rising above suffering

Posted on July 19th, 2012

Over a bit of wine the other night with the National Geographic team that I’ve joined here in Ikaria (that’s where I’m based just now…more on this phenomenal place later), we were talking about the best way to arrive at happiness.

I said I don’t dig happiness, at least not the way it’s fluffed up in our culture. If it’s a byproduct of moving towards what really matters to me, then it’s a boon. But having happiness as my prime pursuit, the carrot that dangles, seems selfish and just doesn’t gel with what I believe I’m here for. I’m also not great at happiness. I get sad. To have as your prime pursuit something that you’re just not good at…well, that’s unwise. I’m pragmatic like that.

So, instead, I seek meaning. I want my life to be meaningful. I chose this a while back. Yep, pragmatic.

I’m sure happy is fun. But “rich” and “deep” light up my fire so much more. When I get close to meaning, when it tickles past me, when I touch it gingerly, when I connect with life via a dark night alone on a tiled floor with my fear, or on a mountain in searing heat with cicadas filling the gaps, or when an old lady touches my arm with tears in her eyes to tell me something in a language I don’t understand….oh, the joy, the fullness, the incredible, indescribable… prick of lifeness!

While I was hiking through Andalucia I read Austrian psychiatrist Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. He wrote it in just nine days after being released from a concentration camp and it outlines what he thought about for the three years he was imprisoned – the importance of finding meaning.

There are three ways to glean meaning:

1. from work. contributing to life. being useful and having a legacy.

2. from experiencing. from engaging with ideas, art, nature and people.

3. and from rising above suffering.

He noticed that that the prisoners who survived had this in common: they nourished their inner life. In fact, he noted, the more sensitive people in the camps – those you’d expect to crumble – survived better. When things got tough they didn’t get sucked in by the circumstances, they rose above the suffering. They were able to dig deep into their inner life, into their sense of meaning (for it does differ between all of us). And at the darkest point of suffering, they dug deeper and found more… Their meaning, their carrot, became the rising above suffering.

This was taken in Baraka, a gorgeous Moroccan cafe in Granada

Things get dark and we’re challenged and we can go either way. We can ricochet off into the outside world and try to find a solution…perhaps it’s happiness? Something else? Something to fix things. Dependent things.

Or we can go in deep. As we do, we build resilience and independence, of course (and this helps). But we also find beauty. Big, real, sumptious beauty. Just in this process of digging deep. In rising above suffering.

We can choose our own way.

This freedom, it’s ours. Truly ours. And the more suffering, sometimes, the more freedom we are able to explore. I believe this to be so, so, so true.

I’ll finish with this quote from the book:

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked.

And this one, too.

When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.

And what a friggen challenge. A gift. An opportunity.
So that’s what I’ve been thinking about here today. In a little dark plunge of my own. You?
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  • Patricia

    I feel and I believe and I connect with this post so much. Every word you say.

    This is your most beautiful and wisest post ever.

    Oh and regarding resilience. I believe it is the most important thing a parent can give or teach a child.

    I could say so much about this post, because I believe in it to my very core. But I will my comment short. I say don’t search for anything, just “Be” just fee

    By embracing our pain and our feelings and searching inside for comfort and solution we can truly come to know our true self. Yes the more suffering and challenges to be had, the more we search for and love a life of simplicity.

    I am with you on the happiness thing to.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Patricia, that gladdens me. Resilience is a muscle we have to work on.

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  • Patricia

    Oooops! That is meant to read just “Be” just feel.

    [Reply]

  • sami

    I think I am the opposite. I find ‘meaningful’, ‘spiritual’ and ‘deep’ stuff a bit too cheesy for me… I’m not driven to succeed at anything, search for deeper connections or ponder lifes purpose.

    Maybe it’s because I’ve never been a fan of drama. I never bought into it in high school, with all the gossip and tears and emotions. I had enough of trying to support my ex while he struggled with basics- like keeping a job for more than a week, and not being a dickhead.

    All I strive for is happiness, and all it takes are the simple things. I have a job that I like, that pays me remarkably well. I have a wonderfully bearded boyfriend who I adore and who loves me too. I have my furkids, who make me laugh every day. I am lucky enough to enjoy good health. I have a car to get me places, and a roof over my head. I have no debts and no more stress. Life’s never been better and I am happy every day :) yay! I know life will inevitably throw stresses at me, like illness and death and taxes, but I have my little happiness foundation to get me through and get through it I bloody will.

    Having said that, I am not devoid of passion, emotion or compassion. I know not everyone is like me and that’s what makes life interesting. How crap it would be if we were all robots! If you strive for meaning, I wish you well. Go for gold I say 😀

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    I like that perspective Sami and I love that you shared it. Funnily, i hate drama, too. I always avoided plays… I can’t even go see them. And the affectations of the spiritual search make me cringe! Ha!

