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People everywhere are chasing happiness. Many of us work most of our waking hours to earn money and to bring ourselves comfortable lifestyles. And then when we have free time, we seek out entertainment and delicious food to give ourselves pleasure. But how many of us find true happiness, a lasting joy that fulfills and gratifies us permanently?
Joy Is Always Momentary
For most of us, the answer is no, happiness cannot last. The happiness we find is fleeting, like the sun peeking out between rainclouds. If we are earning lots of money in a job, we will still want more—to get that next promotion, to reach that next level of financial prosperity, to get the recognition of our peers.
Being denied this will cause us stress and dissatisfaction, and watching others achieve what we can’t will cause jealousy and pain. And if we reach the top by becoming CEO or president, does that end our struggles? No . . . the weight of that burden will be hard to bear, as well.
So, then we seek escape . . . but the movies we watch, the books we read, and the meals we eat only satisfy us until we crave the next one. Some of us might even look at the movie stars, the famous authors, and the celebrity chefs and think, “If I become rich and famous, then I will have finally found happiness!” But are these people that we admire really so happy? Have they found the keys to life? It would seem
But are these people that we admire really so happy? Have they found the keys to life? It would seem not, if the tabloid tales of heartbreak and scandal are to be believed at all. They are just humans, and they suffer in all the same ways that all humans do—their relationships disintegrate, they experience failure and embarrassment, and they grow old and die, just like us.
Acceptance Is the Key
There is only one thing to do: accept that life is suffering. That sounds harsh, but it is a reality that cannot be escaped. It is true for the animals who constantly must fight for their survival, and it continues to be true for us, in spite of all our social and technological advances.
Yes, there are certainly wonderful moments of joy that we all experience—an awe-inspiring glimpse of a beautiful sunset or a vast starry night; the warm embrace of a lover or a fawning child; the feeling of accomplishment when we do something we never thought we could. These experiences are all great blessings and should be appreciated and treasured. But, at the same time, it is important to recognize that none of these things can be captured and kept forever.
The irony is that accepting that life is suffering actually leads to less suffering. In our efforts to deny and avoid suffering, we only increase the intensity of the suffering we experience. For example, imagine that you have fallen in love with someone. In the early days of the relationship, you feel swept away by your infatuation with the other person. Naturally, you want that wonderful feeling to last forever.
The same is true of everything we love; eventually you will experience struggle of some sort if you attach yourself to it, no matter how much you love that thing. An exciting job will eventually bring frustration; accumulation of money will bring stressful responsibility; beautiful sunsets will turn into stormy skies. Favorite movies watched too many times become boring, and overeating favorite foods eventually undermines our health.
If we can acknowledge that suffering is carried within all these things that we love, we can better manage our attachment to them, and we can avoid the mistaken notion that they will always and forever bring happiness to us.
The Silver Lining
There is one bright shining silver lining on the dark cloud of the suffering that is life: suffering leads us closer to enlightenment. In your darkest moment, you might cry out, “How can this be happening to me? Why would the Universe (or God or Spirit) allow such a thing to happen?” Yes, it does sometimes seem like life is conspiring against us, but I assure you that the exact opposite is true.
The universe is not only supporting you, it is conspiring in your favor to ensure that you proceed toward growth and eventually your own enlightenment. You see, all of those struggles you have experienced, from the slightest annoyance to the greatest heartbreak of your life, contain within them the exact lessons you are meant to learn. They are there to inform you of your delusions and misconception, and to cure you of your attachments and weaknesses.
In short, life is suffering because life is about growth. Just as a growing child experiences growing pains in his body, so do we in our hearts and minds. It might be nice if we could only experience good times, but that would be just a form of stagnation, a state without growth or advancement.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said about the American civil rights movement, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable . . . . Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” The same is true anytime you go from a lower level to a higher level—the process is hard and can be excruciating, especially if you are taking the next big leap of growth.