Finding good in bad; happiness in the sad

Finding good in bad; happiness in the sad

by Michael Steger for Psychology Today

The pursuit of happiness…it sounds so great, why wouldn’t everyone want happiness?

Maybe everyone should, but there is an unsettling idea about happiness creeping over the conversation.

Happiness has become the recepticle for all things good in life.  Good feelings, good relationships, good desires, good vacations, good purchasing decisions, good plans for the future, good sex, good health, good looks.  Is this happiness?  It sounds great, but if this image of happiness is meant to remedy a historical perseveration on all the nasty junk of life, then the very absence of all that junk makes this notion of happiness unappealing, and probably unrealistic.  One snapshot in time seems to capture this point perfectly in my mind.

One of the images that burst into my mind when the World Trade Center towers collapsed was the iconic photo of Philippe Petit, suspended on a nearly invisible wire stretched between the two towers.  The fragility of that image is part of what humanized the towers to me, softened the steel striations and unyielding lines of the towers.  The loss of that journey, the disappearance of the imagined wirewalker hanging in limbo whenever I looked at the towers, was a tiny bit of the symbolic insult that was piled on top of the immense human tragedy suffered in the 9/11 attacks.

At the same time, the fact that it had been done, and that its accomplishment preserved at least one positive memory of the towers, still offers some inspiration.

The documentary, Man on Wire, takes interviews with the cast of characters who pulled off this adventure and weaves them into a nearly mystical and simultaneously joyous and poignant fable.  The thoughts that pop into my head when I look at the picture of Philippe Petit on his wire ran a gamut around courageous, stupid, crazy, beautiful, inspiring, and pointless.  Thinking about that now, I’m not even sure why I watched the movie.  After all, what is there for me to learn about walking on a tightrope between?  I already feel bad enough about my mediocre balance…

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