When my life went into turmoil and I didn’t want to live it anymore, I sought what everyone told me I needed–happiness. I had always been told happiness was achieved by completing a series of tasks. These tasks included finding a lifelong career, creating a family, nourishing that family, being a patriot, living the American Dream. The consumerist society I was raised in taught me that if I worked hard I would have money with which to buy things which would bring me comfort. According to media, advertising, and TV Shows, comfort was happiness!
None of those things are wrong, and they certainly do bring happiness to some people. I could see, however, that these were not the things that would bring me happiness. Finding an office job with a salary and benefits was not going to satisfy my days, raising a family was not going to satisfy my nights. These are great life achievements, but these things alone would not sooth the dissonance in my soul. They would not fill the void in my heart. They would not make me feel alive.
At the core of my being, I knew that I was not going to find happiness from money or any amount of material possessions, and the satisfaction of just any old job was not enough to make my heart feel alive! It was hardly enough to get me out of bed in the morning.
So I stopped asking society all the questions, feeling I had been lead astray, and I started figuring out for myself–what is happiness? Is it really the end goal? Is it really what I want?
I certainly didn’t want to be sad forever. I had been sad for a lot longer than I had previously acknowledged. I tried pharmaceutical drugs for my mental health and instead of bringing the clarity I needed, they only clouded me further into my depression. I went to therapists and talked myself into and out of endless loops.
When the outside world and societal suggestions had failed me once again, I finally decided that the answers were not outside of me. I began seeking peace at an internal level, and I found my answers. Answers are not always accompanied by happiness. Sometimes they are accompanied by more questions, unease, inadequacy, and more loops.
But, I am learning a bit about happiness. I am learning a bit about peace. I am learning a bit about life. I am learning a bit about myself.
I’ve come to some conclusions– happiness alone is not enough. Being comfortable does not make one happy. Being happy all the time is not always the thing that brings joy and meaning to my life. Happiness can be comfortable, but comfort does not always bring happiness.
Comfort should not be the goal!
First World Society has an obsession with comfort. We seek it thinking it will bring us peace, happiness and fulfillment. We seek it thinking it will make the world a better place. We seek it thinking it will strengthen our bond with God, or keep us from needing a God all together. We surround ourselves with material possessions. We do this to remind ourselves that we have no reason to be sad. We do this so we can focus more on the things that make us happy. We do this to be happy–and yet how many comfortable middle class Americans suffer from depression, anxiety, and the physical manifestations of long term stress?
The problem is that we have comforted ourselves numb. We are no longer a feeling society. How can we possibly be happy when we do not allow ourselves to feel anything but materialist comfort? Comfort isn’t happiness–its just comfortable.
I’d like to talk about a few emotional states of being which are often ignored in this need for comfort; empathy, compassion, humility, gratitude, and love. My personal research, as well as the work of many other Spiritual believers and new age philosophers, concludes that these are not emotions we feel, but emotional states of being which we become in the moments we feel them. They are almost indescribable, except through relating experiences. They are what make the experiences.
Regardless of why we should work toward these things, or the nature of what they are, these are emotions which benefit individuals and the world. These emotions are the emotions that bring us together. These are the emotions which save us from more destructive emotions, such as anger, envy, sadness, loneliness, guilt, shame and grief. They don’t keep you from feeling the other emotions, but they definitely give you a direction toward recovery, rather than wallowing. Not all of those things are comfortable. In fact, many of them are conventionally uncomfortable.
Empathy is not comfortable. Empathy is the act of understanding and sharing the feelings of others. To empathize with someone who is suffering is to know their suffering and suffer with them. True empathy allows us to see the world from a new perspective. It allows us to feel the world from a new perspective. A new perspective is hard enough, let alone a hurting one. Suffering is in no way comfortable, but helping others go through their suffering helps us. Being empathized with can greatly decrease the length and severity of our suffering. Empathy creates friendship where it may not have been before. It advances the emotional capacity of all of humanity when individuals empathize with other individuals. It fosters connections that could open infinite doors to possibility.
Compassion is not comfortable. Compassion is beyond just feeling another’s emotions. It is feeling concern for the suffering of others. Approaching a situation with compassion is to not only to empathize, but to worry about the condition of another. It is to understand their suffering. To be compassionate is to leave yourself susceptible to anxiety and fear. Fear is one of the most dangerous weapons of the ego, and anxiety kills our peace of mind. If we did not approach things compassionately though, who would help the less fortunate? Who would help the less privileged if they could not first feel concern for their condition? Compassion, when not accompanied by fear or anxiety, sparks the call to action in each of us. Compassion is what drives humans to take care of other humans.
Humility is not comfortable. To be humble is to have a modest, or even sometimes low, view of oneself. This is not to say that you should think less of yourself. My definition of humility is not so much thinking lower of oneself, but instead identifying the things that are bigger than oneself, and identifying the things that are smaller than you. Humility allows us to know where we fit into the grand scheme of life. For example, you look at the ocean and realize how small you are compared to this thing that can destroy you, then you look at an ant hill and recognize the power you have to destroy them.
