As a mental health professional, and someone who is a curious human being in general, I spend a large amount of time trying to understand the complexities of human emotions and the reasons for the pleasure and pain that humans can experience on a regular basis. The underlying question is this: are humans always bound to return to “suffering”, regardless of what we do? Is it the human condition to experience loss and sadness, forever, along side happiness and pride and excitement?
As a therapist I must ask myself this question repeatedly as it is part of my job to help people with their suffering. If there were a “happy” pill to take away sadness, people wouldn’t go to therapy at all. If there were a pill to take away sadness, would we every really feel happy, though? Would there really be light if there were no darkness? If the human condition is to swing between emotional well-being and emotional suffering, then would we really know happiness without knowing what pain feels like?
I don’t try to talk my clients, my friends, or myself out of being unhappy. Mostly because I have learned that being unhappy is not permanent, and I don’t think that ignoring or burying the pain will really make it go away faster. I do, however, strive to work with the meaning of the pain. For example, if someone is consistently depressed over a long period of time, they may think that this means that they will always be depressed, which is not necessarily the case. But every time that they are depressed thereon after, when they return to sadness, the meaning that they make may be that they are still sad and that they will always be sad. On the other side of 10 years of steps to becoming a therapist and practicing therapy, I have formed the opinion that the point of therapy might not be to eliminate the sadness, but rather, to learn let people in when you are suffering as to not be alone. I now understand therapy as being the practice of reaching out in the suffering, and learning to be with another in suffering, as to learn to repeat this in your outside life, as to surround yourself with those people in your life who understand and who also don’t want to be alone in suffering.
For hundreds of thousands of years before this point in time, it was our purpose to survive on a daily basis. Our survival needs were forefront to our emotional issues. Finding food, clean water, safety, warmth, and other basic survival needs kept us from the daily suffering that we now experience in absence of the basic will to survive. Struggles now have become making enough money, not feeling isolated, finding meaningful relationships, and finding meaning in general for our purposes on a daily basis. Our survival needs have manifested differently and they are now not what we spend every second of every day thinking about, or fighting for. So if you are feeling depressed, overwhelmed, hopeless, and like your life is existentially pointless, it might be helpful to think about spending some time in the wilderness, conceptualizing how you would go about finding food if you didn’t have any, how you might build a shelter, how you could keep warm. And if you feel like you are the only one in the world suffering right now, it might be helpful to talk to someone to discover that you could possibly be understood by another person and potentially many others.