A Journey To Happiness And Back

I have a habit, or should I say quirk, of bringing my plastic chair out on the rooftop balcony in the evening, before sunset. Then I sit on it, feel the wind rising against my face, and wait for the eagles to come. Almost every evening at this time, eagles come to play in the air around where I live, and I take immense joy in the rather mundane activity of watching them. The other day, while I was doing just that, a thought struck me out of nowhere. Like an unexpected bolt of lightning on an otherwise peaceful night. The thought came to me in a single line:

Not all sadness is bad.

Well, although I said the thought struck me “out of nowhere”, in reality, that would be quite different from the truth. Allow me to digress a bit.

No thought ever strikes us out of nowhere, or “out of the blue”; every single thought we’ve ever had was borne out of our experiences in life. It could be borne of something we’ve felt, or heard from someone, or of something we’ve seen with our own eyes. Often times these experiences are so feeble and so unthinkingly experienced that we do not record it in our conscious mind. That is when these neglected experiences sink down into our subconscious, into what I call the “cerebral attic”. This attic is where the thoughts that strike us “out of nowhere” come from.

The thought that escaped my cerebral attic that day – not all sadness is bad – struck me as quite contradictory to popular belief. I don’t have to tell you why. If you have any sense, you’ll know what I mean. In the world we live in today, SAD equals to BAD. It’s like a law of physics, undebatable. The law is simple – you shouldn’t be sad. Ever. You should always try to be positive and happy and in every situation, look at the brighter side. Be an optimist. And most importantly, stay away from sad people, right? Sadness is a negative emotion and sad people carry a negative energy around them that you should avoid at all costs.

I too, had been on that train for a long while. As a person who was sad more (way more) often than my friends and what was considered normal, I hated myself for being the despondent, walking melancholy that I was. And guess what that made me – yes, a hell of a lot sadder. I spent a lot of time wondering what was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I be normal and happy like the others? It’s not that I didn’t want to. In addition to my sadness, I also walked around with a feeling that often accompanies sad people – an overwhelming dose of insecurity. Insecurity borne of my noticing the looks on people’s faces when I’m around. I’m ruining their mood. I should’ve never come if I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy the party, and other self-condemning thoughts flooded my mind a lot of the time.

This internal conflict of feeling like nothing but this perpetually sagged, annoying bore in everyone’s life led me to take a chance on a new path. A path toward self-reformation. Or at least, an attempt at it. I’m not normal, was the idea carved indelibly in my head. I had to find a way to eliminate this sadness that had been following me all my life, like a demon pointed to me by the devil himself.

After about a year of seeing psychiatrists and taking pills and leaving it at that, I decided to take an extra step. I would pull up my socks, and start forging a new weapon to wield in the war I was waging against my demons. Taking pills and seeing shrinks was a pocket knife, and this was an all-out gunfight. I had to do something more. I had to try.

My first course of action was to give my Youtube feed a fresh renovation. If I was to win this battle, videos discussing dark theories and sad songs had to go. And go away they did, replaced by a barrage of motivational speeches and workout videos. I started sleeping and waking to uplifting music and affirmations. I read more uplifting books, followed more uplifting and positive people on Instagram. I did whatever I could and fought as actively as was within my capabilities. And before I knew it, I was a long way in on my journey to happiness.

Before long, I started noticing that I was socializing a lot more with friends, and in ways that didn’t leave me overthinking later when I was alone in bed. I worried less and less of whether I “ruined the mood”, because unlike before, I actually enjoyed the company of other people. I could sense that my sadness was losing power, and that friends and relatives were noticing it less and less.

Yes. I did it. Finally, I became a happy person. I was finally normal, and was now rightfully qualified to spend time around whoever I wanted without guilt grabbing at my throat. And spend time I did, with friends, family, practically whoever was available. I was happy. Without a doubt, I was truly, undeniably happy and enjoying life. But this is where it got tricky.

Somehow, in the happy, sparkling midst of it all, I couldn’t help but notice the existence of a feeble, yet nagging sense of an unexplained hollowness residing deep within me. Or should I say, more accurately perhaps, a deep sense of purposelessness. Like I was adrift on a boat out in the ocean, paddling happily, getting nowhere. Or like an eagle among a cheery pride of lions, happy yet out of place. Unfulfilled. And this strange, inexplicable feeling was somehow worse than the sadness I used to feel. In truth, it was so much worse that I found myself longing for the sadness that I had lost. I wanted to feel, even just a little pinch, of the emotional pain that had been a part of my being for so long. Yes, I know that’s ridiculous and downright stupid. Why would anybody want to feel sadness? Sadness hurts. I had learned my lesson, right? Sadness is pain! But that pain, I realized, was what had made me feel alive. All along, that pain was what had been giving me that sense of purpose which somehow, amidst all the tears, granted me fulfilment. Because a life without purpose, ruled by a feeling of not having any part to play in this grand design of the Universe, is one I fear most among all of life’s possibilities.

Because pain and sadness, I further realized, are also the source of all my creativity, of all that I do that makes me me. Without them, I know of nothing to write, nothing to say, and worst, nothing to think. And people who know me will tell you that I’m either thinking or dying. With this realization, came along the unveiling of that inexplicable feeling that never left me while I was happy.

I was dying inside.

It turned out I am the type of person who, in order to be truly happy and spiritually fulfilled, needs a bit of sadness in his life. Because my true happiness, unlike a lot of others, doesn’t come from simply being positive and being happy. That happiness fell short, felt hollow to me. Rather ironically, the truth of my happiness comes from my sadness. In a more direct sense, my true happiness comes from the expression of my sadness, whatever form that expression may be. So long as it is non-violent, at least borderline artistic and, with a bit of luck, decently deep.

Wind, Water, Earth and Fire – these four elements have always fascinated me since a child. Movies and stories often group us humans under these elements, and no one ever chooses which element they get. They’re simply born in it, and the ones who go on to do great things are not the ones who constantly try to become different elements than what they were gifted with. It is the ones who accept their gifts and tame it, relentlessly work to master it as best as they could, that end up as heroes.

In real life too, we are different individuals of different elements. Some tend to be happier than others, some sad, some numb and emotionless, and the reality is we don’t really get to choose our element either. Life and experience do. Only through deep self-reflection and awareness can we come to see what our element really is.

So that day, as I watched a pair of eagles playing in the wind, wings spread and free in the golden spotlight of the setting sun, I made a decision. A decision to call off the war between me and my demons. To accept the truth of who I am and what life has molded me into. To quit the constant struggle to fit into the frame of society and what it deems acceptable. Because sadness might be a demon, but it doesn’t have to be my enemy. Not any more.

People say we should live to be happy, I don’t disagree. So long as it’s your element, I wish you all the happiness in the world. We all live for different things. Some live for money, some for fame and legacy, and some live for happiness. I’m in this for the beauty of life.

Indeed, happy people are beautiful in their shiny, glorious ways. But so are sad people, in their little broken ways.

So, not all sadness is bad. It all depends on what that sadness does to and for you, and on what your element is. Instead of looking for ways to eliminate my sadness, I now look for the beauty that I know lies within it. Because there is, in fact, beauty in everything that knows existence.