Nadezhda Prokudina 123/RF
Source: Nadezhda Prokudina 123/RF

The height of personal happiness can only be measured by the depth of personal sadness. Happiness is not a stand-alone feeling. Happiness is a comparative emotion. The measure of happiness a person feels is judged against the measure of sadness a person felt in the past. The greater degree of sadness, the greater degree of happiness. Without sadness, happiness has no meaning. Ironically, the fear of emotional sadness often restricts a person’s ability to experience the high heights of happiness.

Living life in the middle zone

Many people live their entire lives in the middle zone. They do not experience extreme happiness nor do they experience extreme sadness. Their happiness is restricted because they spend their time protecting themselves from sadness and emotional pain. The most effective way to protect against emotional pain is to limit the depth of personal relationships. People cannot get hurt if they prevent others from entering their emotional space. In the middle zone, relationships develop normally and quickly plateau when the level of intimacy becomes too threatening. Without the potential for open-ended intimacy, relationships wither, become stagnant, and eventually die. People who live in the middle zone often intentionally or unintentionally sabotage their relationships to prevent the relationship from becoming too intimate. After sabotaging relationships, middle dwellers often see themselves as victims and seek comfort from the very people they hold at bay.

Living life behind an emotional wall

People build invisible walls to protect themselves from emotional pain. The higher the walls, the greater degree of pain the person experienced in their past. Not all people who experience emotional pain build walls. Only the people who fear getting hurt again build walls.  Emotional walls are built for the specific purpose of keeping people out. People who live life behind emotional walls emotionally disconnect themselves from the rest of the world or at least the part of the world that threatens them. Walls prevent emotional pain but they also keep out people who bear gifts of happiness. People who hide behind walls of their own design are often more comfortable with the fear they know than to face the unknown fear of intimacy and, of course, the possibility of re-injury. Unfortunately, they remain victims for the rest of their lives and forfeit any hope of intense happiness.   

The purpose of pain

Pain serves several purposes. First, pain signals that something is not right with our physical bodies or emotional standing. Physical pain alerts people to seek medical attention. Emotional pain warns people that their emotional life is askew. Pain not only directs people to the source of the infliction but the intensity of the pain can also measure the severity of the physical or emotional injury. Second, pain encourages empathy. Feeling the pain others is difficult if we have not felt the same pain ourselves. Shared experiences, especially traumatic experiences, create strong personal bonds. Support groups are effective because group members share a common experience and, therefore, can empathize with one another. Couples form closer relationships when they struggle and survive trying times. Third, pain provides a standard against which to judge happiness. The more intense the pain the more intense the happiness by comparison. Couples often compare their current happiness to the hard times they experienced earlier in their relationships. Without the struggle, the extent of their happiness could not be measured.

The sun still rises

Assuredly as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, pain will always be a part of life. The sun can heal or hurt depending on the intensity and exposure of the rays. People protect themselves from the damaging effects of the sun with sun screen. Likewise, attitude serves as the salve that protects people from the damaging effects of emotional pain. Pain can be a gift or a curse depending on the attitude of the person experiencing the pain. Emotional pain is a certainty. Building walls or living life in the middle zone protects people from experiencing emotional  pain, but at the expense of happiness. Experiencing emotional pain, no matter how severe, intensifies happiness. Achieving the high heights of happiness is far more satisfying than feeling little or no emotion hiding behind an emotional wall or living life in the middle zone. Sunrises are more intense after a month of gloomy skies. Emotional pain, like the sun, eventually sets and gives way to the hope of happiness. 

For more information on how to build and maintain human relationships, refer to The Like Switch: An Ex-FBI Agent's Guide to Influencing, Attracting, and Winning People Over. 

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