“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The secret of happiness is not in doing what one likes, but in liking what one has to do.” – James M. Barrie
Having recently celebrated the Fourth of July holiday, my mind reflected on the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” from the Declaration of Independence. In crafting the document that gave birth to this nation, Thomas Jefferson used John Locke’s principle about having an “inalienable right” to “life, liberty, and property” but wisely expanded the last right from mere property rights to the right to pursue happiness – not only in economic pursuits, but in all of life’s endeavors.
The freedom or right to pursue happiness is fundamental to our very being. We are each given the right to freely choose for ourselves the course of action in our lives. With that freedom to choose comes the heavy burden of responsibility when our choices, or the choices of loved ones, lead us on unhappy paths of sorrow and addiction’s afflictions. In fact, in making choices, virtually everyone will make some good choices that lead to happiness and other poor choices that they initially think will lead to happiness, but in the end bring misery and suffering to themselves and others around them.
The blessing of each day, however, brings with it the opportunity to learn from life’s prior lessons and make adjustments based on the wisdom gained from those past, often painful, choices. Every culture, faith tradition, or philosophy I know of has a mechanism for learning from the mistakes of the past, making course corrections, and then pursuing a new a path that will hopefully lead to desired happiness based on new values. In the Judeo-Christian world this process is called repentance. The transcendentalists – such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau – spoke often of transcending one’s past and achieving lofty spiritual ambitions through intuitive wisdom and “living simply.” In Hinduism, the process of learning from one’s past, feeling remorse, resolving to not commit the acts again, and starting afresh is called “prayashchit.” In therapy, we typically refer to this as a process of self-awareness, guilt, self-determination, making amends, repairing relationships, forgiveness, healing, and growth. Whatever your belief system is, there is likely a process by which you can learn from your past mistakes and correct your trajectory towards a happier way of living.
At LifeStar, we support people in their “pursuit of happiness” as they learn from and overcome their past addiction-riddled choices (or from the past addiction-riddled choices of their loved ones). Wasting time in anger and recrimination (either self-recrimination or towards others) robs from happiness. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” For the addict, learning to pursue a truer happiness than they’ve probably ever known is difficult work, but it also leads to personal freedom and (potentially) forgiveness from the ones they’ve hurt. The path of recovery is often painful, but that doesn’t mean it is not also the path to happiness. As James M. Barrie, playwright and author of Peter Pan said, often the “…secret of happiness is not in doing what one likes, but in liking what one has to do.” Making the tough choice to work one’s recovery (or support a loved one in recovery) can be made easier or harder based on one’s mindset. Learning to like what one “has to do” can be a meaningful part of the pursuit of happiness in recovery. As you and your family celebrate the freedoms of our nation this year, may you also enjoy revitalized freedom from addiction and compulsive behaviors and find renewed determination in your “pursuit of happiness.”
By: Kyle N. Weir, PhD, LMFT, Clinical Director of LifeStar of the Central Valley