Maybe we should stop trying so hard to be happy.

Originally posted on October 2, 2016

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We live in a society that demands we always be happy and smiling.    “Negative” emotions are generally unacceptable, and we are told over and over again via pop psychologists and the mass media that constant happiness is not only our birthright, but our responsibility!    People are encouraged to stuff their feelings and wear a smile, no matter how they are really feeling.

Some people are more naturally given to cheerfulness than others, regardless of their circumstances.  We are all different; and those of us who aren’t naturally inclined to be upbeat and perky all the time are made to feel like we are somehow defective and our darker emotions aren’t okay.

So we seek out therapists, read self-help books, recite affirmations, pin up positive-thinking posters, and beat ourselves up if we don’t or can’t conform to the pervasive “don’t worry, be happy” ethos.

But what if not always being happy is actually saner than always being cheerful?  After all, there are a lot of things in the world to get depressed, upset, or angry about.    Acknowledging that bad things happen isn’t being negative; it’s being realistic.   For example, being afraid can sometimes save your life!

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As long as you aren’t so depressed you feel like killing yourself or drowning yourself in alcohol or other substances, or can never see the bright side of anything, maybe embracing and accepting dark moods is a more authentic way to live.

Maybe if modern society acknowledged that dark emotions are a normal, non-pathological reaction to many things in life and accepted these emotions as easily as they  accept a perky smile and an “everything’s great!,” those of us who worry that we aren’t “happy enough” would actually begin to feel happier.    Maybe we need to stop trying to force ourselves into a box that doesn’t fit, and learn to embrace our painful feelings instead, and stop comparing ourselves to some ideal that we think we should be.

The world is not perfect and it never will be.  Why should we go through life, then, pretending everything’s perfect or beating ourselves up (and making ourselves more miserable) when we don’t measure up to some “happiness standard”?   It’s fake and it’s only going to make us feel like we’re defective.    Maybe we should just accept ALL our emotions as authentic and stop trying to always hide them away like something shameful.   If you’re happy, by all means, show it, but the emotional spectrum is like the color spectrum–there are many shades and hues, and a world with only one color is the most depressing kind of world I can think of, even if that one color is “happiness.”

Being truly happy isn’t a performance to impress everyone with how “positive” we are; it’s a feeling of genuine well-being brought about by accepting ourselves–ALL of ourselves–as we really are.     If you’re feeling sad or angry or upset, instead of berating yourself for it, accept your feelings as an authentic part of life.