“In each of us lie good and bad, light and dark, art and pain, choice and regret, cruelty and sacrifice… No one can live in the light all the time.” ~Libba Bray
Happiness, and the quest for it, is not all it’s cracked up to be. What I mean is that I think we’re making a mistake in reaching only for happiness, lightness, good days, and good moods.
I think that we’re restricting ourselves.
We’re fishing in an ocean of emotions, looking to only reel in one or two kinds, throwing back the ones we don’t want without even noticing how shockingly beautiful they can be in their strange, confusing way, much like the fascinatingly mysterious fish of the deep sea.
There was a long time in my life when I wanted happiness, so I avoided pain. I wanted to call myself brave, so I didn’t admit I was afraid.
In my search for joy, I pushed away the other emotions I didn’t like, thinking I’d be left with only happiness.
But something was still wrong. I wasn’t full. By denying myself the plethora of emotions and feelings we, as human beings, are supposed to experience, I was only connecting with myself on a surface level.
I spent many of my days trying to achieve a persistent state of peace and happiness, and I wasn’t being honest with myself.
How could I just be happy when my heart was broken in two? When my own dad wouldn’t talk to me anymore? When I was uncertain and afraid of the future and the path I decided to take.
Yet all I wanted was happiness, and I kept pushing away anything else I felt that wasn’t “good.”
It took me a while to realize that I didn’t feel like myself anymore. And that was because I wasn’t. I was pretending to be a flat placard of peace and joy, which isn’t very real, is it?
I realized I was robbing my soul of all the emotions and feelings and desires it should have.
Every feeling and all the changes we go through become precious when we realize they are all necessary, and they create contrasting beauty in our lives.
Would you rather be happy, or would you rather be full inside?
Happiness is fleeting. It flits in and out of our days like a bird, singing a beautiful song that we want to revel in all our life, for one moment while the sky is blue, not to be found on the days with dark clouds, heavy winds, and gray skies.
But fullness—that is deep in our soul. When we have that, it never leaves. Fullness encompasses everything. It’s what allows us to be fully human in all the raw, real ways.
We need the contrasts that fullness, not just happiness, provides us. How else can we know true joy if we have never known sorrow? How can we feel and trust the deepest kind of love if we have never felt heartbreak?
In art, this is called chiaroscuro. It’s the play of light and dark within a picture, the idea that you need dark shading on one side in order to notice where the light is supposed to hit on the other.
I believe that art reflects life.
I think that by suppressing emotions we don’t like, such as fear and uncertainty and pain, we are taking away the shading of our own image. We’re denying ourselves the beautiful picture that needs the contrasts and shadows in order to be complete.
Sometimes, two seemingly conflicting emotions can fit together and coexist. Have you ever felt that? Maybe you have pain inside you that you suppressed, and suddenly another person finds a way to gently bring it to the surface.
That person and their kind eyes bring warmth to your heart, even while the pain is being laid bare.
Happiness can fill your chest and sadness can well in your eyes until they are entwined in a beautifully poignant harmony. This is chiaroscuro in its most desired form—the shadow contrasting with the brilliant light, creating a depth and fullness that couldn’t be reached any other way.
Don’t ever think that being so paralyzed by fear you don’t know how to take a step, or feeling angry and betrayed, or sobbing while your heart is in shreds, or feeling lonely or confused or uncertain or whatever you feel, is wrong or not good.
It’s your shading, your shadows, making up the complete, beautifully exquisite image of your soul and your life.
Couple on the beach painting via Shutterstock