Can we be happy when bad things happen in our lives? Is it even appropriate?
First of all, let’s define what we mean by ‘bad things’. Often, the things we get upset about are really only molehills that we make into mountains. Ask yourself: “In a years’ time, will this still matter?” If the answer is no, let it go. Richard Carlson’s book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, is a great guide here.
But sometimes tragedy strikes in a way that changes life forever. When this happens, we can feel crushed. For a while, life loses its meaning; just getting through the day can be a huge mission.
The way we come to terms with such a devastating blow can determine whether we remain forever scarred and bitter, a smaller person than before – or whether we grow into someone more fully human. The important difference is how we make meaning of the experience.
A life-changing event can have us re-assess our priorities and values. We rethink the kind of person we want to be. We may choose to operate from fear, anger, hatred or hopelessness as a way of not getting hurt again – but we are also unlikely to be happy again.
Alternatively, we may choose to call on strengths we didn’t know we had, and develop the qualities that we want to see more of in the world. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl describes how he managed to cultivate hope and humanity amongst the horrors of a concentration camp. The very awfulness of the situation gave added meaning to the concepts of love and hope.
At one level, being happy means staying cheerful despite the difficulties. But a deeper level of happiness comes from finding a reason to do so. This enables us to come through tragedy with a greater love and respect for others, strengthened values and a deeper appreciation of what we are capable of.