Happiness Can Suck It

Damn it.  I’m trying too frigging hard again – trying to write about something people will care about, trying to make it clever, trying to make it funny, trying to make it deliver something valuable.   Just TRYING, which means I’m failing, because trying is a stupid word anyway.

“Do or not do. There is no try.” – Thanks a lot Yoda…because of you, my whole life every time I try I feel like I’m already doomed.  

Just one of many messages that seem so wise and helpful on the surface, but are also really useful for beating yourself up if you’re like me and beating yourself up is your one true gift in life.

There are a lot of those types of messages, have you ever noticed?  Hell, our country has one of them at its very core… “the pursuit of happiness”.  On its surface, this is beautiful and I fully embrace it. We all have the RIGHT to pursue happiness.  Unfortunately, we seem to think that if we have not already caught happiness and bent it to our will 24 hours a day 7 days a week, we are somehow failing.  The pursuit of happiness supports the pharmaceutical industry, the alcohol industry, the self help industry…it’s a cornerstone of our economy and culture. 

Whole industries are funded by the multitudes who flock to anything that they think might help them finally reach the nirvana of happiness and only happiness, all of the time.  Not only does the pursuit of happiness support our economy, it supports our current divide, because if my happiness comes at a cost to you, so be it.  If something you need is in the way of my pure and total happiness (or the car or clothes or mansion…or opinion…that definitely makes me happy), then it just sucks to be you, doesn’t it?  The Declaration of Independence says “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”  It doesn’t say that YOUR staying alive is more important than MY pursuit of happiness, now, does it???

The “Law of Attraction” Can Suck It TOO

One particularly egregious assault on our sanity is the  “Law of Attraction” bullshit that haunts so many people and tells them they are doing it wrong if they don’t feel perfect happiness every minute of their day.  This belief system touts the unfortunate message that feeling anything but happy is a failure. Yes, I’ve read the books – I know there is more to it than that.  However, this particular philosophy seems to prey on people who are already hurting, perhaps damaged, perhaps who need real help to deal with real problems.  For those people, the message that if they are not happy it’s their fault and they are doing something wrong can be very damaging.

The damage comes from how some people interpret the messages put forth by this particular belief system:  If you’re not happy, you are putting bad vibes out into the universe and those bad vibes are just going to bring you more unhappiness – so you doom yourself by getting pissed off when you stub your toe.  I know for a fact that many people interpret the Law of Attraction in just this way – in part, because it was how I interpreted it at first, and in part because I’ve talked to a lot of people who walked away with the same message.  Then they used that message to beat the heck out of themselves – sometimes for years.

I wonder how much happier we’d all be if we just stopped trying so hard to be happy. So I’m in a pissy mood today – so what? Trying to be happy never helps that, anyway. In fact, it just highlights how miserable I am.  The only times I am ever genuinely happy are by accident – when I forget to try and I just let myself be.

OH, my gawd…THAT’S what that little green monster was talking about.   

Whatever, Yoda lived in a swamp – what did he know anyway?  As I was saying:  the times I forget to try and I just let myself be…THOSE are the times when happiness sometimes presents itself.  HA – “presents itself”…gives itself to me as a present. Yay!  I love words.

Sex and Money and Also Sneezing

Many of us in America move through life feeling like we are failing if we don’t feel good all of the time.  The whole “pursuit of happiness” thing has taken on a dark and deleterious tone, leading to a nation full of people who think there is something wrong with them if they are just kind of “OK” today.  We have to want more, be happier, try harder, go, go, go, especially if, horror of horrors, someone else seems happier than we feel. That isn’t realistic, of course, so we also spend a lot of time and money escaping our less than perfect feelings. Whether that’s through alcohol and drugs, or sex and money, or just binging old episodes of “Friends”.

Oh my gawd, I just had a sneezing fit in the middle of writing this and it is really pissing me off.  I keep trying to NOT sneeze, which makes it so much worse and then the sneeze takes off half my face.  Ugh – now my head is full of snot and my body is trying to cough up a lung and I’m trying to figure out how to feel frigging HAPPY about this situation.

About 10 years ago I was asked to speak at a weekend get together for a “Law of Attraction” meetup group.  There were about 50 people, all sitting around in a circle in uncomfortable folding chairs in the basement of a smelly church, maniacally smiling at each other and telling each other why they were SO damn happy.  It felt like some sort of demented happiness support group, like we were all addicts just trying to get through the next 24 hours without falling off the wagon and feeling, gasp, SAD, or MAD, or heaven forbid, just kind of blah.

