There is no shortage of people who will tell you, directly or indirectly, how to behave – cheer up, calm down, look on the bright side, smile, don’t frown, show more enthusiasm, etc.. The raw instinct is of course to tell these people to go fuck themselves, but depending on conditioning and circumstances we might be compliant or even worse introject these directives as something proper and desirable.
The reality of life is that we experience pleasures and pains and then die. The pleasures seem to be quite moderate and transient – a good meal, sex, unexpected money, whereas the pains can be devastating and long-lasting – death of a loved one, a painful disease, poverty. So looked at impartially it isn’t so difficult to reach the conclusion that the expectation that life might be a bed of roses is simply delusional. As Schopenhauer concludes, the principal mistake made by human beings is to assume that life offers some kind of happiness. Transitory pleasures relieve the ongoing pain, boredom, dissatisfaction, but as soon as pleasure has exhausted itself we find ourselves back in these default states – and guess what – they are perfectly fine.
Trying to be happy is a sure recipe for unhappiness, however, if we can be honest with ourselves and rid ourselves of the notion that life is supposed to be pleasurable then we can be more accepting of the various moods and emotional states we find ourselves in. This acceptance means that all the so-called negative emotions such as sadness, anger, grief, melancholy, boredom, become perfectly acceptable and we do not put up a fight against them. Unfortunately this ability to accept how we actually feel rather than how we ought to feel is quite a hard-won prize. There are many powerful influences that cause us to lie to ourselves – parents, society at large, peers, siblings, teachers, and cultural expectations.
It might sound strange, but we can be happily unhappy, quite contented with our inner states, and without the least ambition to change them in some way. If a person subscribes to various self-help, religious, or spiritual groups, this level of inner honesty becomes so much more difficult to realize. So there are three vital ingredients if we are to become happily unhappy:
- The honesty to sense our real emotional states.
- The knowledge that all emotional states are quite legitimate and that to resist them only causes them to persist.
- The ability to deflect all outside influences that would try to tell us what we should feel at any moment.
The reason people are not comfortable with your real emotional states is simply that they cannot be real about their own states, and there is a resentment of anyone who has the power to be what they truly are. Even so, we can always act the part, provided we don’t actually buy into it, and understand what we might gain by feigning our emotions and expressions. Whether you want to pay that price is up to you, but real happiness lies in accepting, without reservation, our unhappiness.