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    sami Reply:

    Thanks Sarah, I was afraid I’d get shot down a bit for offering a different perspective, phew! :)
    Meanwhile I think you’re onto something- a lot of comments here remarking that it’s a timely or relevant post. So despite somewhat disagreeing on a personal level I am glad that so many people have taken something from it. I hope that on everyones search for meaning and fulfilment they encounter shitloads of genuine happiness. Cos it’s awesome!

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  • http://www.infuseyoga.wordpress.com Amy Landry

    Absolutely LOVE that last quote. Great article, thanks Sarah!

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  • Michelle

    Wow Sarah! I was just sitting in this cafe having a coffee and was thinking “if I don’t have kids (tried IVF solo, didn’t work) and I don’t have a partner (hence solo IVF) what’s the point of my life?” I didn’t mean tius in a I-want-to-end-it-all kind of way, i was just pondering. Then I decided to check into yr blog. And you’ve given me more to ponder! Meaning certainly doesnt come from my work – I quite like it but given the choice? I only do it for the money. I mentor some school kids through YWCA and that’s fantastic but still I need more. I would truly love to be in a relationship as i feel it’s one Way to grow and learn about yourself but where is he?!! I’m off to the bookshop to find that book. Thanks for giving me another way to think about things.

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    Rachel Reply:

    Oh dear. I’m just about to start on this very same journey, and it’s sobering to hear of the number of people who are unsuccessful. Any tips for managing the process?

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Rachel, which journey exactly?

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    Rachel Reply:

    Exploring having a child on my own.

    Michelle Reply:

    Hi Rachel,

    I was blogging as I was going through the process (it’s a bit neglected now, must get back to it), so check it out here:

    http://yoginime.wordpress.com/
    I think (hope) I was honest about the whole process. It was kind of hard going, but at the same time exciting and I felt positive to be taking action. I’m 46, so that was probably a contributing factor to my lack of success.

    I have over the last 6 months or so wondered if I wasn’t taking the “failure” too lightly as I haven’t felt totally devastated (though I was after the last attempt). I have been asking myself that if I haven’t felt total devastation, what does that mean – did I not want it enough? But I think I’m ok with it – “happy” that I worked towards something I wanted. Now I feel grief on occasion and will probably always have a sadness around what I missed out on but the resilience others have talked about is key. I’m strong. Maybe I always have been, but I credit yoga with helping with everything.

    Good luck and contact me through the blog if you want to know more.
    x

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    Steph Reply:

    An aside – I clicked on your blog and read some (I’m not in the same situation, but may be one day, in that I’m over 40 and haven’t yet had any children – not sure if I want any (and adoption would be an option from my perspective), but my partner and I are talking). I enjoyed your writing, especially about the Hindu goddess who is never not broken. Hope you blog again sometime!

    Rachel Reply:

    Thanks so much for all this. Have had a quick look at your blog, and it’s super helpful to hear other people’s stories in relation to these things. Will have a bit more of a thorough read when I get the chance. I certainly appreciate you sharing your story.
    xx

  • Anthony

    Sarah, I enjoyed Frankl’s comments in seeking my own light in the world and now from the alps in Italy. Though I’m not religious I enjoy reading the works of theologians such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer wrote extensive about living in community and love. You may enjoy his writings too. cheers.

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  • http://www.sparrowandsea.com Jess @ Sparow + Sea

    I don’t strive for happiness either. I recently read The Four Hour Work Week, by Tim Ferriss, and I liked how he said that happiness as an end goal is ambiguous and overused. He says ‘Excitement is the more practical synonym for happiness, and it is precisely what you should strive to chase. It is the cure-all. When people suggest you follow your “passion” or your “bliss”, I propose that they are, in fact, referring to the same singular concept: excitement.”
    For me, this translates as the pursuit of meaning, authenticity, genuine connection. Those are the things that excite me, those are the things that turn me on.
    And like you so eloquently said, Sarah: the pursuit of happiness so often makes me feel inadequate and inept. For anyone who has the slightest predisposition towards melancholy – or even just quiet contemplation – sometimes happiness as an end goal does not ring true.
    Great post, hope you are feeling full-to-the-brim-chokkers with meaning during your travails…

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  • Lara

    I find these and other TED talks by Martin Seligman and Brene Brown very helpful for understanding the anatomy of happiness..

    http://www.ted.com/talks/martin_seligman_on_the_state_of_psychology.html?quote=317
    “The 11th reason to be optimistic”
    http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html
    “the power of vulnerability”

    [Reply]

    Judy Reply:

    Thanks so much for this post. I just watched “the power of vulnerability” – it has the potential to be life changing.

