Counselor's Corner: Embracing the moment, good or bad, is a key to happiness

"Life is difficult" are the first three words in M Scott Peck's classic book "The Road Less Traveled." These are very accurate words. Life is really not Utopia. It is difficult. But difficulty and struggles do not equal sadness. Pain, poverty and tragedy are not the opposite of joy and happiness. We live in a culture that equates happiness with comfort and financial success. Finances and comfort do not bring happiness. I just read an article that stated that Las Vegas is the saddest city in the United States. This city of beautiful hotels, casino mansions, fabulous and successful performers, and where so many people go on vacation is actually a very sad place. Is it a surprise? Another sad city is St. Petersburg, Florida and a couple of other Florida cities. This is where people go to retire in the warm sun. Comfortable retirement and beautiful hotels do not bring happiness. So what brings happiness? We have enough information to know that money doesn't bring happiness. We also know that all of us will suffer and we will all die. Cancer, illness, accidents, human failures are all part of our everyday lives. It is never what happens to us that causes us to remain miserable. It is what we do with what happens to us. When we embrace what is happening in the present moment we are propelled to a deeper, reflective experience. It may be a moment of joy or a moment of sorrow. It makes no difference. When I embrace this moment without fighting it I become a deeper, more involved person in life. At the bottom of every moment of life we can discover an experience of God. Why? Because when we stop fighting pain and stop fighting joy, we become more sensitive to what is happening at the moment. Nothing becomes an enemy any more but only an occasion to go deeper. We learn from every moment of life. Joy comes from embracing pain that is upon us. Stress comes from a continual effort to avoid pain. No one falls apart from embracing the emotional or physical pain that is upon them. We fall apart from our fear of experiencing the pain that is there. It doesn't mean we can't get help with our pain. Medication is necessary at times. But when medication, drugs, alcohol, food, or whatever else we might use to distract ourselves from the everyday pain of life becomes a habit, we begin to regress in life. It is like going forward and then starting to walk backwards. We all do this and as a result we miss so many opportunities for discovering a deeper sense of joy and happiness. When I think about people who have influenced my life in a positive manner, I always remember men and women who embraced struggle and embraced other people. My Italian grandmother lost two husbands, and a son and a number of siblings and kept going forward with kindness and love for my brother and I and our three cousins. We still reminisce about her with joy and laughter and gratitude. My uncle lived until 92 and suffered many diminishments, the death of two wives and even in his 92nd year when I visited him he would ask how my wife was doing with genuine interest. He had empathy. Joy results from embracing what is before us. So does happiness. In this month of December as we prepare for Christmas, the music in the air, the beautiful decorations, and the anticipation of gifts and gatherings become equated with happiness and joy. The reality is not the music, gifts or gatherings but what we do as we buy the gifts, how we act and embrace the gatherings and how we pay attention to the beautiful lights and decorations. Last night my wife and I had our four grandchildren at our home while their parents had a night out. Anticipating this evening was at first difficult. Then I realized that I needed to embrace this evening with four energetic grandchildren from ages 3 to 6. In the act of embracing this evening, I discovered such joy and wisdom coming from each grandchild. What could have been a fearful, tiring evening became an energizing, wisdom filled evening. Each grandchild became a gift to me. At 10:30 in the evening when finally after stories were done, the little munchkins finally went to sleep. Grandma and Grandpa smiled contentedly and tiredly. It was worth it. It was another lesson in embracing what was before me. It became a joy. I have one brother, five years younger. I have watched him from childhood embrace whatever came his way. Whatever happens he keeps going forward with a joyous spirit. He has been very successful in life but his success is not what brings him happiness. It is his ability to face whatever comes his way. I have watched my wife embrace her cancer with open mind and heart. She embraced it with courage and keeps going forward with peace and love in her heart. Now cancer free she first allowed the tears to flow freely. She just embraced it. Last Friday I had an early surprise birthday party for my wife. Forty eight people gathered for a delicious dinner. She was so surprised. Forty percent of the people there had also been at our wedding 38 years ago. It was a beautiful, love -filled evening. In the many tributes to Alice, it was observed of all the little things she had done for people for so many years. She has the capacity to pay attention to the moment be it joyful or painful. She knows what Resurrection means because she knows how to embrace what is before her. Each of you have had similar experiences. Reflect on them Treasure them. Yes, life is difficult. But difficulty is the not the opposite or obstacle to happiness. It is in embracing the difficulty that happiness and joy begins. It is in embracing the moment of life where God meets us and we meet God. This has been my personal experience and it is the experience I have observed in others over many decades of life. Joy, happiness and pain - they are all connected. Fred Cavaiani is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Psychologist with a private practice in Troy. He is the founder of Marriage Growth Center, a consultant for the Detroit Medical Center, and Henry Ford Medical Center. He conducts numerous programs for groups throughout Southeastern Michigan. He can be reached at (248)362-3340. His e-mail address is: and his website is Published: Thu, Dec 8, 2011