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Moments come and go. Days pass by, turning into weeks, then months, then years. You and the life you lead are constantly changing. Nothing is permanent.
It is beneficial to remind yourself of this as you confront adversity and as negative emotions become overwhelming. At some point, nearly all of us experience grief resulting from the loss of a loved one. Many of us will be in states of sadness, pain, and anguish over a breakup or a termination of a job. And a number of us will become the unfortunate victims of crimes or wrongdoings.
Considering these possibilities doesn’t have to be morbid or morose. There’s no denying that each of us will experience challenges to our well-being over which we have no control. If we are able to face these situations knowing that nothing is permanent, then we are more likely to appropriately handle and overcome them.
“Awareness of impermanence and appreciation of our human potential will give us a sense of urgency that we must use every precious moment.” – Dalai Lama
Just as negative occurrences are not permanent, neither are positive ones. Realizing this is important to constructing a balanced perspective. Becoming aware of the impermanence of all situations can fuel one’s passion for relishing and savoring the wonderful parts of life.
Rather than viewing these situations as inevitable, one can begin to see them as the precious gifts that they are.
Accepting Impermanence Helps Cultivate Positive Well-Being
While clinical psychology has largely focused on diagnosing and treating mental illness and diseases, positive psychology is concerned with cultivating positive well-being, not merely eliminating negative mental states.
A 2006 study examined how Buddhist traditions and modern Western ideologies could be combined to attain mental balance (Wallace & Shapiro, 2006). This desired mental balance is predicated on the idea of impermanence, a foundational Buddhist concept.
Living with balanced mental states that are founded in impermanence counteracts the negative cycles of rumination that cause many people to suffer.
It’s one reason why Buddhist ideas have made their way into mainstream Western culture: All people seek to live with a calm and relaxed mind.
Cope More Easily With Trying Times
Research in the field of positive psychology suggests that external factors don’t determine one’s happiness. Certainly, positive external factors compound and complement one’s overall contentment, but internal factors are required to achieve an authentically joyous life.
Genuine happiness comes from within, and it can be cultivated through mindfulness meditation and other activities, including gratitude journaling, awe journaling, and focusing on the good.
In difficult times, people are often unhappy because they lost some of the external things to which they have attachments. In some cases, even the mere threat of losing an external element is enough to raise negative emotions.
Impermanence allows people to cope more easily with trying times. If someone comes to the conclusion that life is not permanent, and neither is anything in it (like one’s partner, children, job, physical capabilities, financial and social status), then one is more likely to react gracefully when something perceived as valuable is taken away (LaBier, 2012).
You Can’t Force Happiness
According to Buddhism, attachment is the root of suffering, and it is usually the reason why impermanence is difficult to fathom for many people. Rationally accepting that everyone and everything is temporary is a refreshing concept, and whether you want to believe it or not, it’s true.
It is also important to understand that grasping for positive thoughts, emotions, and occurrences in life is not what positive psychology suggests. If you accept the notion of impermanence but still attempt to force happiness and joy into your life, you are missing the point.
We each have the capacity to enjoy our lives completely as long as we understand that negative situations are unavoidable and none of our experiences last forever. Everything in your life, including yourself, has an expiration date.
This quote from Paul T.P. Wong (2007), a positive psychologist specializing in Chinese traditions, beautifully sums up the concept of impermanence.
It is excerpted from a paper he wrote outlining the differences between positive psychology in America and China:
Craving for happiness necessarily causes us to fear or reject anything that causes unhappiness or pain. Attachment to possession and achievement invariably leads to disappointment and disillusionment, because everything is impermanent. Thus, the positive psychology of pursuing positive experiences and avoiding negative experiences is counterproductive, because the very focus on happiness contains the seed of unhappiness and suffering. Failure to embrace life’s experience in its entirety is at the root of suffering.
What do you think about accepting impermanence? Is it a helpful coping mechanism for you? Tell us in the comments below.
LaBier, D. (2012, March 17). Live with impermanence…And discover your true self. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-new-resilience/201203/live-impermanenceand-discover-your-true-self
Wallace, B. A., & Shapiro, S. L. (2006, October). Mental balance and well-being: Building bridges between Buddhism and Western psychology. American Psychologist, 61(7), 690-701. Retrieved from http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/amp/61/7/690/
Wong, Paul T.P. (2007). Chinese Positive Psychology. International Network on Personal Meaning. Retrieved from http://www.meaning.ca/archives/archive/art_Chinese-PP_P_Wong.htm