Holding Happiness in the Same Hand with Rage
If only certain people had been given a ukulele when they were young. Little Charlie Grassley, plucking out a tune. Young Lindsey Graham, strumming "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Who knows what might have been different? If they'd been given something fun and encouraged to be happy ...
Is this an appropriate time to talk about happiness? With all the cruelty we're seeing, all the trauma that is being triggered?
Happiness can't be something that we put on pause when things get bad. Happiness isn't what we get after we make the world better, it's one of the tools we'll use to make the world better.
Our founding fathers enshrined it in the Declaration of Independence, saying that it was self-evident that we all had a right to pursue happiness.
Well, actually, they said that men had that right, and what they meant was that white men had that self-evident right, but I'm NOT GOING TO GO THERE THIS WEEK.
In setting it up as a thing to pursue, they were laying it out as an object, a goal. And conventional logic has held that happiness is what we get after we get success in some area.
But research is turning up the opposite. That happiness often comes first, and leads to success. There is a happiness advantage -- being happy makes us more creative, better problem solvers, often correlates to better physical health, and makes others more interested in working with us.
And yet, we resist happiness. Have you noticed that?
There are different reasons why we resist happiness, but I think one of the more significant reasons is because we are suspicious and superstitious about happiness.
My dad was an optimist, but he would often say, "I don't trust happiness." Because life had dealt him some unpleasant hands, you know? I wonder if part of this is just evolutionary. We humans look for patterns. That's good -- our survival depends on it. You eat a poisonous mushroom, get sick, and so you look for a pattern. What was I doing before I got sick? Oh yes, eating a strange mushroom. Hmm. I should probably be wary of strange mushrooms.
We're just going along, and then something bad happens. A diagnosis. A relationship ending. Job loss. All we know is that we are really unhappy. And so we think back ... what was happening before I was unhappy? Oh yeah. Things were good. Really good. And then this thing happened. THAT'S IT! THINGS BEING GOOD MEANS SOMETHING BAD IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN!
We are not the most logical of beings. But I know I'm not the only person to realize that things are going well in my life, actually, they're pretty great on many levels and OH MY GOD, THE ANXIETY! BECAUSE THINGS ARE GREAT AND SO THIS MEANS SOMETHING BAD IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN!
Part of this is the (incorrect) belief that happiness happens in the absence of other emotions. Like you are either happy OR sad. Things are either good OR bad.
But if we think about our own experiences, I think we can rebut that pretty quickly. We are complex creatures, and life is complicated. As that great theologian Dolly Parton says, "Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion."
Someone you love dies, and you're heartbroken. But if they died gently and after a life well-lived, you're happy. Both.
Your child goes off to college. You're sad. You won't see them on a daily basis, and you have to acknowledge that one significant phase of your life -- and relationship -- is over. And they call you up and tell you how great their professors are, and that they're making new friends, and they are so very glad they're there. Happy and sad. All held together in one hand.
And ... mad.
Right now, I am filled with rage. The testimony of Brett Kavanaugh, the public mocking of Dr. Ford, and the fact that there are apparently no consequences for the misogyny I see have me so mad I'm stroking my collarbones hopefully.
I can feel rage and happiness at the same time.
Because yes, I am burning on fire with rage, but I can also identify the feeling of happiness in me. When I see others sharing their stories. When I see good people listening to the stories and believing the survivor. This is power. The arc IS long and we are bringing our stories to bear down upon it. It will bend toward justice.
As I told the congregation I serve, when you tell me your story, my heart may break because of what you endured. But it will also sing, because you survived. The world is so much better with you in it.
And I can sit here, honest to my emotions, holding fury and happiness right in the same hand.
I am large, I contain multitudes.