Over the years, I have struggled a lot with society’s obsession on happiness. Everywhere I look, I see motivational speeches from different people (some are public figures and others aren’t) about how you can be happy all of the time and life can be very simple if you just take their workshop, class, lecture, etc.
And the reason why I struggle with it, is because I agree that sometimes life is breathtakingly beautiful and you don’t even want to blink because if you do, you are afraid you’ll miss it.
However, there are the other times. The dark times. The days in which you wish there were a fast forward button so that you could go through certain experiences without actually experiencing them.
In these times, I see (and I bet some of you experience this too) all these motivational figures and wonder if maybe something’s wrong with me. Is there a secret that everybody knows about life except from me? The secret to be happy all the time?
But then, I read Jen Pastiloff’s book “On being human” and came across with a concept that I find very interesting and has changed the way in which I understand and practice resilience: the “and” statements. I have come to understand it as a cognitive, and even spiritual practice of knowing that we, as humans, can hold different experiences simultaneously, even when they seem to contradict themselves. This helps to unfold myths about who and how are we supposed to be depending on the roles that we play in society. One of the many, many examples that she gives is: she has depression and anxiety AND she leads workshops around the world for people to reconnect with themselves and each other.
How is it that a person who has mental health problems can lead a workshop for others so that they can increase their well-being, you may ask. Well, because that is what it means to be fully human, to be able to hold the difficult and the beautiful in the same experience, in the same day, sometimes even in the same second.
I think this concept applies for both specific and everyday life experiences. However, to this tool, I added my personal (or should I say universal?) touch: love. While happiness is not always accessible to me, I have found that what is easiest for me to reach for, is love. At one of my closest friend’s funeral or while I was in the hospital because my grandpa was in a coma, I felt profound grief AND profound love. I would even say that because of the enormous amount of love I had for them, I was also experiencing an enormous amount of pain.
Therefore, I try to lead my life within love independently of the emotion I am feeling. Because joy, at the end of the day, is an emotion. And emotions are fleeting. However, love is not an emotion. Rather, is a state of being. A way of moving through the world. As A.R. Lucas says, “love is not something that is present only when we are in a romantic relationship. Love is universal. An energy. A contagious force. To be grateful, to be hopeful, to be brave, to be forgiving, to be proud, is to love”.
So, in this scenario, a lot of things can happen that can make me feel sad, anxious, excited, angry, calmed, but, with a baseline experience in love.
I know it sounds like flowery words and the least thing I want to do is sound like a motivational speaker, so here are some examples of this practice that saves me during difficult times, specifically during this pandemic:
When I feel the uncertainty and anxiety about the COVID-19 situation, I look around and see my parents working or watching TV while my dogs are curled up below the couch and there it is: love. I feel anxiety AND profound gratitude.
When I am tired about how much my job has changed in this online modality, I look at the face of my team and realize how privileged I am to know that some of my coworkers are also my friends, there it is again: love. I feel frustration AND profound connection.
When I am terrified by the news about the situation of the world, I also find myself in awe of doctors, teachers, activists and people in general who are doing everything they can to make sure other people are okay. Once again: love. I feel fear AND enormous admiration.
Of course, I can’t always return to love because there are some situations that trigger me and get the best of me; however, I believe that practice makes perfect and the beauty is in the trying. So, as long as I live, I will work to keep returning, every time, to love.