A professor from Yale University has written a book titled ‘The Sweet Spot,’ so coming along just after I published my own little ‘sweet spot’ poem, his long piece is timely in terms of these Roads To Joy musings.
He suggests that it’s only by experiencing pain and suffering that we can find meaning, and thereby happiness, in our lives. That a hedonistic search for pleasure and comfort is counter-productive. That, in other words, we find ourselves when we lose ourselves in something greater, some sort of meaningful activity, in response to challenges we face.
I think, personally, that rather than folks actually searching out the tribulations, they arrive upon us willy-nilly, and as life goes on we simply can’t avoid them. But if I take the psychology professor Paul Bloom’s point, that troubles and personal strife aren’t something to run away from, but rather to embrace, to work through, then his thesis makes some reasonable sense.
I do not think, for example, that the monks who pursued a life of penance and a diet of gannets, on the sheer rock island of Skellig Michael, off the Dingle peninsula in Eire — I cannot think they were what we might call ‘happy.’ Nor can I really believe that self-flagellants experienced joy. But when hard times are thrust upon us, as seems to be an inevitable component of life, I think we can grow towards happiness by dealing with them. The challenge, as humans, must be not to be broken by the trials of life.
How much easier said than done such a sentiment is, of course. But perhaps it can help, as we struggle along, to maintain a sense of hope, a realisation that in dealing with these hardships, we might have a better chance of finding joy than if they hadn’t been visited upon us.
Another way of saying much the same thing, of course, is that behind every cloud there’s a silver lining. And that’s been folk wisdom for a lot longer than a psychology professor’s revisionist ideas on the best pursuit of happiness.