Choosing wholeness over happiness
‘I just want to be happy’. A sentence that many of us - myself included - will have uttered at some point in our lives. Feeling happy is a goal that many people strive for and that is often celebrated as a noble pursuit. In a world that worships money, success or fame, just wanting to be happy indeed seems like a worthy cause. It is humble, positive and doesn’t ask too much of the world. But what if the pursuit of happiness is not as noble as we believe it to be? And what if there is something worthier than simply being happy?
The pursuit of happiness
Feeling happy is an emotional state of being. And emotional states are fickle. They are influenced by external circumstances. From one moment to the next a feeling of happiness can change into a feeling of sadness - due to receiving some bad news, a few restless nights or no reason at all.
And so, we assume that to become truly happy, we must continuously acquire more of what makes us happy. We try to draw out the feeling of happiness in an active and deliberate pursuit towards it. We buy the stuff that we hope will fix away our negative emotions. Perhaps we chase experiences or personal achievements – such as exotic trips, meditation retreats, running marathons or getting promotions – to help us attain happiness. Or we aim for something more sustaining and we might try to find happiness in a meaningful career or a fulfilling relationship.
And we find happiness in all those things. Until, of course, we don’t anymore.
I can see two fundamental flaws in the pursuit of happiness. Striving for happiness makes us see the world in dualistic terms; good vs. bad, happy vs. unhappy, successful vs. unsuccessful. We see happiness as good or successful and sadness as bad or unsuccessful. The same applies to pursuit. Buddhism teaches us that desiring is the fundamental cause of our suffering and that we need to stop desiring – striving, pursuing – in order to attain true bliss. But what if we leave behind these dualistic views and simply see what is for what is? What if we connect the dots of our inner fragmentations and hold space for all that lives inside us? What happens then?
Choosing wholeness over happiness
Wholeness is a concept that invites us to see our whole self truthfully – not hiding from or wishing away any of the icky parts. In wholeness we embrace both our shortcomings and our virtues with acceptance and grace. In wholeness we recognise we will never be perfect, or perfectly happy, and we cultivate the compassion to come to terms with this. Wholeness is loving all the proverbial cracks in our being, because we know that is how the proverbial light gets in.
Unlike happiness, wholeness cannot be attained and therefore cannot be pursued. Paradoxically, the harder we try to become whole, the more acutely we experience our brokenness. Wholeness must first and foremost be accepted, after which it is received. All we can do is hold space for all that resides in ourselves and remain curious to all parts to ourselves that are still unknown to us.
Wholeness does not mean we should never be happy. Or that we should give up on all our hopes and dreams and wholeheartedly stay stuck in a mucky situation. Wholeness does not mean that at all. It simply means resting in who you are and where you are at in life, while you seek out personal growth in a non-striving and non-clinging way. In wholeness there is a resting – an arriving - in each moment, because you realise you will never reach a place of perfection.
Wholeness is holding space for imperfection and failure and weakness – as well as holding space for achievement, success and victory. It is making life a teacher in both the good and bad, and granting yourself a permission slip when you fail to see the lesson in a messy situation.
If wholeness still does not seem to you worthwhile, because it does not promise happiness or success or fulfilment, then you are missing the point. Happiness is not your birth right, as it sometimes seems to be reported in our media, but wholeness is. You are allowed to experience all of what you are and with that comes the unbelievable gift of experiencing the world for what it is rather than being locked in an imaginary world that promises us a better future, but never delivers. Wholeness is the only way to be truly alive and say at the end of the ride; ‘I have lived it all.’
If you want to learn more about wholeness, why not check out the talk below:
The broken brain podcast with Amber Rae (podcast)