I have spent a good portion of my life thinking I was broken because I didn’t feel happy all the time.  I truly believed that everyone else must be happier than I was.  I have many things about which to feel happy, and when I forget to be depressed or anxious, happiness worms its way into my day on a pretty regular basis.  So does apathy, anger, irritation and frustration, sadness over something specific, compassion for someone hurting – I have a wide and very full range of emotions, all of which have value.  But we don’t tend to seek those out, do we? We aren’t told we’re supposed to be pursuing the whole range of emotions…just happiness. THAT’s the golden ticket – the only truly worthwhile and valuable emotion.  If you’re feeling anything else, well then you’re doing it wrong.

When you’re a person dealing with mental health issues and symptoms of depression or anxiety, having a set of tools that help you manage your thoughts and emotions is an important element of survival.  However, if the only marker for success is full on happiness then you set yourself up for failure, and that can have devastating consequences.

I spent some time with the woman who ran the LOA group, including a few long drives and some visits to her house.  Her life was falling apart, but she literally wouldn’t even talk about that.  She refused to acknowledge it in any way.  I only found out how bad things were when I spent time with her husband and daughter and they told me about the struggles and illness plaguing their family.  How could her level of denial be a good thing???  Her family was falling apart, dealing with financial devastation and the husband’s terminal illness.  They felt disconnected and afraid, yet she was painfully perky and simply refused to deal with the reality of their situation.  I understood her need to cope in her own way, but found it difficult to watch the effects her denial had on her family.

I’m Vibrating Wrong

The group sitting in a circle in that church basement trying desperately to feel happy was one that came together drawn by the promises put forth by the Law of Attraction syndicate.  I came to view this particular enterprise as especially damaging after watching these people struggle with any feelings that were less than pure happiness. No one gave them permission to have a bad moment, or holy hell, an entire bad DAY.   As far as they understood the messages they were getting, if they had a bad moment they were going to attract more bad moments and were essentially failing at life, which of course meant they were going to continue to fail at life because that was the “vibration” they were going to attract, and the cycle would continue ad infinitum.  

So their desperation grows and grows, because holy SHIT, now they are failing at vibrating correctly, so every ounce of pain headed their way is all their fault.  I was at this group because I had been asked to give a talk about happiness, but after noticing the palpable distress of so many of the participants, I knew that I needed to change my strategy.  I threw out my workshop on “10 Steps to Happiness” (gag), stood up, and gave them permission to feel bad.  

Feeling Bad Can Be A Good Thing

I talked about how to make feeling bad useful, what it could do for them, and how to be in those feelings in a healthy way for as long as they needed to be.  THEN I gave them some “how to” strategies for moving through those less pleasant feelings once they were ready.  For some reason their group had never talked about how to manage their emotions.  They literally just denied any less than perfect feelings and pretended to feel happy all of the time. So I made sure what I talked about was NOT in pursuit of happiness. Just in pursuit of being functional if they wanted to be, or had to be. 

After the workshop was over, I had a crowd of people grouped around me, either thanking me or wanting my attention or more information.  They were thirsty for acceptance and validation.  They were all there seeking something, and it wasn’t happiness.  They thought it was happiness because they were told THAT was the thing they should want.  What they really wanted was just to be “OK”, be able to breathe and accept themselves and their feelings.  Sure – many of them were interested in strategies for feeling their feelings in more productive ways, or being able to move through their feelings and get on with their lives.  Several of them were dealing with grief and loss, and thought they were just supposed to magically MAKE themselves feel happy again.

We have to be sane about this.  We have to acknowledge that healthy human beings experience a wide range of emotions, and sometimes the less pleasant emotions are the ones that drive us to make change and create a better world.  Sometimes the only healthy option is to feel sad or angry – it’s appropriate and right and warranted. So in our sanity, we need to look at how we are feeling and judge it’s worth not on whether it feels GOOD, but on whether it is useful or necessary, and whether it is warranted.

Can we get stuck in those less than pleasant feelings?  Of course we can – and we definitely need to know how to get unstuck when that happens.  Avoiding them completely, however, is not only impossible, but insane. Sanity embraces ALL emotions, and gives us the strength to move through them to their healthy conclusion.  Not all emotions require action, but all emotions have a message for us. Sometimes that message leads to learning about ourselves or our world, sometimes it leads to necessary action, and sometimes it just tells us we need a break.

So rather than pursuing happiness today, how about we all give ourselves permission to be human and feel how we feel.  If the cost of those feelings is too high, or you’re stuck, or you simply can’t be functional in those particular feelings right now – then give yourself permission to set them aside for the moment and examine them later.  If you have time, though, sit with them a while. Embrace your emotions and get their message, then let them move through you. Allow for the possibility that how you are feeling is exactly what you need at the moment.

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