I am convinced that some people can’t be happy unless they’re miserable.
You know the type: Always complaining, quick to tell you their latest misfortune. Boy, they’re fun people to be around.
I worked with a woman like this. On the way out of the building one summer day after work she complained about how it had rained all week. Just as we walked outside, the rain stopped and the sun came out -- how miraculous! This woman threw up her hands and said, "Great! Now it’s humid!"
Clearly, this particular person doesn’t have a healthy view on life, but she reminds me of a truth you probably haven’t considered: Misery is not only necessary and inevitable, it’s a good thing if you look at it the right way.
Why? Because you can’t have happiness without misery. Or rather, you can’t appreciate happiness without it.
Think of a time when you were unhappy: Single and lonely and struggling to find the right person; in a dead-end job and dreaming of a more fulfilling career; faced with sickness; confused and wandering, unsure of your path in life.
If you’re still in such times, you may not feel comforted by the notion that it’ll be a good thing, one day. Instead, you probably spend a lot of time feeling sorry for yourself. If you’re like my friend the pessimist, perhaps you’ve made a habit out of it and become best friends with your misery. You rail against the world, or against God, for being unfair. You argue that you don’t deserve these hard times because you’re a good person.
You’re looking at it wrong: such struggles give you the opportunity to fight, to make the best of things, to work through them and try to make them better. You never give up on love and find your soul mate. You go back to school and chase your dream. You go to the doctor and get better. You find your way. You claw your way out.
And when you’ve overcome an obstacle and defeated hardship and misery, you can bask in the rewards of your toil. You can exclaim that the storm has passed and the sun has come out.
Don’t get stuck in your pity party. Misery needs to be appreciated for what it is: not just a lesson and call to action, but a path to greater happiness as well.
The times when life is misery are meant to offer contrast. When those times are over, you can say, "Wow, I am so much happier than I was, and I’m so glad to have made it through."
I had an Oprah-style "a-ha" moment recently. For three years I was stuck in a dead-end job that I recently wrenched myself from, and I didn’t realize how unhappy I’d become. One day during a walk, and after receiving wonderful news, I looked up at the sun and breathed in the fresh air and realized that I was truly and radiantly happy. I remembered how miserable I was and knew I’d overcome that time in my life.
Without that hardship, would I feel the fullness of my happiness? I think not. Think of it like a stubbed toe -- man it hurts, but when the pain goes away, it feels so good.
JH Mae is a Banner columnist.