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  • Sophie

    Sarah, you are the best. I follow so many blogs but nothing comes close to the insight that you provide and the quality of your writing. I have read every one of your articles for almost 2 years and in that time have only commented a handful of times. Every now and then I feel compelled to thank you for the time you put into this blog – today is one of those times. So much of what you have to say resonates with me. I hope you never decide to move on from sharing your thoughts in this way. I’m also really excited for your book to come out at the end of the year. I will buy copies for everyone I know, in the knowledge that I can recommend that it will be brilliant without even having read it.

    Thank you.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Sophie, you just made my day. Thank you xx

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  • Mia Bluegirl

    Oh, isn’t Viktor Frankl the most amazing human being? Sarah, I love this. Your words sing to me.

    I think to focus on happiness as the end goal is such a narrow ideal. I was pondering this yesterday while my positive-thinking friends’ pop psychology was ringing especially phony to me. Why were humans gifted with such a broad and varied emotional range, to only elicit meaning from half of them?

    I don’t find it coincidental that from some of the worst times in my life (break ups, death, illness) comes an intense period of growth and learning, where brand new and fascinating truths about myself burst forth almost daily. To be overly focused on happiness I would see these times as utterly meaningless, yet to me they are some of the most valuable experiences I’ve ever had. They have made me a richer and – dare I say it – better, human being. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

    To be comforted, and contented, and to have a richly rewarding life… this is meaningful to me.

    My favourite quote from Viktor Frankl is, “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

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    Nichole Reply:

    So true about growth from the bad stuff. I find people who don’t dig into the feelings they experience from those terrible moments don’t tend to grow or evolve much.

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  • http://www.missmeaningful.com.au Miss Meaningful

    Sometimes, when we are ready, words (and books and people) come to us and we just ‘get it’. I had one of those moments last night. And now here today. I strive for something because I have a hunger for it. But I’m also tired. Tired of feeling like nobody else understands me. I strive for meaning – for finding my purpose, for discovering passions and ultimately for making a meaningful difference. So today I read this blog and realise I am not alone. Thank you.

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  • http://veganspin.com Nichole

    Sarah, this is a wonderful post. I was right with you from “I said I don’t dig happiness…” I agree that we put too much importance on being happy all the time as a culture. I struggle with not being a “cheerful” person, but having so much passion and wanting so badly to reach out and feel the world’s rough edges. I’m comfortable inside my sadness, I’m not afraid to camp out in an emotional rough-spot for a while, explore all its nooks and crannies, make it my home. It never occurred to me that that might be ok, that my purpose here may not to be a striving towards traditional happiness but to be a doer and make beautiful, touching things out of my sad thoughts.

    Thank you.

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  • Joanne

    Sarah

    Your comments resonate so much with me. I find myself at a crossroads and in the process of choosing which direction to take have been trying to decide which will make me happy. Ultimately, though, it hasn’t felt like the right approach. Meaning, connection, knowing myself, strengthening my relationships, creating – these are the things that bring me joy and make me feel like it’s all worth it. What I want more than anything is peace.

    Thank you for your wise words and your perspective.

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  • c

    I am predisposed to melancholia myself, and have often wished I could always be in the ‘life of the party’ mood. When I am like that, I have so much fun! and the problems around me fade into insignificance.
    But it just doesn’t seem possible to maintain that sort of happiness, although I have tried. It can be superficial, but it can also be a welcome relief.
    I’ve been through times where I am so “deep” within my suffering, the pain blocks out all the joy there is to life. I much prefer being happy. But the kind of happiness I have settled into lately, isn’t the superficial, high on life kind of happiness that annoying positive-thinking advocates exude.
    It’s a more settled type of happiness, and although I still get annoyed, I get frustrated, I get angry, coming back to an equilibrium is easier and my deep moods don’t overwhelm me.
    Sometimes dwelling, pondering and analysing the reason for this and the purpose of that, is just too fucking hard. It can bring you down and blind you from seeing all that is beautiful and right with the world.
    I’ve been caught up in fears and insecurities, I haven’t completely kicked them and I doubt I ever will. They are there to remind me that things can go either way, but often anxious people get caught in a trap of examining and reexamining their life situation, all in the purpose of making life meaningful and deep.
    I’m just saying there is just as much meaning in seeing the good aswell as the crap, it is not all superficial and unworthy of your attention. The silly jokes and laughs that have no deeper meaning are the perfect balance to the melancholic habit of deep reflection.

