Why choosing happiness instead of suffering is surprisingly difficult — and why we need to do it anyway
There aren’t many things of which I am certain. But the one thing I am sure of is that happiness is always better than suffering. When the choice is ours to make — and it often is — the route that leads to happiness is always the one we should take.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean taking the path that is easiest for you. This means making decisions that will result in the most happiness, and the least amount of pain, overall. This means occasionally making decisions that will cause us to experience pain, but will diminish the pain for those around us.
This is the basis of karma.
The best way to achieve happiness for yourself is to give it first to others, and then in turn, happiness will return to you.
This sounds simple in theory, but can be hard to execute. There are moments in life when bad things happen to us, events that make us feel as though we’ve earned the right to lash out. To hurt people, to be angry. Sometimes we might feel the entitled to dish out a little karma ourselves, that it’s up to us to even the score.
But let me warn you. Karma is not something that is within your realm of control. You see, karma is a one way street. It is a cycle. And cycles are only ever capable of traveling in a single direction. You are only ever able to put energy out into the universe, and then the universe will deliver that energy back to you.
Therefore if someone wrongs you, by the laws of karma they have put their negative energy out into the world, and the world has chosen to deliver that energy to you, likely from past negative energy you have dispelled. When you retaliate, you aren’t reacting to that person and their wrong-doing. You’re reacting to the universe. You’re feeding it more negativity which will join the ever-moving stream of energy, and as it follows the cyclic laws of karma, it will not affect he who wronged you, but come back to hurt you instead.
Furthermore, the last thing someone who is behaving negatively needs is to be shamed or made to feel less than. This can only make things worse. Even if their behaviour is a result of an abuse of power, whether it be from a bully or an authority figure, understand that taking an aggressive stance will result in the perpetrator getting defensive orlashing out.
On the flip side, if you respond from a place of love and positivity, the cyclic nature of karma will eventually deliver that love back to you.
I know this is easier said than done. And I know that there is a delicate balance between standing strong for what you believe in, and maintaining empathy for those around you — especially those you disagree with. But in a time like this when we find ourselves so divided, compassion is our only hope at meeting in the middle.
And meeting in the middle requires more than two sides yelling their opinions at the other. Your voice isn’t always a solution to the problem; sometimes it does not even play a role in the story that is unfolding.
Responding vs Reacting
One way to help you navigate the path of less suffering is instead of thinking about how you want to react to the problem at hand, start by thinking about the solution you’re trying to reach and work backwards from there.
When you’re running a marathon, you don’t start sprinting during mile one just because you feel great. No, you start at a steady pace you know you can maintain as part of a greater strategy for when you get to mile 26.
Think ahead, plan. Use hindsight before it becomes “hind”. This will help you respond to a situation instead reacting to it. The difference between a reaction and a response is huge. A reaction is a bubbling of unprocessed emotion, whereas a response comes from a place of thoughtfulness and careful consideration of consequences.
To help avoid overreacting, try to avoid making predicting or anticipating people’s actions or responses.
Give them the freedom and the opportunity to surprise you. Let them breathe. Give them the space they as people deserve to grow. Give them the tools and the trust to get there.
Give yourself these tools too.
Think of who you were two years ago. There is no doubt you’ve grown and changed, and it’s probably your hope that people hold you to this new standard you’ve set for yourself instead of the old one.
We humans are not stagnant. We are constantly changing and evolving; it’s our nature. We need to recognize this, and give people the opportunities they need to continue to grow.
Craft your story carefully.
By choosing these paths you are choosing happiness over suffering. You are letting go of the stress and anxiety and shame that you don’t need to feel, and are replacing it with love and joy for you and another person.
Erase judgement. Erase the suffering that comes from that.
When you find yourself in a confrontational space, never use humiliation as a tool or means to temporarily allow yourself to feel vindicated. It will never last. It’s a form of suffering. For the other person now and for yourself later.
Think about your role in someone else’s story. When they tell it, how will you be presented?
Your actions and words are irreversible. And while the way they are presented by another might stray from what you view as the “truth”, you do not reserve the right to correct them. You do not reserve the right to rewrite their story or to inject your own story into theirs.
Be cognizant of stories and the role they play in all our lives. Respect their origins and their owners. Your story is yours to shape. Do so carefully.
No one is the best at anything.
Be aware of who you are. It’s tricky to walk the line of self-acceptance and self-improvement. Embracing your quirks while recognizing your weaknesses.
Don’t let the strange false intimacy of our new world give you a comparison hangover. We are plagued with “glimpses” of people’s lives that, in the past, we weren’t privy to. Now that we see them, we mistake those moments for pieces of reality instead of what they really are — curated moments. Curated moments that represent the tiniest fraction of someone else’s life. Curated moments do not serve as a healthy baseline for comparison.
As humans we were never designed to live I masses like this. We were designed to live in smaller groups where every member of the community was “the best” at something. Now with the internet, the entire world is our community, and no one is “the best” at anything. The only thing anyone is the best at being is themselves.
Happiness over suffering.
Decide to be happy; recognize the steps that lead to happiness, and turn those steps into a lifestyle. This means something different to each of us, but science has proven again and again that there are simple things we all need. Sleep, a healthy diet, real human connection and interaction, exercise. Make a list of the things that make you happy and incorporate them into your daily life.
It sounds so simple, and yet we struggle with this so much. We constantly avoid the things that we know are good for us. It’s a strange human condition that we never seem to want to choose happiness.
Comparison and self-shame are suffering. Embracing yourself, bettering yourself, forgiving yourself, and doing the same for others is happiness.
Remember life is messy. It’s messy for us and for everyone around us, but the only thing you can control is yourself.
The answer always lies within you.