Think about a time in your life that you’ve been at your lowest. I hope it isn’t too painful to do, but if you can, don’t think about the events, just think about how you felt. Remember it as best you can; as vividly. Remember how you felt, what your rationalization were. Consider how deeply rooted it felt, how absolute. Was it as though your entire life was defined by that moment, at the time?
Now, if you can, come away from that and think about the happiest time of your life. Your wedding day or the birth of a child is popular. The day you graduated college, or maybe a particularly strong vacation or place you’ve visited. While you’re thinking about it, try not to focus on the events of it. Instead, think about how you felt. Was it almost overwhelming? Surreal? Was it like the clouds parted and the sun finally came in, with warmed and light? Was it like you couldn’t imagine how you ever lived without that thing before? Like you indeed hadn’t lived at all, and now you’ve finally been equipped with the necessary tools to start really, truly living?
If you’ve managed to go through both of those scenarios, then I applaud you. It can be difficult and harrowing to face these things. But what would happen if compared them? Naturally one would be good and one would be bad, but what are the similarities? What are the acute, factual differences?
Perhaps they both helped highlight clear distinctions in your life. Perhaps they both seemed to define a place in your life as being a particular way. Perhaps they are the anchor for your memory of that time in your life. Good to bad, terrible lows or dizzying highs, they are spikes in your otherwise ordinary life. Perhaps other pikes occur, and maybe they even come close to these, but they don’t quite measure up the same way.
But now that we’ve brought out awareness to these two major things and have compared them, we must see the contrast and their relationship. What if your whole life was those happy moments? What if every day you were THAT happy, and THAT elated about what was happening? It’d be too much of a good thing right? You’d feel unbalanced after a while. You’d feel like you had something amazing but it was too much of a good thing. Over time, you’d find yourself feeling complacent, and then guilty at the realization that you were. You’d say to yourself, “This is such a good thing, why am I not enjoying this as much as I should?”
That brings us to the point.
Years ago I was blessed with being in a situation where I was able to travel to places I’d never been, see and meet people I otherwise would never have encountered, and all the while I was surrounded by compassion and kindness. My heart swelled by it all. These were some of the greatest times of my life. I’ve had singularly happier moments, but as a whole, this time in my life was one of my happiest.
But I wasn’t really prepared for it. All my life I’d been exposed to much, much less. I’d never really been in a situation in the past that I could draw on in order to process what I was going through. It was beautiful, and happy, and amazing, and absolutely overwhelming.
Conversely, there have been times when I have been in my lowest lows. Dark places — places that were equally as overwhelming, but that I was equally unprepared for.
But when my dark times had passed, and good times began to come, the bad places I had been were actually the times I drew on to helpe me process and enjoy the good times better. I felt more deeply, loved more completely, and fully appreciated where I was because of the pains and trials I had been through.
I would never have truly been able to experience happiness and love if I hadn’t first experienced crushing depression and trauma.
I’m not saying “Go out there and get damaged”, but I am saying that we all have had troubles. We’ve all suffered at some point in our lives. But when we do suffer, we must balance our suffering with equal parts happiness. We must use our hard times to give us contrast to enjoy the happy things. And when dark things happen again, we can reach back and say “But I have known great love and great happiness, so as bad and as hard as this is, I see the context and perspective of how it is now.”
I wrote this in a journal years ago, perhaps it applies:
I suffer, but I learn.
I am happy but I am complacent.
I am complacent so I suffer.
I suffer, but I learn.
Maybe there’s something to that.