Getting Comfortable With Sadness

I read this passage the other day and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since…

I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that—I don’t mind people being happy—but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down three things that made you happy today before you go to sleep” and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position. It’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say, “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness.” Ask yourself, “Is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is.

—Hugh MacKay, author of The Good Life

The idea that sadness isn’t a problem to be solved but a part of us to be embraced has really encouraged me where I’m at personally. It is so easy to think of sadness as a condition to be treated. Like most experiences that disrupt our daily life or that of others, we try to fix, medicate, or force ourselves into a more manageable state of mind, aka “happiness.” Happiness is just so much easier to deal with. We like being happy. We want others to be happy. All the other emotions are so much more messy. So much more difficult to get a handle on, to understand, or to respond to.

But all those other emotions are just as real as happiness.

The balance comes, I think, in understanding another quote that I like to think of when life gives me a set of emotions other than happiness: feelings are indicators, not dictators. 

No matter how true or real all the range of emotions are, we can either allow them to be indicators or dictators. Herein lies the challenge for me. How do you allow yourself to get comfortable with the uncomfortable feelings; to acknowledge them as a valid part of being a whole person, without letting them dictate your life?

I don’t know.

Lately I’ve been really struggling. This pregnancy has been one physical nightmare after another, and those physical challenges have lead me to experience a whole host of emotions other than “happy.” They’ve caused me to doubt. They’ve caused me to fear. They’ve made me sad. They’ve made me really frustrated.

Up until now, I’ve done a good decent job of keeping it together and continuing to put my best foot forward. It’s not that I don’t want to be real; authenticity is important to me. It’s just that…I want to be that person that encourages others – The person who walks into a room and makes everyone else feel better. I don’t want to be the person who makes others take care of them emotionally. I’m always concerned that I’m going to come across as weak…needy…a whiner.

Plus, it can be hard to have emotions other than happiness because people want to suggest all their own special ways to get happy. How to fix what you are feeling. And oh, how that compounds your sadness! Your frustration! Because nothing, and I mean nothing, communicates to a person that there really is something wrong with you than someone offering their unsolicited advice on how to “fix” your situation.

My husband and I were talking about this the other night after I told him how discouraging it was for him to come home on a daily basis and ask how I’m feeling. I hate that question, because he knows how I’m feeling. I feel terrible. Completely miserable. And to make me have to say that only makes me additionally feel like a whiner who can’t get her act together. Or, the other alternative is to say something that isn’t all together true. Like, “I’m fine.” And that lie only leads to isolation.

I don’t want feelings to dictate my life, but I also want to be able to simply be in a state other than happiness and not feel like there is something wrong with me. The phrase “the only way out of it, is through it” comes to mind.

Collectively, we aren’t great at dealing with all those pesky, uncomfortable emotions. Personally, I want my emotions to be productive and lead me through something rather than dictate how I’ll live my life. I want to embrace my full range of emotions without letting them completely control me. But that can be so much easier said than done. What does that really look like when you are in the midst of sadness? Frustration? Anger? And how do  you be a friend to someone who is just really struggling?

For all of us, maybe it just comes down to recognizing that all emotions have value and purpose. And sometimes, things simply are the way they are. Not every difficult situation needs fixed. Not all difficult situations can be fixed. Sometimes, we just have to get really, really comfortable with the uncomfortable thought that these situations and emotions are here for a while. And that doesn’t dictate who you are, it simply indicates where you’re at.

And that’s ok.

2 thoughts on “Getting Comfortable With Sadness

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