“There are as many nights as days, and the one is just as long as the other in the year’s course. Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word “happy” would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better to take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.”
– C.G. Jung
During an interview in 1960 Carl Jung was asked, “What do you consider to be more or less basic factors making for happiness in the human mind?” Jung replied:
- Good physical and mental health.
- Good personal and intimate relationships, such as those of marriage, the family, and friendships.
- The faculty for perceiving beauty in art and nature.
- Reasonable standards of living and satisfactory work.
- A philosophic or religious point of view capable of coping successfully with the vicissitudes of life.1
However, this type of happiness is based mostly on exterior factors, which Jung noted later in the interview: “No matter how ideal your situation may be, it does not necessarily guarantee happiness. A relatively slight disturbance of your biological or psychological equilibrium may suffice to destroy your happiness.”1
How then can we be happy regardless of our external experiences?
Suffering and the unlived life
The five factors Jung listed describe a life that is safe, uncomplicated, and familiar. Often, however, there comes a point when that ceases to be enough, and we might experience “unspeakable boredom,” even in the best of circumstances. Such feelings of boredom, a personal loss, or a crisis of some kind may force us from our comfort zone as we deeply consider the “unlived life” outside of our familiar experiences, and truly begin the process of individuation.
As we step into this unknown territory, we often experience suffering. “Coming to terms with oneself is very hard and painful work. It’s actually much easier to blind ourselves to our inner conflicts and to suffer various neurotic symptoms than it is to carry the ultimate cross of becoming an authentic and healthy individual.”2
“The gold is in the dark”
So why choose to walk into the darkness? “Man needs difficulties; they are necessary for health,” Jung wrote. It is through the often troubling experience of contrast that we learn and evolve: “You could not know Warm without Cold, Up without Down, Fast without Slow.”3 Suffering provides a way for us to reconcile opposites and begin to transcend duality, thus developing a “wider and higher consciousness.” Additionally, through holding, forgiving, and accepting the contradictions within ourselves, we develop greater self-love and compassion. From such a place of healing, we also have an improved capacity to love and accept others as they are.
This is, I think, what Jung meant by, “The gold is in the dark.” Through “making the darkness conscious,” by facing our suffering and experiencing it deeply, even if that seems at odds with our happiness, we can find the gold of individuation and self-love. If we are able to endure the night-sea journey of sitting with our suffering long enough to learn from it, it can be transmuted into various gifts, such as increased wisdom, higher consciousness, greater understanding of one’s purpose, or a deepened bond of friendship. When I have looked very closely at my most painful experiences, I have always found this to be true.
While it may not seem so at the time, suffering can be a gift that helps us connect with our wholeness, fulfill our unique promise, shows us our true capabilities, and links us to the Divine. Through truly facing our suffering we can learn to connect to a consciousness within that allows us to experience bliss regardless of our outer circumstances. Upon looking back after having made it through troubled times, we can begin to see the suffering we experienced as a crucible that helped us become a better version of ourselves, and from here we become more able to accept all of life’s experiences with gratitude.
Jung wrote: “Nobody can know what the ultimate things are. We must, therefore, take them as we experience them. And if such experience helps make your life healthier, more beautiful, more complete and more satisfactory to yourself and to those you love, you may safely say: ‘This was the grace of God.’”
- C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters. Edited by William McGuire and R.F.C. Hull.
- Words of Wisdom from Carl Jung, One of Psychology’s Greats. Dr. George Simon.
- The Little Soul and the Sun. Neale Donald Walsch.