“Without Darkness, One Cannot Know Light” – My Problem With Quotes On Happiness

I can’t resist inspirational quotes. Neither can I ignore any excuse to celebrate. Naturally, International Happiness Day makes me smile – it offers a chance to appreciate life and waste time browsing galleries of cheesy mottos (even if this year’s features were slightly overshadowed by the eclipse). I have spent so many hours surfing Google Images that it’s a rarity I find one that I haven’t read before, although today’s new favourite is “Take Risks. If you win, you will be happy. If you lose, you will be wise”. I don’t mind seeing the same sayings but there are some that have often made me feel uneasy – those that tell you to experience sadness before you understand happiness. Although I think many are clumsily worded, I’ve started to recognise that they only mean well.

“Without darkness, one cannot know light”, and its many variations, is classic Tumblr fodder and I’ve always contested its logic. I can, for example, enjoy a pickle-laden brioche-bunned burger without the need to taste a bland bap and quarter pounder first. There’s also the “Stars can’t shine without a little darkness” which does its rounds in Skinny Caps against a night sky that has always seemed a little too bleak for me, especially when I make it bleaker by reminding myself that all those shining stars are long dead anyway. Finally, there’s the one that makes me wince more than any other, and not just because of its rhyme scheme – “Everyone wants happiness. No one wants pain. But you can’t have a rainbow, without a little rain” – as if we all become special sparkly beings once we’ve suffered.

Although I still believe that the idea that you need sadness to understand happiness is mainly bollocks, I do appreciate how a Michelin-starred meal does taste even better after a diet of Pot Noodles (or at least I imagine it does…). Yes, these are all terrible clichés but there is some truth in the “Sometimes you need those bad days to help you appreciate the good ones” motto. I used to feel that they only served to fetishise sadness – put it this way, if you are lucky enough to only know the light, please don’t ever search for the dark just for a point of comparison. The reality, however, is that at some point in our lives, we will all see the black clouds and once the skies clear, everything might seem a little brighter than before. This brand of Instagram inspiration is not aiming to dismiss the reality of sadness but rather encourage resilience, and I will happily take empowerment in any form including filters and fancy fonts.

Being told that you’ll become a stronger person while you’re struggling never seems to make sense but they become the truest words when you’re back smiling and laughing. I am happy, and it makes me even happier to say that. I feel like I am the strongest version of myself – up to now. I am still young, I am still naïve and I am most certainly still learning but I’ve got my denim sleeves rolled up like I’m Rosie the Riveter. As the internet once told me, “Forget what hurt you but never forget what it taught you”.

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