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  • Kate bartlett

    Sarah have you heard of Acceptance and Commitment theraphy? It fits well with the writings of Frankl
    It’s known as one of the 3rd wave of behavioural therapy and looks at the contextual nature of ACT addresses the existential aspect of human life especially around human suffering and emphasises values-consistent action. Values are what gives us meaning and purpose in our life in the face adversity. It also utilises mindfulness techniques such as nonjudgmental acceptance of the present moment, especially body or emotional sensations.
    As a therapist I utilise ACT but also as a human I follow it’s principles daily.
    Dr Russ Harris here in Australia has written some brilliant self help books using ACT ( the happiness trap; The reality gap) all highly readable and great primers.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Kate, I have! I interviewed Russ (the big Australian guy) about it and wrote on it in my Sunday Life column. I think it’s great.

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  • http://ilikeiwishiheart.com Heidi

    At first I thought, how can you not dig happiness? But as I read on, I began to understand what you meant. Meaning is what it’s all about for me. Feeling and meaning. From that happiness is often a pleasant by-product, whether you actively seek it or not. I’m new to your blog, am enjoying it very much.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Oh, welcome Heidi. Thank you for such a considered interaction,too.

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  • nicolette

    Sarah
    Perhaps we can recall on a past TED talk quote from Dan Gilbert:
    “Natural happiness is what we get when we get what we wanted, and synthetic happiness is what we make when we don’t get what we wanted. In our society, we have a strong belief that synthetic happiness is of an inferior kind.”

    But is Natural Hapiness really a “natural human state”?…I cannot seem to get ther myself!

    You are a Poet of Life itself, Sarah.

    I thank-you for sharing your discoveries, philosophies and quest for deep knowledge and understanding. Its helping all of us out there!!!

    If you are landing back in Athens, and feel like connecting with Oz-greeks pls mail me and I will connect you with my bro (just completed les Dix Alpes expedition sugar-free for years now) & partner rested up in Astypalea.

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  • http://louiseandrolia.com Loulou

    Hi Sarah!

    It really resonates what you say because I’ve always thought that searching for Happiness really means nothing unless you have your own concept of what ‘happiness’ actually means. So finding out what brings you joy, what makes you tick, what you really ‘want’ is where the ‘happy’ comes from. I suppose if you asked every ‘happy’ person to break down what they meant by that word it would be the interesting part.

    I live one way now and it’s always “trying to be the very best version of myself”, and I encourage clients and anyone else to go for that too, because in that sentence you are also saying that you are willing to look for what makes you YOU and find what will inspire you, challenge you and teach you.

    When I look back on the last ten years and the things that have brought me to now I see my sufferings as 100% yes being my biggest teachers. When I was very sick I didn’t see a way out of it but when I look back the experience has enlightened me in every way.
    Learning about my body and my mind has given me so much and taught me about perspective which I feel is a great gift. I always tell people to let their own lives give them perspective, look to the past as a way of guidance, learn from everything that you have experienced.
    I do work spiritually but I always like to project it in a practical way, after all how useful is it for instance to just tell people to ‘let go’ and ‘be in the present’ ‘be happy’ if they don’t have the tools to do so.

    When I have a feeling or a mood come up, sadness or such I do dig for it, because I know that within myself is the answer to clear it, and I can find that best bit of myself from learning who I am, about my deepness and then absolutely being excited to learn the same from and about friends, strangers, family and everyone. It is always important to remember however that our journeys are our own and we all have a path, so we can’t be upset or annoyed if someone cannot empathise where we come from with our suffering, because until something in their life points them to understand then how could they?

    I have been looking at the ten of Pentacles in Tarot this week and thinking a lot about it’s meaning. It in a basic way stands for material success, earthy, grounding, ‘happiness’, but what it’s deeper meaning is that it asks you to leave your mark, to gather what you have learnt and leave it to share and teach others, the card says write down your experiences, teach them to people, leave a print of this wealth that you have.

    So Happiness to me is learning about myself, striving to be the very best ME that I can be, enjoying that life is a wonderful constant lesson, never being hard on myself if I have a difficult time. We are after all humans and however spirtual you get we are still IN a human so we have the condition to consider, so getting sad is part of it, but it’s where we take that sadness that is important and like you say, rising above it, finding richness and meaning from our challenges is where we find that inner stillness, from our own depth. I feel Victor Frankl has it covered with those three points, and all the quotes you have mentioned are perfect!

    I love all your posts always, and please continue to write more and more, especially your personal insights, people will always enjoy learning from your ‘youness’
    I’m sorry we didn’t get to hook up in London but I’ve been so loving all your adventures via instagram, I can see you are being filled up with lessons and love and adventure, right to the top!.
    Love xo

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  • Ange

    Love. This. Post.
    Thanks for sharing Sarah. I have resonated so much with what has been written here by you and the readers who have commented. It comes at a time I am feeling fed up with mundane superficial conversations with those around me. I like to keep things light and humorous most of the time but then I do a complete 180 and crave a conversation like the one here on your post. If only this was a dinner party with a good meal and some nice wine. Thanks for sharing everyone.

