Constant happiness is the state many yearn to live in. Even a mini glimpse of any emotion that is slightly negative is shunned and rejected. It’s a shame too because if you’re looking, you can find tonnes of beauty in hard times.
Hasn’t it happened to all of us to be asked by a friend or colleague “Why aren’t you smiling?” on a random Tuesday morning while sending an email to coordinate some logistical boringness. This annoys me for a few reasons:
- If I’m just sitting there doing a random task, I’m probably just ok. I’m not especially happy, nor am I sad, mad or annoyed. I’m just writing an email. There’s very little emotion I relate with the task and so little emotion to be expressed on my face. If I do have to associate the task with any emotion it would probably be concentration. And I don’t know about you, but my concentration face doesn’t come with a smile.
- I don’t want to or feel the need to smile all the time.
- The fact that this random person expects me to smile constantly makes me want to smile less. It’s actually quite annoying. It’s phony and unrealistic.
If a neutral feeling like this is commented about, it seems as though we are the ones convincing one another to hide our gloomy thoughts or feelings. Wide-eyed grins and big blue skies is all we wanna see, even if it’s fake.
This has become especially true with the arrival of social media. Posts of immaculate beachscapes are only ever accompanied by smiles and laughter. We all assume that others are living perfect dream lives because that’s what Facebook and Instagram say. The happy, excited, creative, peaceful, lively, inspired, hopeful, serene and positively unexpected aspects of our lives are what we eagerly share with the world. Everything else we keep hidden and well out of view, to make sure people don’t panic and get uncomfortable at the sight of a measly tear.
No Yin without the Yang
Just like anything in this world though, there cannot be smiles if there are no tears. There can‘t be sunshine without ever having rain. Dark can’t exist without light. Life doesn’t exist without death.
There is a natural balance and harmony that gets thrown all out of whack if we don’t give space for darkness amongst the light. Attempting to live with 24/7 smiles and joy creates one hell of a lopsided world.
Within the balance of all things, we also find neutrality, the state I am usually in when writing organizational emails. A sky that has no sunshine, but also no storms is a natural part of the balance.
Although it’s completely rational to assume that we’ll all slide in and out of all three of these states (darkness, lightness and neutrality), we only allow ourselves to show the world our brightly lit smiles.
Where Does the Sadness Go?
The thing is though, no one manages to eliminate shitty times. Instead, one of the following things happens:
- You save all your sadness, madness, stress, dread, doom, worry and gloom for when you’re out of sight from the world.
- You completely try to suppress all of these shitty feelings.
The reality is that no one gets free passes to get out of feeling the bad stuff. That doesn’t exist. Negative feelings are just part of life.
Let me elaborate a bit more about why each of the above points is ridiculous.
1 Keeping your Hard Times to Yourself
- It creates a society built on lies. It gives the impression that no one has hard times, which makes it harder for others to accept their own tough times.
- A listening ear can offer the support you need to deal with natural lows of life.
- Talking about your vulnerabilities with those close to you helps to strengthen the bond. They’ll feel more open to sharing their own struggles, which will help you both feel more comfortable and connected.
- Relationships that allow for you to be truly you, hard times and all, helps you cultivate better self-esteem, develop compassion and builds a more solid base for trusting others and yourself.
2 Suppressing the Agony
- The feelings won’t go away. They will stay within you and poison your insides. Science has now proven that suppressing feelings can lead to mental and physical illnesses, as well as premature dead(1). That shit won’t go away just because you pretend it’s not there.
- Believing that you can sustain a healthy and happy life without living hard times, is unrealistic. It’s lunacy to assume that it’s easier to pretend those unpleasant emotions don’t exist than learning how to properly deal with them.
Stop the Duplicate Negativity
Once we learn to recognize that shitty times are just part of the deal of life, it becomes easier to face that crap more honestly.
There’s no need to beat ourselves up about our sadness or judge and criticise the fact that we felt jealous of our co-worker’s promotion. These feelings are only as dramatic as you allow them to become.
