The iconic expression, “You only live once” has been deservedly relegated to the status of “cliché” by reason of its very popular use; nevertheless, it is a most significant exhortation. That “once” references one’s sole opportunity to attain a satisfying and fruitful life experience or, alternatively, to squander it. The admonition of “only going around once” also should not be ignored or disrespected.
In Blog # 9, we proposed that one’s feelings of success, self-worth, peace and satisfaction are solely internal conclusions; that an individual’s external successes in the accumulation of assets and the achieved adulation of the crowd, are of an ephemeral nature and soon morph into passing irrelevancy in the search for the attainment of long-term feelings of self- worth and ultimate satisfaction.(Blog# 36). In fact, it may be said that the man’s search for the specific impediments to his self-realization may be more challenging than the Victorian period’s notable search by Mr. Livingston for Mr. Stanley in the “dark continent.”
We would submit that happiness and satisfaction in life are exemplified by one’s sense of inner peace and general feelings of satisfaction, his sense of capability and recollection of past accomplishments, and his recognition of attained self-enhancement and prospects for even further growth.
If the impediment to such happiness is specific and identifiable, it may for such reasons, be somewhat tolerable, albeit difficult to ameliorate; examples are the death of a loved person, failure in business or the fact of an unhappy marriage; all of a troubling but of a rationally digestible nature.
Where the source of unhappiness is not attributable to an identified cause, the challenge is more profound and more difficult for the individual to tolerate and certainly to ameliorate. Augmenting the problem is the fact that one’s own inquiry into the source is limited by his personal subjectivity and traditional defenses, including the fear of change. A husband who always complains in public about his wife’s terrible cooking may be, in fact, motivated by his unhappiness in marriage, the solution to which would necessarily entail pain and feared change. However, discovery and recognition of the actual source of unhappiness is an essential revelation in any realistic attempt to attain happiness and satisfaction with life.
In this writing, we specifically exclude the entire subject of medical causes of unhappiness such as clinical depression and similar illnesses, usually addressed by medicine and talk therapy by professionals.
A memorable and illustrative example of the subject occurred during a walk with a female friend of long standing acquaintance, some years ago. This old friend of the family, an educated and sophisticated person, spoke, consistent with previous conversations, of her enduring unhappiness with her life. I asked her, after some time,” If we had a pad and pencil, could you list the things that you feel are wrong or what it would take to make you happy, even if the items on the list were not unattainable?” After some thought, her answer was, a reluctant “No.”
The foregoing is a real-life example of existing, persistent unhappiness caused by an undiscernible source. It should be said that we emphatically do not accept the oft- heard facile proposition that some people do not possess the potential capacity or “talent” for happiness. Such assertion is probably made by folks who have become fatigued with the many numerous attestations of unhappiness by the individual. The challenge, in the individual case may be daunting, but not impossible of accomplishment.
Constant brooding and repetitive rumination never prove to be successful in this endeavor; the only known, really successful rumination on this planet, is that performed by cows who, happy with their lot in life, repeatedly chew the same cud.
As we have maintained in earlier writings, the unconscious mind, or psyche, is not man’s devoted friend. Its transmission of atavistic and alarming warnings of danger may be understandable during the birth process, as the baby passes from the safety of the womb to an unprotected and uncertain environment; unfortunately, for us all, the persistent continuance of such alarms seem to provide useless and irrational warnings and is significantly responsible for limitations in the mature individual’s fullest potential for growth and development.
The purported assertion that all mentally and physically healthy people possess such self-detachment and objective insight as to enable them to find “Stanley in their personal “dark continent” may be unduly and misleadingly optimistic. At times, some direction and objectivity by a skilled and experienced counselor may be relevant.
In the long and meandering road trip of life, one should not be too shy to ask advice as to directions, as necessary.