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  • Lisa Ingram

    Thanks Sarah. Was just pretending to be gracious about a job I got knocked back for today (humdrum but such is real life), and looking in my mental backpack for the ‘lay down your zen-like burden’ instructions. Just as I was struggling away with acceptance and John Cooper Clarke’s poem “Twat” came unbidden into my head to reflect my feelings (“like a sucked and spat out smartie…” probably not the poet of choice of your readership) – I clicked on my Sarah bookmark and hurray. I remembered my favourite sankalpa (a yoga thingy – sankalpa is your meaningfully set resolve and good intent that resonates in wherever you let it in, yoga practice, or just Life). Anyway it is “The thing that blocks your path, is your path”. Never fails me. One setback? What-ez! Lisa

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    Bridget Reply:

    “The thing that blocks your path, is your path” – That’s brilliant. How incredibly comforting…

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    Lisa Ingram Reply:

    Helps me remember to just Get On With It!

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  • Meg

    Thanks sarah. X

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  • http://Www.shopnaturally.com.au Joanne

    Very inspiring. I am personally in search for peace and calm and along with it, good health. While living in the chaos that is life, I just try to do some good and help people not as fortunate as myself, even if my health is down the tubes, there’s always someone who needs help more than I do, and to help them midst my own turmoil makes me feel good.

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  • http://clareherbert.com Clare

    This is just wonderful. Happiness always seems a little…dull to me. Meaning, I can get on board with meaning.

    Thanks Sarah

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  • michael

    Lovely piece of writing .. Salut !

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  • Alice

    Sarah. Your blog and instagram, your thoughtful contributions and joyous celebrations of food and nature and people, bring to my little life a lot of spirit and a lot of smiles. It’s like a giant hot mint tea with a zing of lime for my soul. There are lots of things worth thinking about in the world. Thanks x

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  • http://www.cashewcookie.blogspot.com Robyn

    I really loved this post. I just realised how seriously good at delivering messages you are. Even though I don’t realise it all your words from previous posts are stuck in my head – especially those related to quitting sugar, This post is so true. I don’t believe we should search for happiness because then we will never find it. What we have will never be enough. We Live. And with that happiness will come.

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  • http://www.arthousehomelife.com alison

    Wow Sarah, you seem to have hit a chord here. I think what makes your work/writing unique is your refreshingly fragile honesty- not that ‘honesty’ delivered with so many quips that the truth is self consciously watered down, which is so often the case with columnists and writers. You seem unafraid express your vulnerability and that, I think, is what your readers are responding to. Somewhere in all your travels and search for meaning you seemed to have learned that true connection IS true meaning, the ONLY thing that really matters, and the only thing that can lead to true contentment.

    Thanks for your investment in this spiritual grid we are all wired into. I am sure you are teaching the rest of us to do the same Ax

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  • http://econest.blogspot.com Maria Hannaford

    Oh, this speaks to me so so deeply. I too get sad, therefore ‘the pursuit of happiness’ just gives me the peeves and makes me feel…. sadder. Pursuing meaning, now that’s something I CAN do. I already feel lighter. Thank you Sarah. x

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  • Ian

    Beautiful post Sarah…

    I read this old proverb today that drew me back to this post:

    “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.”

    That’s what I seek…that wisdom (& courage) to dive into the deep waters, thrash about and search for the treasures hidden within..

    Ian x

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  • http://www.thepottersgapyear.com Luke

    Hi Sarah,

    Surely the search happiness is not a fruitless one, as it is not a destination. I must confess. It is something I search for, and try not to get sad when I don’t find it. But really it all is part of the colour of life – good and bad, pain and pleasure. You know, I am not very good at finding it, but its in the most simple of places usually – sitting right before me – saying – hi there Luke care to share in some happiness right now.

    Sharing in the smile from my kids, seeing the dawn of a new day, the smell of freshly cut grass or jasmine from the hedge.

    Luke

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  • Kylie

    Thank you so much Sarah for saying so clearly what I’ve felt for nearly all of my 43 years! Trying to be happy for most of my life has created moments of panic, massive waves of anxiety and low-mid depressive episodes.
    I totally relate to the foetal position on the floor scenario – it was in that moment about 4 years ago that I started searching for a better way to live.
    Through sessions with an amazing psychologist I discovered Russ Harris ACT and read his book “The happiness trap” – the “lightbulb” went on!
    Instead of “happiness”, I strive for content, bliss and staying present; staying mindful has been the biggest challenge but also has given me the biggest gift. It’s allowed me to connect with people on deeper levels, rather than my “monkey mind” driving me to the next moment, hour or day.
    Once again, I really appreciate you sharing this!

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  • Nicole

    Ive just downloaded Frankl to my kindle, I have been searching for more. You cover it so well, I truly am someone that has always been ‘happy’ being wanted and needed and giving that back. I dont believe there is “happiness” otherwise.

