Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony. – Thomas Merton –
When I started seeing my husband many years ago, he would often remark on how I tended to shift from one extreme position to another. Happy or angry, enthused or turned off, definitely for something or definitely against something else. I was rarely in an in-between state. He would often tell me that I needed a sense of balance. In truth, I did tend to see things in black or white and I didn’t much appreciate the gray zones.
Forty years later, the color gray is very much in vogue and as for me, well, I’m a much more balanced person. And grateful for it. I hate to admit it, but he was right. Not that we should be middle-of-the-road types all of the time, but I think that our quest for happiness has something to do with the harmony brought about by balance.
What Is the Secret of Joy?
I got to deepen my perspective on this when I read a book by one of my favorite authors, Alice Walker. It was called Possessing the Secret of Joy. The title intrigued me, and I was anxious to find out exactly what the secret was. If I remember correctly, a banner is unfurled at the end of the book, proclaiming “RESISTANCE is the secret of joy!” Well, that was a shock. As far as I was concerned, it felt like my resistance was preventing me from flourishing. My own experiences were showing me that to be joyful, I needed to be more accepting of circumstances. And now this book, written by a woman I admired, was telling me the opposite. I needed to understand this contradiction. It took me a while, but I believe that I have come to an understanding.
An Individual Path to Harmony
Each person is on a unique path, determined by our past experiences, our temperaments and the circumstances that we find ourselves in. In the book, Alice Walker’s character was subjected to genital mutilation. Coming from the background of a victim, of course we would need to fight back to strike a balance in our lives. My early life, however, was characterized by resistance. My parents were terribly stubborn, especially my father. I felt like I needed to fight to get what I wanted, and resistance became an overly used strategy. I needed to learn to go with the flow. Enter my husband, a very go-with-the-flow kind of guy. 😊
Our quest for balance might be individual, but it’s awfully helpful to have others help us find our way. I believe that we are attracted to people because they possess qualities that we need in our lives. Have you noticed how couples often complete each other? Opposites attract and all that? And that the more years we spend together, the more mannerisms we share? That’s balance.
Homeostasis, the natural order of things. Nature teaches us how important balance is by providing just enough sunshine, precipitation, heat or cold to support our different ecosystems. Plants and animals have evolved to be in equilibrium with each other, in symbiotic relationships—even as predator and prey.
So if finding balance is contingent on each person’s circumstances, there are no one-size-fits-all prescriptions for the choices that we make and the way that our lives unfold. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you. It all depends on where we’re coming from. There’s a lot of advice available in the media about how to be happy, and a lot of it is good. But we mustn’t forget to consider what we need, as individuals. How I arrive at joy could be vastly different from how you find yours. Have you considered what you need to strike your balance?