It’s actually the beating ourselves up about the feelings that really makes the situations exponentially harder to handle.
If we were only having to contend with the actual negative feelings, that wouldn’t be so bad. Dealing with a moment of sadness by allowing yourself to just feel the sadness for a minute, makes it just that easy to overcome.
But to make the hard time even harder, we get mad at ourselves for being sad. So now, not only are you sad, but you’re also mad at yourself for being sad.
How often have you thought to yourself or maybe told a friend “I know, I’m such a wuss for letting myself get sad about what Carla said”. So now, not only are you sad about what Carla said, but you’re also annoyed with yourself for being a wuss. It’s a negative double-wammy.
Instead, try to just stop yourself at the initial gloomy feeling. I promise it’ll be significantly easier to confront it if it’s not combined with layers of self-judgment and confidence shattering critics.
The Masked Beauty of Hard Times
Finding value in the hard times becomes way easier if we learn to just be ok with the fact that they’ll appear. Ya, I get it, stormy moods and muddy thoughts aren’t as pleasant as smiles and rainbows, but they too have their value.
Let me tell you about a few:
- Once you learn how to accept that moments of sadness, madness, insecurity, doubt or whatever else will arise with less judgment, you become more confident about your ability to deal with these moments of blues. This makes you less scared of them, which makes you avoid them less. Unpleasant things arise, you deal with them, then they leave. All that without poisoning the soul with unnecessary drama.
- Hard times teach us more about ourselves and the world. There are very few lessons and opportunities for growth in times of laughter and rainbows. Think back to the most important things you’ve ever learned. I have no doubt that these are realizations that you made after going through struggles. The most inspiring people are often those who were able to confront their shit head on and turn those hard times into opportunity. If you’re not sure what I mean, watch this video of a pro snowboarder who went on to win an Olympic medal after losing her legs.
- Once you learn how to be less judgemental towards your feelings, you naturally become less judgemental about other peoples’ stuff. We all have our shit. We’re all much better off if we just know that, and treat each other with appropriate care and compassion to minimize the impact of bad times.
- We can create stronger, more authentic ties with the people in our lives. Opening up to others about the shit that we face, is scary. It can leave us feeling vulnerable and exposed. But doing so, helps others see us for who we really are, which makes them more comfortable with us. It’s only through being cool with our struggles, that we can allow people to feel comfortable with their own. We don’t create mega bonds by telling others to smile all the time. That just promotes phoniness.
- The better you become at dealing with your hard times, the braver you become about how you live your life. If you don’t have to fear falling, you become less scared of throwing yourself off the metaphorical ledge. Some people never move out of their comfort zone, because they’re scared of what might happen to them if they leave the comfortable box they live in. What if things don’t go as planned? But if you’re already cool with the idea that things could go horribly wrong, it becomes way less scary to leave that cozy little box.
Gems to Help You Through Hard Times
More than this being an article to go into much depth about how to deal with hard times, I want this article to focus on accepting that hard times are just part of the deal. But after finishing the last section, I thought it would be cruel to not even mention a few helpful tips. So, as an added bonus, here are my personal top 3 go tips.
- Recognize the impermanence of all things in life. Sometimes, things suck. But it becomes easier to swallow that idea when you know undoubtedly that the sucky phase will pass. Nothing lasts forever.
- Although talking about what’s bugging you can really do some good, know when to stop. Overdramatizing or endlessly discussing the situation won’t help either. Allow yourself to feel the shittiness, have a quick pep talk to help get it off your chest and then, move on.
- Avoidance is never a good idea. Recognizing and accepting the gloom is key. But once you’ve done that, maybe had chat about it, now go out and do something to get your mind thinking of other things. Go for a run, go see a movie, dance the polka or plan a world adventure. Do whatever you need to do to get yourself feeling great again.
1 B. Chapman, P. Duberstein, K. Fiscella, I. Kawachi, and P. Muennig (October 2013) Emotion suppression and mortality risk over a 12-year follow-up