    Thank you so much Sarah.

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  • Dez

    Thank you Sarah so much! I haven’t yet read Frankl’s book but like another lady wrote here, I thank you for reminding me eloquantly of the best way of thinking/feeling (for me) & leading me to another source to assist expanded thought, healing, resilience & ultimately a balanced & meaningful way to live! I often enjoy your articles & recently subscribed to your blog, today’s post being a particularly well written gem & extremely poignant for me – both today & during this period of my life. I have been grieving over longterm infertility, incl. extensive IVF, miscarriage & at almost 44 y.o. still unchosen childlessness & it seems ever diminishing likelihood of becoming a mother. This experience has made me rethink what life means to me & what I am here for, as a person & vocationally…I haven’t found a thoroughly satisfying ‘answer(s)’ just yet – it’s a work in progress. I wholeheartedly resonate with what you wrote here about ‘happiness’, the sadness/melancholy/sensitivite nature/deep thinking & the deep, rich nurturing, inspiration & enjoyment found from a bountiful inner life & sense of meaningfullness in life (indeed many, many aspects & things in life!). I am not religious nor have I chosen to be a Buddhist but have found the Buddhist Dharma very helpful at times in supporting this way of thinking & in building resilience. I feel that many of my life’s experiences have enabled me to build resilience, esp. the infertility journey & it’s ‘hope-loss’ cycle among other associated factors BUT like you say it’s like a ‘muscle’ & the thing is, little boosts like your post today & the guidance towards V.Frankl’s book really help in keeping true to the daily resilience ‘muscle’ building ‘training’ that I suspect is never a ‘done deal’ but can be an ongoing, sometimes tough. but ultimately rewarding journey & essential to enjoying life in all its hues, particularly when you have stretches of major life challenges or aren’t lucky enough currently to be in a loving relationship as one e.g.. Thanks again & keep up your great work.

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  • Louise

    Hi Sarah,

    Thanks so much for this post Sarah, I really loved reading it and there are obviously a great many others who also share your views. I especially liked your use of the phrase, “prick of lifeness”, to describe those fleeting indescribable moments of connection we experience every now and then.

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  • http://www.quietmind.com.au Sarah

    Beautiful post Sarah .. again. Sometimes I am rushed and I read your post and it stops me .. I have to pause to consider and digest. This morning is one of those mornings. I woke a little ‘grey’ so happiness felt so foreign. But I am momentarily hushed .. drinking in your words and also the replies to your post .. so much wisdom shared by everyone. All the voices, views and insights that seek to share with your posts, reminds me (again) that while we might think we are alone on our path .. we are all ultimately flowing towards the ocean. So lovely to share in your journey ..

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    Heather Reply:

    I love this response Sarah, and agree with it wholeheartedly :)

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  • Lee

    Hi Sarah.
    This post has been bouncing around within my headspace for a few hours now and the clarity that has set upon me is nothing but uplifting. It made me think about what side of the fence I choose to look at things from. Do I work on being happy and then look for meaning or do I work towards meaning something knowing happiness will result? I think I have admitted to myself I chose the latter. Perspective is a powerful thing….. Lee x

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  • Jen

    This is brilliant, thanks so much for sharing. Completely relate to this.
    Particularly this bit:

    “Things get dark and we’re challenged and we can go either way.
    Or we can go in deep. As we do, we build resilience and independence, of course (and this helps). But we also find beauty. Big, real, sumptious beauty. Just in this process of digging deep. In rising above suffering”.

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  • Tea

    Sarah, I totally agree with you regarding the finding happiness feels totally cheesy and a little uneasy.

    The past month or so Ive taken steps towards pursuing a career in a passion of mine. This means leaving full time athletic training and a great part time job behind to become a poor uni student. I feel that it will teach me something because I will be making some small sacrifices to do something that will hopefully give me some stability (qualifications I can utilise) for the rest of my life. Is that what I define as happiness? For me, no. But it will make me feel secure in myself…so maybe it is what happniess is meant to be for me.
    My happy life in my head is something very unrealistic, but at least I know it is. So now its about developing myself to make me happy where I am now.

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  • http://www.josephinepennicott.com Josephine

    Really profound piece. Thanks so much for writing and sharing this one. We have worked hard to help our seven year old daughter have unstructured time and creative play with strict limiting of screens to enable her to develop an imaginative inner-life. I fear for a generation who are raised on screens and over-structured time who will not be able to draw on the great resources within themselves. Lately I’ve been contemplating joy/happiness a lot and this rich post has added another jig-saw piece to my process. xx

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  • Eddy

    Thank you for another wise instalment.

