In the sixth century B.C., Greek philosopher Parmenides remarked that the world was a dichotomous one that was divided into contrasting pairs of opposites. In his view, one particular set of opposites prevailed over the other. For instance, in considering pairs such as happiness and sadness, he believed that happiness triumphed over sadness. Likewise, notions of warmth, lightness, and being were deemed as positive, while their corresponding halves – coldness, weight, and non-being – were seen to be negative.

It seems to naturally follow, then, that we ought to aspire to lead a life replete with all that is positive, as outlined by Parmenides, and to avoid the negatives as best as we can.

Yet, should this necessarily be so?

Might we be able to recognise happiness in life, without having experienced sadness? Could we know light, if darkness did not exist? Would the concept of beauty be comprehensible to us, without having seen ugliness? Or, the notion of love, in the absence of loss? Could we appreciate life, without the recognition of death? And what would wisdom mean to us, should we not be cognizant of ignorance?

happiness-paradox-tree-osho_insta

“Happiness is like a tree going into the sky, and sadness is like the roots going down into the womb of the earth. The higher a tree goes, the deeper its roots.” – Osho

The duality inherent in our existence appears to be both inescapable and indubitable, and it is this very duality that allows us to pursue an intense and fulfilling life, for any one positive half (happiness) is in fact so intricately and firmly linked to its corresponding negative half (sadness) insofar as an individual could not possibly immerse in the full extent of exhilaration without having experienced, to a similar extent, that of melancholy. Our appreciation of joy is, therefore, commensurately intensified by the extent of our experience of misery.

In the same vein, Nietzsche commented on the interdependence between the positive and negative elements in our lives:

You have the choice: either as little displeasure as possible, painlessness in brief… or as much displeasure as possible as the price for the growth of an abundance of subtle pleasures and joys that have rarely been relished yet? If you decide for the former and desire to diminish and lower the level of human pain, you also have to diminish and lower the level of their capacity for joy. – Friedrich Nietzsche

As such, in aspiring to live a life filled only with all that is positive, we fail to recognise the inherent interdependence underlying the dichotomy between both extremes. Without having experienced the inverse, we would never be able to truly appreciate the full potential of the good in our lives.

The art of living, then, lies in our adroitness in utilising and transforming the negatives in our lives into capacities for the positive. Rather than perceiving our trials and tribulations as undesirable, we should instead consider these difficulties and sufferings as offerings of wisdom in veiled form, waiting to be uncovered and relished in their full glory.

It is only in acknowledging this unequivocal interdependence and learning to cultivate the ineluctable negatives in our lives are we able to amplify our appreciation and gratification from that which is good, positive, and desirable, and ultimately, enable us to live a life that is impassioned, meaningful, and worthwhile.

  • Kevin J. Lennon

    This is a powerful insight to our everyday existence. I have many times been thankful for the challenges and burdens of my life in that they teach me to appreciate the abundant blessings I have experienced. As with almost every high and low I have ever experienced the most important thing to do is to maintain a perspective on the relative high and low. I think this theory also fits my own elemental understanding of interconnectedness and the profound universe that surrounds us all. Deep thoughts indeed!

    • Thanks for your kind words and also for sharing your experience, Kevin. May we all continue to harness the inevitable sufferings in our everyday lives and transform them into learning opportunities and capabilities that help us to become stronger and more resilient!

  • meeshee

    Here is my story that reflects perfectly what this author is talking about…

    Mother never loved me.
    I was the ugly duckling. My
    mother would call me such hurtful names.
    She would call me “fat fu-ck”.
    She had told me “you should of been born dead”. Had 2 beautiful thin sisters. I was verbally abused by my mother. I now have children of my own, and for those
    who are afraid to have children because they think they will hurt their own
    children as their moms have hurt them…don’t be afraid. My mother hurt me so deeply that I would
    NEVER want to cause anyone that same pain, let alone my own children. People say that I broke the cycle of
    abuse. I now look back at my childhood
    and realize something terribly was wrong in my mothers life to have treated me
    that way and I feel so sorry for. I
    wonder what her childhood was like and where she learned this from. I was robbed of my self-esteem and
    self-worth. I was afraid of people and
    kept to myself. When I was teased at
    school for being overweight, it was just to me a validation of the things my mom was telling me at
    home. I spent over 20 years of my adult
    life in counseling. I had always
    believed that I was a flawed individual.
    No one should ever have the power to dictate someone else’s self
    worth. SELF esteem is just that. It is not called mom-esteem. It is too bad that mom will never see past my
    outwardly appearance to ever even know the amazing person I am on the
    inside. I am a more compassionate, kind,
    and loving person because of the abuse I endured. I am still an overweight person as I was as a
    child, but I love myself more today, as I am, than every before. I had lost 80 pounds and had surgery because
    I wanted to please my mom. She never once
    told me anything when I lost the weight.
    I have come to terms with my childhood, and have moved on to please
    myself and give myself the love I never had as a child. I have learned to not expect anything from my
    mom. Without hoping one day she will change,
    and maybe say I love you etc,, I am protecting myself from further hurt and
    pain. To all those that have been abused
    in any type of abusive situation, turn that pain into power to be someone who
    can offer hope, love, and help to others.
    Words are so amazingly powerful.
    My mother taught me how bad words could wound someone…and it made me
    think…in the complete opposite direction.
    If words can be that powerful, and I instilled positive words into my
    life, could the positive words have the same amount of power? And the answer to that is YES!! I wish everyone peace, love, and
    kindness. I hope my mother can one day
    fully love herself and realize that happiness lies within our selves

    • kishore kumar

      nice