So said Doc Martin on tonight’s episode.
Wouldn’t that be nice, to be happy all the time? Isn’t that something we’d all want? The importance of happiness is, in fact, so fundamental a human motivation that it was prescribed in the Declaration of Independence of the United States on 4 July, 1776:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Ah – but note carefully what is stated: it is the pursuit of happiness which is an unalienable right. There’s a difference between pursuing happiness and being happy.
My latest diagnosis reads: Major depression with melancholia; dysthymia; generalized anxiety disorder. There are many times when I don’t feel happy. That’s cool; it’s part of life. It’s part of everyone’s life.
Buddhists speak of dukkha, often translated into English as suffering, anxiety or a feeling of dissatisfaction. The first of Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths is that suffering is an integral part of the human experience. (I know suffering is certainly an integral part of my human experience, and I’m betting it might be part of yours, too!)
When we accept this, when we acknowledge that suffering is going to be part of our life, something eases within us. We can step off the always-needing-happiness treadmill. We can stop worrying about the happiness which may or may not lie in our future, and be present in the now – which is generally far less painful than our re-hashings of past traumas or anxieties about possible future hurts.
Accepting that my mental illness, and suffering because of it, is probably going to be with me for the rest of my life has been difficult, but in some ways liberating. I’ll be honest: sometimes I still crave an instant cure. I want the happily ever after, I want it now, and I want it forever – but that’s not going to be.
I feel sad as I type those words, even though it’s something I truly believe. At the same time, I feel as though I’m in touch with reality. The positive note is that while suffering will always be part of my life, it doesn’t have to be a constant part, or even a majority part. I can learn to live, even to thrive, within the constraints biology, genetics and psychohistory have placed upon me.
I can, and I will, continue my pursuit of happiness.