    The pursuit of happiness does indeed never end. The mind’s ability to latch onto items both past and future is a strong one. It is this continuous strive for further goals or disappointment at not meeting past goals, that distracts us from the only important emotion that matters – how we feel now. See the beauty and feel at peace and grace with what is now, and happiness together with it’s opposite – unhappiness, cannot exist.

    No-one has to accept that the current life situation cannot be changed, because everything will change eventually, but by accepting what is as ‘is’ at this moment, without judging, can lead to a very fulfilling emotional state. Being fulfilled beats being happy hands down.

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  • http://eatdrinkpaleo.com Irena

    Hey Sarah, I don’t know you personally but reading your blog and following your pics I’d say you’re pretty damn happy 😉

    To me happiness is like an outer skin of the fruit. You can be happy to see a friend, to get a good mark at uni, to get a promotion at work but really you can also say you’re glad, pleased, excited etc. Feeling contented is something I associate with the inner, deeper satisfaction, finding a meaning and purpose, being at ease with myself. Sometimes that means being ok with being sad, not having a solution to a problem and not having everything we think we need to be ‘happy’. I strive to feel contented.

    Love this post. It’s seems to have touched many.

    Enjoy the rest of your trip :)

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  • http://Www.threerealmsyoga.com.au Deanne

    Nice one! I think happiness is overrated as well.

    Not that I’m not happy a lot of the time – I am. I’ve got a good life, good health and great people around me. I think what irks me is the desperate desire we have for the golden egg of happiness – and in our new-agey psychobabble world we wear happiness slapped on our faces like a cheap accessory and spout coined phrases that have no cellular relationship to our lived experience. I reckon happiness is a by-product and not the main game. Be sad when you’re sad, recognise confusion when you’re unsure and happiness will come when happiness comes.

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  • http://www.shashenjewels.com eilish bouchier

    Great post and great book. Are we splitting hairs here or to avoid misinterpretation are we using different words to describe the same thing. Happiness or meaning in life. Isn’t one person happy searching for meaning and another happy that they don’t have the desire to find it?

    Liking ourselves and our lives is our real challenge, knowing that those lives and selves will change.

    Isn’t it all about being able to sit with your life in all it’s moments and feel it or choose not to feel it and be ok with either (I have learned (for me) not feeling things can come back to bite you but that’s a whole other story. I agree with the ‘affectations of the spiritual search’ making one cringe. I think we as humans have this ridiculous ability to introduce ‘competition’ to everything.

    I was pondering just this topic as I drove to my studio this morning. I think the nib lies in owning our duality. That we are creatures of fleeting emotions, sometimes happy sometimes sad, sometimes kind, sometimes mean spirited. We are both light and dark and the real trouble begins when we think we are or can be only one.

    For me life’s about being engaged and that covers a gamut of experiences, situations and activities from work to play, to travelling to reading, hiking to doing nothing at all. Maybe it’s just about being present but it is also described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ( yes a name as unpronounceable as it is unspellable) as being in the flow

    http://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow.html

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Yes. Flow.

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  • Jane

    To me the absolute beauty of happiness is it’s fleetingness. I love that and it’s why we don’t need to chase it. It comes, it goes, exactly like anger, silliness and every other emotion. Searching for happiness is contrived and unrealistic, and frankly who’d want to be happy all the time anyway? I’d rather just find new ways to grow as a person and so give me my messy, happy, sad, real life anytime. I appreciate happiness when it comes – because it would be madness not to- but I’ll not chase it and I’ll also always try to remind myself never to say I’ll be happy when… life isn’t about perfection, it’s about living it in all it’s raw beauty, however itb comes.

    [Reply]

  • Annie

    Yeah!!! What wonderful words of wisdom!

    [Reply]

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  • Trevor Otto

    One can have Happiness and Meaning. Ultimately they are like two sides of the same coin

    [Reply]

  • Mez

    Hi Sarah, you got me on this one, I’m not great with words but I feel deeply touched by this post. It really makes simple sense…Mx

    [Reply]

  • http://www.vitalenatural.com.au Ananda

    Hi Sarah,

    For so long I was striving for happiness and really struggling. I felt I “should” be happy and in order to be happy I had to meet certain criteria – personal and financial success among them. Then fortunately (I can say this now) it all fell down around me and I had to start again. It was then I realised that my inner resources and the connections I had with friends, my partner and my family were more important. It took some months to get back on my feet but my level of self understanding and connection with others is where I now find great meaning in my life…as well as my furry friends, chooks and garden. Today my pleasure came from stomping around my garden in my pjs and gumboots, collecting eggs and basking in the sunshine. Right now in this moment, I am content.

    Thank you for your post.

    [Reply]

    Mia Bluegirl Reply:

    How could one not be content stomping about in gumboots and PJs, with fresh eggs? That’s such a delightful mental image. Thank you :)

    [Reply]

  • http://www.mummyissues.com Lee

    You have totally nailed it Sarah. Awesome post.

