Can you name one person who has never been sad? It can be anyone – your friend, relatives, boss or someone very wealthy and famous. Chances are that you will find none. This is because everlasting happiness is a myth. No one can stay happy forever. In fact, painful emotions play a critical role in
making us grow stronger and evolve as a better version of ourselves. This is what makes us antifragile.
What is antifragility?
As Tal Ben-Shahr, a positive psychologist and the co-founder of the Happiness Studies Academy explains-
“Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better. This property is behind everything that has changed with time: evolution, culture, ideas, revolutions, political systems, technological innovation, cultural and economic success, corporate
survival, good recipes (say, chicken soup or steak tartare with a drop of cognac), the rise of cities, cultures, legal systems, equatorial forests, bacterial resistance … even our own existence as a species on this planet.”
The concept of antifragility is closely linked to our happiness. Just like our immune system does not collapse but evolves when faced with a disease or the carbon turns into diamond under acute pressure, our antifragile system helps us to cope up with painful emotions and use the experience to grow stronger.
Pain: A partner in happiness
Being in constant pursuit of happiness can actually have an opposite effect from what we desire. Focusing too much on happiness and avoiding negative emotions can cause us to miss out on the complete range of human experiences and limit our personal growth.
Like happiness, pain is an inevitable part of life. It is impossible to eliminate pain, regret, anger, sadness, frustration and other intoxicating emotions from our life. However, the problem is not pain’ itself but our approach of considering pain as our failure in being happy. This is an incorrect assumption – painful emotions are not an indicator of failure but a necessary component of personal development. Rather than seeking happiness as the ultimate goal, we should accept and embrace painful emotions as an integral part of our growth. Unless we learn to face our demons (negative emotions) and deal with them gracefully, it would be impossible to experience life in its entirety and progress towards fulfilment.
The indirect path to happiness
By now, we know that the direct pursuit of happiness is useless. So, is there any indirect path towards it?
Ben-Shahr lights the way through SPIRE, the five elements – Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual, Relational, and Emotional well-being. Investing in each of these 5 elements can help us to pursue happiness indirectly while ensuring that we accept and embrace the painful emotions that will toughen us up and make us grow. While we shall discuss about all the 5 elements in a separate blog, here are a few takeaways for now-
Spiritual well-being can mean much more than practising spirituality with a religious mindset. The sense of spirituality can be found in daily lives and its many aspects, such as
work, family, hobbies, or charitable endeavours. This comes from understanding that whatever you do is not just a task but a calling. When you value your task and recognize the
deeper meaning to it, you are bound to be more successful and experience a sense of joy and fulfilment.
We don’t need to do big things or change our life entirely to be happy. Happiness is in finer details and looking at life with a sense of awe, wonder and awareness. You can start with recognizing the difference that you make every day as you teach your kids, care for your parents, say a kind word to your neighbour or empower your teammates.
Finding things to be happy has a multiplier effect on happiness. The best way to do this is to maintain a gratitude journal. Think about the beautiful gifts that life has bestowed on you and thank the Universe for them.
Remember, happiness is not a destination. It is a life-long journey, a journey that shall also encompass challenges, frustration and grief. The way out is to use our antifragility to sail through these hardships and emerge stronger, better and happier each day.