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Chase Humanity, Not Happiness

Blue, yellow and red beach ball floating in a pool

Prior to the pandemic, there has been a phenomenon noticed by psychologists for many years. It’s widely accepted that humans try to avoid, side step or control uncomfortable or painful emotions. Sadness, grief, loss, uncertainty…yes, all of those feelings. 

But being human means having all of the emotions. It means being lonely, surprised, happy, joyful, hurt, sad. These emotions, the good and bad, are temporary. The average physiological lifespan of an emotion is 90 seconds. But these uncomfortable or painful emotions can be difficult to sit with, even for 90 seconds. 

Imagine you are in a body of water, floating peacefully. And suddenly a beachball is tossed into the water. It causes a big splash and gets in your way. Our natural tendency is to push the beach ball away. This is like painful emotions. They cause a big, disruptive splash. And the harder we try to push the emotions down, the harder these emotions pop back up. And so that 90 seconds is prolonged into a long, difficult battle.

What if we just let the beach ball be? What if we coexisted with it? The big splash it caused has diminished, and now it floats by us. It may bump up against us, and while annoying, it’s not entirely disruptive. The water creates natural ripples that move the beach ball further and further away. 

The same goes for emotions. They are naturally fleeting. We can let them exist. We can feel them– all of them– and in a few moments or hours, they are in the past and replaced by a new emotion. Because that’s the beauty of being human. We get to experience the entire range of emotions. Just like we can’t experience daylight without nighttime, we can’t experience joy without disappointment.

I know fellow humans, it’s exhausting to experience so many emotions right now. But I’m trying to appreciate the beautiful mess. I’m trying to chase humanity, not happiness. And I encourage you to chase your own humanity, and the full spectrum of emotions that join you on the journey.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite poems from Rumi, The Guest House:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

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