    [Reply]

  • Lulu

    Just wanted to add my gratitude for this post. You really are blossoming intellectually Sarah.

    [Reply]

  • Sian

    Hi Sarah,

    Resonate with this very much! Wondering if you’ve delved into the Enneagram system much? I think I detect this post written by a 4 (from a 4 right here!).

    With gratitude.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Hmmm, no. I don’t know it. How do you work it out?

    [Reply]

    Sian Reply:

    There are some online questionnaires, and I took a few of them in the beginning to get an idea/make a start but I tend to be resistant to those kinds of surveys, at least at first. I ‘landed’ with it all and really found value after reading parts of Eli Jaxon-Bear’s ‘Fixation to Freedom’ ebook, and also had a short Skype session with a qualified practitioner.
    The most common free test found on most sites is the RHETI sampler such as at http://www.enneagraminstitute.com.
    The advice I was given from a mentor when I started looking into it all was that the more consciousness work a person has been involved in, the harder it can be to decipher your point, so to take the test as from the point of view of yourself in your teens. That really helped me when doing the questionnaires.
    xox

    [Reply]

  • http://info@jammycow.com.au clare

    Wow. this post couldn’t have come at a more timely moment.
    I’m struggling at the moment…..and I’m wondering how long I can keep going with my current situation.
    When I was at school, my only ambition was to be happy. Looking back I think that this ambition encompassed having meaning in my life, leaving a legacy and being happy while doing it, so I guess being happy meant living my dreams. As I have grown up I realise that living your dreams is not necessarily a a happy thing. There are tough times and moments when you want to change course, but reading your post, maybe true happiness is rising above suffering and achieving more than your dreams.

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  • Andrew

    Really like it when your articles tap into this vein. As Keats put it: “…how necessary a world of pain and suffering is to school an intelligence and make it a soul” (as quoted in Eric G. Wilson’s “Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy”, a book which covers similar territory).

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Nice!

    [Reply]

  • http://happyprettysweet.com Akaleistar

    Beautiful, inspiring post!

    [Reply]

  • Ant

    Fab post Sarah! I only really found contentment (I don’t like to refer to ‘happiness’ either) after hitting rock bottom. Keep enjoying ‘whatever comes your way’….from a fellow Wamboin girl :-)

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Oh! Wamboin! Do we know each other?

    [Reply]

  • http://mc-ac.blogspot.com Alison

    Sarah Wilson, you are the best! Thank you. Brilliant post. x

    [Reply]

  • Amy

    spectacularly insightful post.

    [Reply]

  • trevor otto

    Good on Sarah for a worthy post about finding an inner strength or dimension to one’s self. The truly astonishing thing is the amount of ‘Wow’ comments as though having to look inside to find a depth and meaning is something entirely novel ! This all seems to confirm that most are chasing happiness following some dream projection usually based around some nebulous material circumstances. As the Dalai Lama said ‘ more than 90% of people live from projection ‘

    [Reply]

  • http://clotheslinetinyhomes.com Carrie

    this was a beautiful post… I especially related to where you said: “I’m also not great at happiness. I get sad.” totally agree with that.

    I feel so much pressure to “be happy”, but if I must ignore my other non-happy feelings (and why is joy the only acceptable feeling??), then I am hiding something, shoving something down, letting something grow into a monster in the dark. there is so much relief that comes from letting emotions out, especially for women I think. it’s like a purging.

    my task is to release emotions in a way that doesn’t hurt others… I had a thought the other day, when I was blaming my husband (in my head) for something amiss: “I wonder what the opposite of blame is?” and then it popped into my head: “Action.”

    my other task is to be grateful. my mind veers toward the darker canyons of thought, like a wheel stuck in a rut. if I can train my mind to dwell on what I have, what I have been given, what talents I have, then maybe I can start focusing on what I bring to the river of life, not just what I take away.

    best to you, and thank you for your blog.
    – Carrie

    [Reply]

  • waynoss

    Ive been working obscenely hard recently every day and nite to the point of mental, physical and emotional exhaustion trying to get my small business going.
    The mind can be a dangerous thing, can take us to such a dark place.
    There is a point tho where being with your ‘suffering’, open to it, inviting it in, embracing the nite – becomes empowering.
    And then acts that you would normally shy away from like getting caught drenched in rain, say, become pure ecstasy.
    There is so much to learn and grow from.

    [Reply]

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  • http://goodthingblog.com amber

    Sarah, you might be interested in this excerpt from The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (a fantastic book): http://www.goodthingblog.com/2012/one-good-excerpt-gretchen-rubin-in-the-happiness-project-take-two/

    [Reply]

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