Dr. John Demartini is a world-renowned specialist on human behavior, a researcher, author and global educator. He has studied over 30,000 books across most all the defined academic disciplines and has synthesized the wisdom of the ages, which he shares on stage in over 100 countries around the world.
Today, Dr. Demartini shares his views on why pursuing a life of immediate gratifying happiness might be making you feel even more sad, and why it would be wise instead to appreciate and fulfill your life through more purposeful pursuits and meaning.
The topic of today’s discussion is fascinating for me – the idea that the pursuit of happiness can result in sadness. What led you to the point where you decided to no longer pursue happiness as a goal?
Many years ago, I did an experiment in which I pursued the one-sided fantasy of being happy, positive, and “up” all the time. I attempted many different strategies only to discover that I have a built-in thermostat to keep me centered. In each one of our lives, there is two sides or polarities like within a magnet – up and down, happy and sad, kind and cruel, positive and negative. It was then that I realized that the pursuit of one-sidedness – for example, happiness without sadness – was the very source of my aggravations and frustrations. I found that embracing and appreciating the contribution that both sides of myself and the world around me has to offer was a way more meaningful objective.
Let’s put this into context. If you met an individual at a party and asked him if he was always nice but never mean, always kind but never cruel, always positive but never negative, and always giving but never taking, you’d be very suspicious if he agreed. However, if he replied that he would sometimes be kind and sometimes cruel, and that he would sometimes be happy and sometimes sad, you would probably find that his balanced response sat more comfortably with you.
So, I’m not going to promote the idea of a one-sided life – it may be an opium for the masses but it doesn’t actually exist. What it does do, however, is make money and sell books because many people love the idea of a life of all pleasure and no pain, all upsides and no downsides, and all gain with no pain. As a result, many people express feelings of depression when their current reality doesn’t match up to their unrealistic fantasies.
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I’m certain that everlasting happiness does not exist. It goes against the nature of our creative existence. Because the purpose of life isn’t to pursue happiness – it’s about loving the winding road that leads us to places in our hearts, minds and physical experience that become meaningful. All these roads are a blend of happy and sad, good and bad experiences. It would be wise to see the magnificence of life, no matter what form of high and low it takes, and to find the blessings and be grateful for whatever it is that life confronts you with. Extracting the mean, or the balance between the polarities is what centers and fulfills your life long term. Your intuition is attempting to reveal the unconscious downsides when you are consciously infatuated or elated and the unconscious upsides when you are consciously resentful or depressed. It is attempting to bring you back into full or whole or balanced consciousness.
One of your most popular programs is The Breakthrough Experience in which you help people recognise and dissolve many of their fantasies about what their lives “should” look like. In your experience, what fantasies come up most often?
A popular fantasy is expecting another individual to be one-sided – always up never down, always positive never negative, always kind never cruel, etc. Whenever you have an expectation of any individual to be one-sided, you create a false expectation that they can never live up to. So, to expect a human being to be one-sided is to set yourself up for potential feelings of anger and aggression towards them, perhaps even betrayal, irritability, frustration or hatred. Once again, you are comparing your current reality to a one-sided fantasy of another individual that doesn’t exist, nor can it ever exist, because it is impossible – monopoles of behavior are illusive.
Another popular fantasy is when you expect an individual to live according to your values. You are then more likely to expect them to support you more than challenge you, and to make decisions based on your values and not their own. This can lead to feelings of anger, negativity, conflict and betrayal, instead of understanding that each individual lives by their own set of values.
I often come across individuals with unrealistic one-sided expectations of themselves. For example, they might believe that they can only be a “good” mother if they are always happy never sad, always positive never negative, and always supportive never challenging. They might then feel like they are failing when they continue to fall short of the impossible goal they have set for themselves.
Then there are those with an unrealistic expectation of the world, including those who believe they can create and live in a peaceful world without conflict. This often results in a “victim mentality” and feelings of despair and disillusionment when their one-sided fantasy doesn’t materialize.
You said earlier that believing in these very one-sided fantasies can result in feelings of depression?
Depression is often the result of comparing your current reality to a one-sided fantasy. When you are willing to embrace both sides of life, you are more likely to love and appreciate yourself. I have yet to meet a human being who does not want to be loved and appreciated for who they are instead of who someone else thinks they “should” be. This includes BOTH sides of who they are – up and down, positive and negative, honest and dishonest, kind and cruel.
Think of it this way – how are you going to love yourself if you’re trying to get rid of half of yourself? How are you going to love your life if you’re trying to get rid of half of it? How are you going to love people if you’re going to try to get rid of half of them?
I have no desire to get rid of half of myself – I want to be loved for both sides. So, I refuse to promote a one-sided pursuit of happiness without sadness because I’ve not ever met anybody that managed to achieve it. What interests me, and what I’ve spent my life researching and teaching, is mastering your life, which includes embracing both sides of yourself and living according to your highest values.
How would you recommend that someone begin the process of accepting both sides of themselves and their life? This could prove challenging if they have spent years pursuing happiness and other one-sided fantasies.
There’s one thing I would really like to emphasize to people in that situation – you’re a unique individual with a unique set of values, experiences, and vantage points. Your values are totally unique, almost like a fingerprint, and you perceive life differently from everybody that you’ll ever meet. You’re not ever going to be like everybody else. You have your own pathway. And the magnificence of who you are and the way your life is, is far greater than any fantasies you compare it to.
Sometimes we think we can improve upon the magnificence of the way it is by fantasizing about how it “should” be. I’m a firm believer in facing the grounded-ness of life and appreciating it as it is. That’s when you have fulfillment in life – fulfillment comes when there’s a congruency between what you expect and what you get.
When you’re not inspired or doing something meaningful to you, you’re likely to begin looking for pleasure without pain, and happiness without sadness. And guess what? There’ll be somebody out there to sell you that. But if you live according to your own unique set of values, live by priority and fill your day with truly meaningful high priority actions that serve people and that make a difference, you will feel inspired to solve problems and not avoid them, and search for challenges to solve instead of avoiding them. In doing so, you will be less likely to have distress and illness, which are feedback mechanisms to try and get you to be objective and balanced with realistic expectations.
I’m a firm believer that you can empower all areas of your life, and with that will come pains and pleasures, support and challenge, eases and difficulties. There’ll be things that will be supportive and challenging every moment of the way. When you get grounded in that and understand that, you can do amazing things. Escaping and dissociating from reality is not the way to empower yourself or do something amazing on the planet. As the Buddha says, the desire for that which is unobtainable and the desire to avoid that which is unavoidable is a source of human suffering.
So, I’m interested in a purposeful life, a mission for life, not a passionate, immediate, gratifying fantasy life that sets you up for defeat.
Any final thoughts on the pursuit of one-sided fantasies?
If you want to go and take yourself to another level, it’s not going to come from fantasies. It’s not going to come from hoping and praying. It’s going to come from action. It’s going to take strategic planning. It’s going to take foresight and mitigating risks.
If you haven’t already done the free value-determination process on my website, then I would love you to do so. Identifying your list of values is a game-changer.
And remember, you’re two-sided. You don’t need to get rid of half of yourself to love yourself. And no matter what you’ve done or not done, you’re still worthy of love.
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