In Search of Happiness in a Dichotomous World

by Fernando Perfas

Photo by Alan de la Cruz on Unsplash

Dichotomy or polarity seems an inherent part of reality. In fact, the building block of the material universe, the atom, is a polarity. It is held together by particles of opposing forces, protons, and electrons. And the dynamic push-pull of atomic particles keeps things together, not unlike how the contents of the cosmos work. When this balance is destabilized, something drastic happens, like a nuclear explosion, where tremendous destructive energy is released.

In life, there are many analogs of atomic polarity not only in the physical or material realm but also mentally or psychologically. To begin with, man has a bicameral brain, the right and left hemispheres, which are similar in structure but distinct from each other in some of their functions. It is hard to imagine a person with only one side of the brain. To live fully and feel whole, man must have both hemispheres functioning. Perhaps, man’s propensity to split things into categories is, in fact, an artifact of the way the brain is designed. We tend to see things in pairs of opposites. For example, it’s hard to imagine beauty without thinking of ugliness or rich and poor, good and bad, right and wrong, light and darkness, on and on ad infinitum. In other words, we perceive and think in duality, which often leads us to difficulties. It’s like having the mind caught in a dialectical cobweb.

Conflict often arises from competing parties holding different or opposing positions on, for example, politics, ideology, religion, culture, values, race, etc. It is also difficult to keep competing ideas in our heads without favoring one over the other. Once we choose, we tend to cling to it as if it’s the only truth, and those who hold different ideas are “enemies.” The position we hold (thesis) will breed its opposite (antithesis), and conflict arises until a compromise (synthesis) is reached. Eventually, this cycle begins again, and it continues with each cycle producing better outcomes than ever before. The idea of dialectics started with the Greeks, particularly Zeno of Elea, Socrates, and Plato. Later a more refined application was developed by the philosopher Hegel. Engels and Marx later applied it in developing the theory of dialectical materialism.

“Man is a creature of pleasure. We are seriously motivated to avoid pain and increase our happiness, mostly through pleasurable things or experiences. We spend most of our waking consciousness pursuing happiness and avoidance of pain. “

This dichotomy rules our life in a very deep sense. Man is a creature of pleasure. We are seriously motivated to avoid pain and increase our happiness, mostly through pleasurable things or experiences. We spend most of our waking consciousness pursuing happiness and avoidance of pain. Think about this for a moment. We approach any potential for suffering or unhappiness with aversion, and we chase and get attached to things that promise happiness. We crave power and money, thinking they afford us with sources of happiness and insulate us from suffering. We develop a strong attachment to both and react with an aversion to their absence.

But what if we learn to transcend our dichotomous thinking and begin to see that polar opposites are expressions of unity, much like the two sides of a coin? What if, instead of responding with aversion or attachment to whatever comes our way, we approach them with detachment? It sounds like a superhuman feat to have the ability to defy the natural inclinations of the mind. In fact, this is what Buddhist saints, yogis, Christian saints, and enlightened souls can do. They have achieved a level of enlightenment and realization to see clearly the seeming duality we perceive and encounter in life as an illusion. It appears they have renounced earthly life because of their indifference towards mundane things. They may be participants in regular human affairs yet unencumbered by the mind’s fetters of aversion and attachment.

They may look as if they live poorly or are indifferent to regular human wants, but they are rich in spirit. They are no more at the mercy of dualistic thinking, for they comprehend the unity of things underneath their seeming polarity. They are impervious to the deceptive glare of happiness or aversion to suffering, pain or pleasure, and having or not having. They simply dwell in the blissful experience of freedom from the dichotomy of reality.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  Dr. Fernando B. Perfas is an addiction specialist who has written several books and articles on the subject. He currently provides training and consulting services to various government and non-government drug treatment agencies regarding drug treatment and prevention approaches. He can be reached at

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