It can actually be painful if you aren’t ready for a humbling moment when it hits. It can be very discouraging. It can be very uncomfortable. It can make us feel like we aren’t enough. But if we are ready for it, and we understand the feeling when it hits us, Humility keeps us growing! It is what reminds us that there is always more. More to know, more to learn, more to grow. Humility brings hope.
One of my choir directors, John Byun, used to always tell us we weren’t a perfect choir– and we weren’t! After telling us how great we had done, he always humbled us. He always made us see how much farther we could go… so we did. We kept working. We may not have been perfect, but by the end of my two short years with Mr. Byun, we were our absolute best.
Gratitude is not [always] comfortable. It can be the absolute most satisfying thing in the universe to genuinely express gratitude. While a polite person might thank someone for holding a door open for them, do they consider being genuinely grateful for the door being held open? Maybe not. Someone who cannot get the door themselves, possibly someone who has far too much in their hands, would probably feel genuine gratitude. Someone who could easily open a door themselves might not actually feel gratitude. (This is also called privilege.) They might just be saying “Thank You” because that’s what they were taught.
If gratitude is felt but not expressed, or expressed when it is not genuinely felt, it can make the person expressing it feel shameful, which can make the person receiving it feel guilt or regret for having done a nice thing. Contrarily, if we express genuine gratitude to one another, and the rest of this universe, we start to feel better almost immediately. Have you ever thought to thank the Earth for being your home? Have you every thought to thank the animal that died or the plants that were plucked from the ground so you could eat a meal? Did you ever think to thank the bees for loving the flowers so that you could use them to show love for your significant other? If so, great! If not, try it! If you want.
Truth is, some forms of gratitude make us uncomfortable because we have to acknowledge a truth we don’t want to face in order to express it. Expressing gratitude to the animal who died for your meal is the best example of this.
I would like to preamble this– I make no judgement of those who eat meat. Its a personal decision to go vegetarian or vegan and nobody should ever feel shamed into it. It should be an informed and conscious decision made by the individual for the right reasons. So, I say this as an example and nothing more. To express the gratitude towards the animal who died for your meal, you have to first admit to yourself that you are eating a slaughtered animal. Most people are willing to eat meat as long as they don’t have to look at, think about, or see the process behind it. First World Society allows that we don’t all have to do all the dirty work behind every job. We just have to do the dirty work of our own job! But by not acknowledging that someone else has done that work on your behalf, by ignoring that an animal died for your meal, humans raised that life, another human took that life, etc, we are doing ourselves a disservice. We are denying ourselves the chance to express gratitude. We are denying ourselves a chance for a genuine emotional release.
Love, however comforting it can be, is not comfortable. Loving another, truly and unconditionally, is a very tough thing. It requires you to see them as they are, sometimes when they cannot see themselves, and love them. However, more difficult than accepting and loving others is the process of accepting and loving oneself. This is the most difficult part about love for some of us. To truly love others means to have a firm and real understanding of loving yourself. To love others teaches you to love yourself. To love yourself teaches you to love others. Loving others helps others love themselves, which helps them to love others. Love is a loop. This is how love is spread around the world.
Love alone is not enough. It must be accompanied by empathy, compassion, gratitude and humility. When you love something, whether human, animal, the weather, or life itself, it can really hard to remember that those things are nature, which means they will make mistakes. They will not always agree. They may not always be nice. They will let you down, probably without even knowing they’ve done so. In those moments, I think it is absolutely necessary that we feel the emotions that come to us. If we do not allow ourselves to feel the anger, the sadness, the letdown, the fears, then we are not allowing ourselves to complete the loops of insanity. The important thing is not taking action on these emotions. Instead, allowing them to be felt, allowing them to pass, and allowing them to be replaced by other states of being.
In moments when you feel let down by love, empathy helps you to see, from their perspective, why this person has hurt you. Most of the time you see that they have hurt you because they are deeply hurting. In these times, compassion helps us to continue loving them while understanding their pain and hurting with them. From here, we are given such gifts. The gift of helping others, the gift of loving others, the gift of a new perspective, the gift of learning through this person’s experience. To see these things as gifts puts you in a place of humility where you can express gratitude. Expressed gratitude can make the giver feel amazing, and can sometimes greatly help the person the gratitude is being expressed toward. Empathy, compassion, gratitude and humility allow you to keep loving when it gets hard. This cycle of love is propelled by these emotional states and brings possibility to inner peace. Inner peace, accomplished by every individual, brings outer peace. We don’t all have to agree on everything. We just have to agree on allowing others to be and loving them anyway. The biggest battle to overcome is the battle inside. The battle of reaction. The battle of doing what is comfortable for you personally or doing what is most beneficial to everyone.
Its not just about feeling your emotions. Its about feeling them, letting those that do not serve you to pass, and then moving back to that centered state of love. Its about living every decision and every action through those emotional states of being. If you re-evaluate your morals in a clear, egoless state of love, compassion, empathy, gratitude, and humility, you will find the cure to comfort. You will find love, inside and outside. You will find life. You will find yourself.
Feel all of your emotions. Live them. Allow yourself to be uncomfortable so you can be fulfilled. Fulfillment doesn’t just bring happiness–it’s a state of being which brings heaven on Earth.