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  • Andrew Lewis

THE CURIOSITY OF HAPPINESS.


In 'The Old Curiosity Shop' (chapter XXX1X) Charles Dickens writes '........all happiness has an end - hence the chief pleasure of its next beginning......'.

These words reveal how peace and contentment can become chosen companions on our journey through life. We know that nothing is permanent. Where there is matter, where there is life, there is change. To resist this is to be unrealistic in the face of inevitability and in such resistance there is tension and anxiety and the erosion of the very happiness we are striving to preserve.

Something else is implicitly stated here that should not be overlooked. The fact that all happiness has an end is not a grim reality that we have to put up with, a damage limitation mindset that we are forced begrudgingly to adopt. It is the very thing that enables happiness, new and different, to enter and enrich our lives again and again. The imagined, impossible utopia of a permanent, particular happiness is a useless impediment we inflict on ourselves. If we permanently freeze a frame in a movie there is no longer a movie. If we freeze a tune on one note there is no longer a tune. If we freeze the present, precious life giving breath, refusing to let it go there will be no breath, no life.

We see two things. First, we see that not clinging to happy times allows us to fully enjoy them, to 'be with them' with all our energy and attention, unclouded by tension and anxiety. Second, we see that when the time comes to let this happiness go we can do it with acceptance and gratitude knowing that this is how space is created for the next and new possibility of happiness. We see that not fearing change but cultivating qualities of acceptance, hope and courage is clear sighted and in harmony with the order of things. Avoiding the despair of Cassandra and the unconvincing bromide of Pollyanna we continue our journey feeling safer, more steady.

Is any of this an assurance against tragedy, heartbreak and pain? No. Nothing can provide that. But it will help us be more prepared, more aware and better able to endure what has to be endured without increasing or amplifying the burden. There is no positive gain in fanning unwanted flames. We look into tragedy and understand just as we look into happiness and understand.

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