Buddhism warns against embracing joy uncritically, without understanding its consequences. The joy that we get from each other, from human connectedness and the feeling that we are not alone, is a wondrous thing, but it also opens us up to the possibility of pain.

For with any joy comes a desire to continue that joy. And any desire creates the possibility of despair and loss. The greater is our need for connection, the more vulnerable we might be to the potential for pain.

In the West we generally don’t question the costs of our desire for joy. “Happiness is good” is a given, built into our culture like a birthright, and therefore into each individual psyche. The “third way” of Buddhism – to seek to forge a path through life that accepts joy, but is more consciously aware of the potential danger, is slightly alien to our general cultural priorities.

I often wish I were better prepared to dive into the Buddhist way of thinking from time to time – to have the mindfulness to emotionally distance myself from both my joy and my desire, so that I can see things clearly for what they are, unclouded by the fear of loss, and thereby make better choices.

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