Happiness doesn’t always feel happy (Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project)
When I was a child I didn’t like chocolate (note: back them in Russia we had no milk chocolate, only dark). Because it was bitter sweet. And I fixated on that bitterness because my immature palate could only take in one flavor at a time. Then I read a book where the main character, a poor village girl, was talking about the ‘sweet’ taste of sour cream, because I presume there was nothing else sweet in the middle of winter. I was very confused at first, and spent several days tasting sour cream and trying to find sweetness in it. When I finally found it, that was when my palate became more complex and I started finding pleasure in things I never imagined (like olives).
You see, dark chocolate and sour cream are complex flavors.
Kids like candy. And fun. Simple things bring them simple happiness. A child’s world is small and a child’s mind doesn’t yet handle complexity well. Not the complexity of taste (bitter sweet) nor the complexity of emotion (bitter sweet), nor the complexity of experience. Children don’t handle polyphony in music (did you notice that even classical music for kids is pretty single-toned, i.e. there is not many melodies going on at the same time).
Children have a favorite color, a favorite food (ketchup), a favorite season and a bestest friend. Their world is small so it can have one best thing, because there are not many things in it.
We make sure however to introduce kids to complexity. A good parent would let the child eat a variety of fruit and vegetables to broaden the palate, listen to classical music, to broaden the auditory perception, and so on. Because being able to handle complexity prepares the child for adult life. We want them to be capable of enjoying the difficulty of overcoming an obstacle, of relishing the effort of practice for an important skill, of appreciating the intricate rainbow of human connections, the bitter sweet combinations of feelings and experiences that make up a truly fulfilling life.
In the cartoon movie ‘Inside out’, the main character is transitioning from the simple mind of a child into the mind of a young adult, where emotions stop being simple and gain richness and depth by being mixed together and creating new ‘colors’.
But we can have a child’s mindset even when we’re adults. We want happiness to be just that – happy. And real happiness just isn’t that simple. Instead it is rich, like chocolate.
I used to expect work to be fun, and when it was no longer fun, I changed jobs. I never let the job challenge me, really challenge me, and help me grow. Only when I embraced the fact that challenge and even failure is an integral part of growth and fullfilment, did I begin to stick with with what I was doing long enough to weather the storms and come out stronger, wiser and better….
I used to think that relationships happen easily, like a fairy tale. Anything else – when effort is needed, when conflict is rife – is not meant to be. I got scared off easily, lost faith at a drop of a hat, and ran from anything that is too hard. Now I embrace the darkness, the vulnerability, the difficult emotions, the conflict, the longing, the insecurity, the tenderness and fear… Because to run away from anything but light and breezy is to keep running (because nothing at it’s core ever is) and to trade off a deeper love and connection.
A fulfilling life isn’t about ‘enjoying’ ourselves or having fun or feeling happy all the time, or even most of the time. That’s a one dimensional experience of reality and it leaves out the best bits. The bits that make us grow and the bits that make us BIG, the bits that give us depth.
It is important to make space inside, to feel bigger than any particular emotion or experience. That’s the only way that complexity of life won’t suck you under.
A meditation I used put it this way:
If you were a glass of water and someone dumped a spoonful of salt into you, you would be pretty salty.
But if you were an ocean and someone dumped a spoonful of salt into you, you would hardly change at all.
There is an incredible complexity of life and climates that can live in the ocean, without disturbing the ocean.
There is not much going on in the glass of water.
Be like the ocean.
And enjoy your dark chocolate 🙂