I’ve always believed that happiness equated to success. If you are happy, you are successful. No if’s, no and’s, no but’s. Joyfulness, without a shadow of a doubt, means that you are rocking this thing called life. The theory fits pretty snugly into everyday life. When we are feeling cheerful, we sit on top of the world. Nothing shakes us. We are firm in our resolve that if we can keep up this feeling of euphoria then all will remain right in the universe.
However therein lies the problem—we cannot be happy all of the time.
At least, I, for one, can’t. It’s exhausting. I have hundreds of moments throughout the day where stress showers down on me. Periods of heartache and disappointment from the many unforeseen experiences of everyday life. There are times when a myriad of emotions will whitewash me and I will be left with this astounding feeling of nothingness.
It drives me to believe that any emotion other than happiness means I am not doing “it” right. Right? Where did that idea come from? Why do I feel like I am somehow failing when I am anxious? Why do I expect some foreboding disaster to appear when I’m sad? Why do I liken any emotion other than joy with negativity?
When did it stop being acceptable behaviour to feel?
Lately I’ve been “feeling” a lot. Let’s start with my inability to decipher a scam phone call when it is right in front of me (humiliation/anger). Or perhaps we should talk about the fact that I’ve been procrastinating on getting the kids into another after-school activity (guilt). What about how I’ve somehow managed to gain five pounds despite my new workout routine (failure). We are very behind schedule at The Hot Wire and most definitely will not be opening on our sought out date of May 1st (angst).
All of these emotions resulting in a gaping feeling of despondency. If only I could remedy these woes or simply push them away, all would be right in the world once more. However I don’t think life works that way. There will always be sadness and anger and guilt and humiliation. There will always be those uncomfortable moments. If there wasn’t, I don’t think happiness would feel so good.
It doesn’t matter how many scam artists I dodge, or after school programs I cram down my children’s throat or even if I lose 20 pounds—there will always be something else.
We’ve established that there is and always will be a reservoir of emotions at the stem of our existence, but the question now is what to do with that. Clearly allowing it to steer us into even greater emotional disparity is unwise, so what’s left?
Dare I say, we allow ourselves to validate these feelings?
When we feel the crippling anger of being misled for example, instead of trying to push that emotion away what if we honor it? What if we were to spread that feeling out thin enough to wrap ourselves up in it? Allowing every inch of our person to understand what it was feeling. To give ourselves time to grasp why the anger was there in the first place. What if we embraced the “bad” feelings as closely as we do the good ones? What if we granted ourselves the time to work through our emotions rather than condemning them?
Let’s look at how we teach our children for example. When our kids get good marks in school or draw a fine picture we celebrate them accordingly. There is no time limit on this celebration, only an unbridled happiness shared by all. However when they are angry or saddened by something, sure we may allow them an allotted period of time to “get over it” but subconsciously we are willing them to move on and just be done with that emotion. It is unpleasant therefor it is unwanted.
This afternoon Sophie was upset. She was crying and feeling sad and there seemed to be nothing I could do.
So I gave her time. It was all there was left to do. Later, when I asked her if there was something she wanted to talk about she said, “Mom, sometimes we all just need a big cry.”
And you know what, I think my five year old is onto something. This life can be so chaotic and complicated and scary and mystifying that there is no possible way we could move through it with only a handful of emotions to rely on. We are a complex species therefore our emotions will be vast—infinite. We should celebrate these sentiments rather than feel indignity over them. It means we are living and that, my friends, is as prosperous as it gets.
Lindsay Brown is an Alberta mother of two and freelance columnist.