“Sharon, this is what I am suggesting to you is appreciation or gratitude. But it is not happiness…it is an awareness and appreciation for the two sides of being a parent, the pleasure and the equal pain involved in that role.” I added.
“Yes, I can see that now! So you are saying parenting is a painful pleasure. And, you’re saying as well, trying to be happy, to have pleasure without pain is a fantasy we can unknowingly place on ourselves and others…even our children.”
“Excellent analysis Sharon. Now are you ready to take it to probably your worst, most painful memory so far in your life?” I asked.
You are a ‘successful failure’ as a mother…just like every mother…
“You are referring to Bonita’s self destructive behavior…aren’t you?” she asked.
“Yes I am Sharon! I want you to tell me the two sides, the symmetry, the pain and the pleasure, for you of that event.”
“That is a tough question Ken. I seem to have been noticing only the pain, the negative side of it.”
“You have been using that one sided perception to maintain your illusion you are a failure as a mother. The truth is you are a ‘successful failure’ as a mother…just like every mother.” I said.
“That is a strange way to put it…but it is true isn’t it? John and I have both worked hard at being parents. Some days it seemed to work and other times it didn’t.” she replied with a half grin.
“We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.” – Frederick Koenig, Inventor
Identify the two sides of Bonita’s self destructive episode…
“So Sharon, let’s identify the two sides of Bonita’s self destructive episode for you. You are probably quite aware already of the painful side. What we are going to do is ensure you see both sides in all seven life areas. So we will locate its costs to your spirit, your sense of self, your work, your finances, your social life, your family and your health. Then we are going to go uncover the other side…the one you have not noticed…the benefits in each of these areas to this event. Would that interest you and could it be useful to you?”
“I would never have thought it was even possible! Let’s do it!” she replied with a cautious tone.
And that’s what we did. Sharon readily identified the pain of the situation including how she had been depressed in spirit, low in self worth, unproductive and lost at work, losing income and not caring, ignoring her social network, irritable with her family and stressed out not sleeping very well.
Sharon needed some assistance to uncover the pleasure…
But Sharon needed some assistance to uncover the pleasure of the situation. This included developing a more determined spirit to deal with this crisis, realizing her mothering skills were critical to her self esteem, learning to create a more balanced role for her work in her life, recognizing her self worth instead of her financial worth was her most important form of wealth, identifying who were her real friends, rekindling her close relationship with not just Bonita but also John and her other daughter Bethany, and proving to herself she could manage all the stressors of her life.
Once Sharon was able to see both sides of her personal crisis she was able to take this idea and integrate it into other important areas. She realized she had other unrealistic expectations of herself and others besides being happy. These one sided perceptions were confusing and sabotaging her efforts to achieve a more satisfying and balanced life.
Sharon was able to reconnect not just to herself but also to Bonita and the rest of her family by learning to appreciate herself and her life. Sharon learned to be grateful for the crisis because it gave her the opportunity to recapture her life. If wisdom is defined as see the opportunity in the crisis, Sharon achieved it. She stopped trying to be happy and instead learned to appreciate herself, her family and her life now…an achievable goal for all of us.
“What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.” – Colette, Novelist
Until Next time…
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POINTS TO PONDER AND REMEMBER are:
- Pleasure without equal pain is not possible in your nature.
- Please and pain are alway equal to ensure you are an efficient learner.
- If your goal is a happiness of only pleasure, it is a fantasy.
- You are designed to achieve appreciation of life not happiness.
- Appreciation is uncovering the equal pleasure and pain of each event.
- Gratitude is uncovering the equal pleasure and pain of each event.
- Wisdom is finding the opportunity in the crisis.
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