Back in February I wrote a post about working through painful situations and how much we learn and gain from the process. This was certainly not an original idea on my part since there are a multitude of self-help books that are dedicated entirely to the subject, and I must receive at least three emails a week that also focus on it specifically. The fact that pain is a powerful teacher is something that most of us have experienced firsthand at one time or another. It certainly does help us to see our own limitations, and to recognize areas of our lives that need to be taken in a different direction. We learn the importance of patience and faith, and we learn to hold on as tightly as we can to the belief that a larger force has put us on this path for a reason. Sometimes we come to realize the full meaning of the phrase “life turns on a dime,” and the absolute fragility of all that we may have taken for granted leaves us speechless. That was certainly the way it was for me. With that comes a new appreciation of what we have, who we love, and what we truly want. We all know the process: we hurt, we heal, we learn, and when we’re ready, we feel hopeful again for the future.
My experience last winter still amazes me, and I’m grateful everyday for the profound awareness it gave me of how much life can truly change in just one instant. I’d always believed Kelly Clarkson was onto something when she said “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” but I never thought I’d experience it in such a big way. In April, my life changed again, also in an instant, and hope was replaced by a deep and joyful certainty. It has made me wonder that if pain can be such a powerful teacher, what are the lessons to be learned from happiness? And, more importantly, do we disregard them because we believe that painful things make us emotionally strong and lean, whereas happy ones just make us fat and lazy? If that’s the case, I believe it may come from the fact that many of us inherently believe that loss and loneliness truly are the human conditions, and so the process of going through them is what unites us as fellow beings on this planet. We never seem to want to trust that happiness can last, for ourselves or for others, and that it can be just as cohesive. What if we look at it differently as Maggie Nelson suggests in her book Bluets? She writes, “Imagine someone saying, ‘Our fundamental situation is joyful.’ Now imagine believing it. Or forget belief: imagine feeling, even if for a moment that it were true.” What would happen if we began to believe that moments of happiness have just as much to teach us as those of sadness?
I believe that there definitely are lessons to be learned from joy. For starters, I think that happiness teaches us how to expand our hearts. Let’s take love as an example. When we let a person in that we love truly and completely, and that feeling is reciprocated, we suddenly have so much more room in our hearts for everyone else that we love. And we have more time and sincere interest. It would seem as though just the opposite should be true, but it simply isn’t. Pain and sadness narrow our focus because they require us to turn inward to work through them, and we expend massive amounts of energy in the process. This limits what we’re able to give to other people in a profound way. In that sense we can say that happiness also teaches us how to feel energized, and harnessing that energy can help us to learn just how much we’re capable of giving. It cushions us as well. When we experience pain, our edges become sharp and hard, and everything with which we come into contact bruises us. Happiness makes us softer, sure, but through that softness we learn the value of empathy and compassion, and we realize how much we want to extend them to others. The moment we act on that realization we create cohesion, and we take the first step towards making Maggie Nelson’s suggestion into a reality.
Today’s cocktail focused on a strawberry dill shrub made by Shrub District that I recently found at my local Wegman’s store. Strawberries symbolize joie de vivre and the acceptance of the good things that life is offering us. There’s no reason to wait for the other shoe to drop if we believe in our hearts that it never will. Dill also represents good fortune, good spirits, and preservation, which is key, because there is nothing lazy about being happy. To the contrary, it is our responsibility to maintain that happiness, to learn all that it can teach us, and to allow it to infuse our lives with a sense of humanity and purpose. I used tequila as my base because I had used it in my Painful Measures cocktail back in February, and I added Velvet Falernum because it is the adult equivalent of gumdrop candy. Who can pass up that kind of joy?? Lemon juice and simple syrup balanced the cocktail on either side of the shrub, but when I tasted it I found that it needed just a bit of something more to bring it into focus. Hella’s smoked chili bitters were exactly what I was looking for, along with some of black pepper as a garnish. The drink had beautiful smoothness, with just a little kick to remind us that happiness can soothe our souls and energize our spirits all the same time. Cheers everyone. Happy Friday! Have a joyful weekend!
Add the dill and the strawberry to the shaker tin with the shrub and the simple syrup. Muddle gently. Add the remaining ingredients along with ice. Shake until very cold. Double strain into a chilled cocktail coupe and garnish with a strawberry slice and some black pepper. Enjoy!