What is happiness? Today more than ever, there are tons of self help books written by monks, saints, scholars, philosophers etc. on what happiness is. Happiness is different to each person at different times. I like how Abraham Lincoln puts it “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” This is very true. We choose to be happy when we want to and while we are stuck being unhappy what do we do?
In this blog, I’m not going to write on happiness simply because there are many books out there. (My favourite author on this topic is Dr. Richard Carlson.) I’d rather focus on sadness. It sounds weird to write on the so-called negative emotion but then again maybe I’m weird! Lol. What is sadness? Sadness to me is an interval between pleasant experiences. Sadness exists because there is happiness. Right now, I’m not happy because my head aches. I also know that when my head doesn’t ache, I’m happy. It sounds very elementary and it is. The truth of the matter is when there is a painful or unpleasant situation, we equate that with sadness. We get impatient and want that negative emotion to go away. We will do anything to get rid of it. The questions I have is “who told me that this experience of having a headache is sad? How did my mind decide that I don’t like this experience and therefore I have labelled it sad?” Allow me to go back to the conditioning of our minds. When we as toddlers or children have a fall, a failing grade or fall ill, we see how others react. The reaction tends to be either worried, unhappy, disappointed etc. When we see them react this way, it teaches us something. Moreover, we also see how they cope with it. This is the important part. Everyone copes with sadness in different ways. Some pretend it doesn’t exist so they suppress it. Some eat to numb their pain. Some distract themselves with activities in order to avoid thinking about it. Avoidance is very common. We avoid problems by acting ‘normal’ with others and suppress the emotion we actually feel. We preoccupy ourselves by activities whether watching tv, listening to music, being on facebook etc. We rarely if ever post anything on twitter or facebook about our pain because we want to show others that we have a happy life. People like happy people. But are we happy 24/7? No one is unless you’re an enlightened being. The problem is we don’t want to allow ourselves to feel sad. We are scared of what the emotion can do to us. We fear that we’ll be stuck in the sadness and never get out of it. We also associate being sad as being weak. We think that if one is feeling sad, they don’t have the skills to get themselves to move on from it. We are expected to brush it off and act as if it didn’t happen. We aren’t encouraged to sit with our sadness and see how that feels. We want to feel happy but run away when we are sad or unhappy. When we are sad, we lock ourselves in a room and either cry ourselves to sleep or have a tub of ice-cream and feel sorry for ourselves. If I was having a tub of ice cream on a sad day, I would definitely feel guilty the next day. So from sadness comes guilt. Then I’d be angry that I overindulged and added a few more pounds. This is a domino effect and we go through a spiral of negative emotions and we forget what the root cause of the emotion was. It’s all because we haven’t learnt to be okay with sadness when it arises. We haven’t accepted sadness as a part of life and a part of being happy.
I have in the past hid my sad moments. Thinking I can’t cry. I don’t have time for that. I have a lot to do. Besides, if I cry, what would others think of me? I am learning to accept my sadness when it comes as a part of me. When I am sad, I learn to just be. If I need to cry it out, I cry. I need to be there for myself as I am there for others. I would listen to my friends’ problems and be a shoulder for them when they are in tears but I realized I was very critical of myself when I was in tears. Nancy Colier in her book “Inviting a Monkey to Tea” states that “well-being requires a willingness to get to know, directly face and ultimately, walk through our fears, judgments and misunderstandings about our true self.” She reinforces the truth that we need to be intrinsically strong to be there for ourselves, to listen to our own pain and not hold that against us in any shape or form. As I’m embracing the happy days with my sad days, I am accepting myself more. Join me in accepting disappointment or pain as a part of who you are.
“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happiness would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.” — Carl Jung
“I do believe that if you haven’t learnt about sadness, you cannot appreciate happiness.” — Nana Mouskouri