Why we’re not supposed to be happy all the time

This is the first email in a 3-part email series by Ideapod writer Nathan Dennis. Read the second email on the intelligence of your body here and the third email on the idealized self here. Sign up to Ideapod’s newsletters for more like this.

Over the next three days, I’m going to share some key life lessons I learned from contemporary shaman, Rudá Iandê.

I’ve had the pleasure to learn from Rudá from his Masterclass (Out of the Box), personal conversations, and through his new book (Laughing in the Face of Chaos).

(Quick note: Out of the Box and Tribe members get access to Laughing in the Face of Chaos. Not yet a Tribe member? Join here.)

I don’t want to jinx it and say that his work has been life-changing (and honestly, I don’t think Rudá would want me throwing that around so willy-nilly), but his insight has been really profound and helped me navigate some tricky issues I’ve handled in the last couple of months.

The first lesson I want to share with you is the power myths hold over us.

I’m not just talking about myths like Jason and the Golden Fleece (though these stories are powerful in their own way); I’m talking about the myths that we as humans and as a society buy into.

I’m talking about myths like good & evil, success & failure, happiness & misery.

These are, according to Rudá, “more than just stories: they are social programming that digs deep inside the unconscious minds, fertilize our ideas, and inspire our actions.”

These divisions (good & evil, success & failure) are not objective, unchanging values; they’re deeply embedded concepts that we as a society have bought into because they are useful for allowing us as a group to survive.

Think about it: good & evil. It’s very useful for us as a collective to accept that certain acts that harm society are evil. This isn’t a bad thing at all — it helps us work together!

But these myths don’t stop there, do they? No, “every religion and ideology preaches that we are fundamentally good, and for some mysterious reason, got corrupted and ended up with some evilness inside, which we’re supposed to fight…”

That’s a lot different than “that action is evil.” This is us buying into the fact that we have evilness within ourselves that we need to fight!

What does this “evilness” look like? It often looks like anything that runs counter to what the collective wants.

Anger. Envy. Lust. Pride.

We’re penalizing ourselves for feeling real emotions that are part of our real being.

And we’re saying that these feelings — these natural feelings that inhabit us — are somehow less than human.

We are, in short, telling part of ourselves that “you don’t belong.” “You’re evil.”

Yikes. This is, pardon my language, all sort of fucked up.

So what are we supposed to do about it?

Listen to what Rudá has to say:

“We’re not supposed to be good. We do our best, and this should be reason enough to be proud of ourselves…overcoming your destructiveness and acting from a place of consciousness and love can be really hard. There will be times when you fail, and you don’t deserve self-punishment for that. There will be times when you succeed, and such victories deserve to be respected and celebrated.”

I really connected with what Rudá had to say, here. We aren’t perfect. We aren’t even “good” (whatever that means). Instead, we’re complicated beings who do our best. We fail. Failure is organic. It doesn’t define us. The way that we measure up to these myths does not define us.

I want to take a look at another myth before I leave you: the myth of happiness.

It’s not a myth to be happy, let’s get that out of the way. There are plenty of days that I’m as happy as a clam at high tide!

No, it’s a myth that we are always supposed to be happy.

“Human life is a holistic experience,” Rudá writes, “It’s emotionally dynamic, beautiful, painful, and mysterious. But we can’t embrace the dynamic nature of life if we believe that we’re only supposed to be experiencing one half of the equation.”

Happiness is great — but it’s just one part of being a human. Sadness, anger, confusion, guilt — these are real and valid emotions. We need to embrace and accept their power.

So why does society tell us otherwise?

According to Rudá, it’s because society wants us to chase happiness in order to prop up consumer culture — which in turn props up the economy. Unhappy? Buy a new tv. Go on vacation. Join a gym. Spend money.

Sure that may be great for society, but is it great for you?

Is denying yourself your whole slate of emotions good for you?

I think you know the answer.

Thanks for reading, Ideapod fam. I’ll be back tomorrow to tackle another one of the lessons I learned from Rudá. Next time, we’ll be talking about another radical take on acceptance: embracing your body.

In the meantime, here is how you can start reading Laughing in the Face of Chaos by Rudá Iandê:

==> Laughing in the Face of Chaos eBook ($19)

==> Access all of Ideapod’s eBooks with Tribe membership for $9.50 monthly (with a free 7-day trial)

All the best,
Nathan Den

Picture of Nathan Dennis

Nathan Dennis

Nathan Dennis is a Manhattan based playwright and poet of Floridian extraction. A graduate of NYU Tisch Department of Dramatic Writing, he served as a Rita and Burton Goldberg Fellow, and was awarded Outstanding Writing for the Stage in Spring of 2015. His most recent play, Lord of Florida, was workshopped by PrismHouse Theatre Company in the Fall of 2017.

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