It’s a feeling I think I’ve spent my whole life longing for. Working toward. Aching to arrive at.
Did it exist? Yes, but always somewhere out there. Somewhere floating about in the universe. It was a feeling that, on the best days, would feel so close I could almost touch it.
But I also often found myself scared of happiness.
Believing it was just out of reach. Wondering if I’d ever get there. When I would arrive. And whether it would live up to all my expectations.
Would I ever truly be happy? What would that look like?
So I became a “waiting for the other shoe to drop” kind of person. Noticing the flickers of happiness that would appear. Content with my life but quick to catastrophize even the tiniest sadness or hurt or inconvenience.
Somehow it felt easier, more true to my heart, to live in the tough places. To set up shop in the struggle, the pain, the emotionally sticky places that others so often tried to avoid or tune out.
I wrote poems to make sense of the hard stuff. I read books that gave life to my overwhelming feelings. I cried (but only in private, of course) to keep from drowning in my sorrow. I listened to songs that made me feel like someone understood—like someone knew what it felt like to constantly be holding my breath. Just waiting for this idea of happiness to come.
Because if I lived in the pain, I couldn’t possibly live in the joy too. Could I?
My angsty younger years eventually faded enough that I realized I could embrace both the struggle and the happiness in my life. But in my mind, these feelings operated like a game of tennis—each emotion bouncing back and forth, but never existing on the same plane at the same time.
If I was deep within my sadness, I needed to process that before a flicker of happiness could begin to appear. And if the warm, fuzzy feelings had settled into my heart, even the slightest bit of suffering could wash those feelings away.
Part of what I enjoy most about getting older, about experiencing the intricacies of life, is realizing there is ample room in my head and my heart for any number of feelings to coexist, particularly pain and joy.
I recently read a quote by Puerto Rican writer Elisabet Velasquez that beautifully explores the nature of this coexistence. If you struggle to live in the pain and the joy, these 33 words might calm the ache in your heart:
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Every time I feel pain—indescribable, depressing, life-altering pain—those flickers of happiness, those moments of joy are always present. Sometimes they are hiding. Sometimes they appear out of nowhere, like a miracle. Sometimes I just need to look closely to recognize them.
And while they don’t end my pain or take the sadness away, these moments are the bits of hope I desperately need to manage the pain. To get through it. To keep my head above water.
To understand that happiness isn’t out there. And joy isn’t beyond my reach. These feelings don’t just float about aimlessly in the universe; instead, they exist in partnership with the unavoidable suffering that is life. One cannot exist without the other. We cannot exist without either.
And, sometimes, that realization alone is enough to keep me from drowning.