One of the basic causes of human unhappiness is our failure to see that. We depend so much on what we see in the outside world for our stability and well-being. Human nature makes us put up great resistance when change is threatened. Alternatively, we may look forward to things being different but our sense of pleasure doesn’t tend to last very long when they happen. The delight, or dread, is all in the anticipation, it seems.
How’s your everlasting youthfulness doing?
That comes very close to home when we think about our own body. As a child or a teenager, we may have wanted to look older and more grown up; but that looking forward didn’t last for very long once we reached adulthood, did it? Most of us don’t relish the idea of aging at all and we try to hang onto a youthful appearance, suppleness, fitness and so on for as long as we possibly can. I failed on that one some time ago! But seriously, there is in all of us, or nearly all of us, a dread of becoming old and frail, perhaps incontinent, losing teeth, suffering from failing hearing and eyesight and a weakening of mental faculties.
Our failure to accept
The reason for this dread is that we have failed to accept fully – and I mean really fully – the inevitability of change. We know that no matter how hard we try, this body of ours cannot be preserved indefinitely; but there is still a sneaking desire to prolong it as long as possible. Then instead of treating the body as an instrument that is ours to use for a limited length of time, we become dearly attached to it (or maybe abhor how it is now, which is equally as bad) and so our body becomes a source of unhappiness as it deteriorates. Not only does it become a source of unhappiness, it also becomes a source of fear because it is not only aging that results in death. Death can come at any time and some of the possible methods of its approach – cancer, terrorism, fire, drowning and so on – can lead to irrational fears which affect our thinking and our behaviour. Or we can avoid the thought of the reality of death altogether. That’s the more popular approach, of course.
If we can truly embrace our own impermanence, we can more easily accept the vulnerability of everybody and everything in our world to the forces of change. We should look closely at ourselves to see whether we try to hang onto the “good” things – the ones that we see as essential to our happiness – and feel down when they start to slip away from us. In fact, as we shall see later, there is neither good nor bad but while we continue to label things that way, the seeds of unhappiness are lurking in our minds.
Adapted from The Great Little Book of Happiness