Existential Psychology

Happiness And Loss

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Marlene Lauda: “What’s the matter?”
Nicki Lauda: “Happiness is the enemy. It weakens you. Puts doubt in your mind. Suddenly you have something to lose.”
Marlene Lauda: “When you call happiness an enemy, then it’s too late. Then you’ve already lost.”
(From the movie Rush)

What a great response by Marlene. The specter of impermanence hangs over everything we do. We know in the back of our minds that we will one day lose everything and everyone dear to us. This is so painful, it creates a lot of suffering. One solution is to try to isolate ourselves from anything with the potential to hurt us, to keep ourselves from the joys of life because we know that they will one day turn into sorrows.

The amount of pain you feel when something is lost to you is equivalent to how much you loved it before it was lost to you. Little importance little grief huge importance huge grief. Incidentally, this idea has provided a lot of relief to people grieving the death of a loved one, helping to instill a sense of meaning around what they are going through. If they hadn’t cared at all about this person, then they wouldn’t be suffering at all right now. So their suffering, their painful feelings of longing and hopelessness, are a testament to the deceased, proof of how much they were loved.

It’s scary to open yourself up to loss, but far scarier to never experience the best of human existence. Existence is change, and without change you never would have been born in the first place. The Buddha teaches us to let go of attachments, but he doesn’t mean to become emotionally detached or to section ourselves off from the world, rather he means to recognize that all attachment is illusion in that it’s only temporary. If you have this insight from the get go then loss can’t hurt you in the same way it did before because you were already prepared for it, you’d let go of your illusions that your happiness could last forever. It can’t, because all life is change, but this doesn’t mean that you should keep yourself from all that life has to offer. Actually it means just the opposite. Time is short and we have to fully grab onto life while we can by opening ourselves up to happiness and connection.