It would be nice if we could be happy 24/7, stress-free, relaxed, all smiles, but that is not reality. We are not supposed to be happy all the time. We are supposed to feel a range of emotions.
Could being ‘happy’ all the time actually be dangerous?
I speak to clients all the time who are feeling down. They ask me what is wrong with them for feeling down even though they can’t identify a specific stressor in their life. I help them to learn how to cope and find happiness in themselves, to feel better, but there are always going to be moments of sadness. There are going to be times when we just don’t feel happy. This is life.
In fact, some say it is dangerous to try to be happy all the time. It is better to allow yourself to feel all the emotions. Being happy is great but it is not the appropriate response to all situations. If someone you care about dies, you can’t expect to respond in happiness. If you are not having a great day, maybe your car won’t start or you got stuck in traffic on the way to work, it’s appropriate to feel frustrated. If your schedule is packed and you feel like you don’t have enough hours in the day to get things done, it is ok to feel overwhelmed. In fact, you should. Feeling these emotions helps you to cope.
Life can be wonderfully beautiful in so many ways, but it can also be devastatingly tragic. If we are always happy and something bad happens, we won’t know how to process that information. We won’t know how to deal, according to Danish psychology professor Svend Brinkmann in his book Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze.
The bad things in life help us to better appreciate all the good. So, while it is good to look at the positive in bad situations. It is ok, and healthy, to feel all the emotions associated with the good, bad and ugly of the world.
There are many reasons for divorce to occur leading to a vast array of emotions. But why would bitter feelings occur if you and your partner agree that your marriage isn’t working? If you don’t have any hard or angry feelings toward your partner then why would you feel so upset at the situation? Why can’t you just end the marriage and move on?
It is because when you walked down that aisle you had an expectation of what marriage would be. You thought you would spend your life with this person and be happy and in love through the process. Now that reality is setting in and this expectation has been shattered, you are grieving. You have lost your marriage and now you have to grieve that loss.
It is truly human nature to feel this way, according to a Psychology Today article that looks at a study done on chimpanzees. When all of their basic needs are met— safety, love, survival, esteem, and actualization— they act much differently than if they are missing one of those five. When you go through a divorce you are bound to feel bitter, angry, scared, and just plain jerkish because you are not having all your needs met. You suddenly have to worry about all these things you didn’t have to concern yourself with before. When we feel safe, secure, and loved we are able to rationalize things better.
In addition to having your expectations shattered, you are also in for a whole slew of changes and let’s be frank — us humans don’t like change very much. Divorce also brings up many feelings of being powerless and out-of-control, you might not know how things are going to play out, what will tomorrow be like? And, there is a need to fight for what you love and believe—a sense of entitlement. Even if you still deeply care for your soon-to-be ex-spouse, you remember how long it took to pick out that couch downstairs and you want it back. You also worked really hard to save up for that house and now you don’t want to sell it. You want to hang on to the things that are important to you.
Divorce is one of the most stressful things a person can ever endure. It is a mountain of obstacles to face and it takes time and energy to get to the other side. If you are feeling overwhelmed, bitter, stressed, angry, know this is normal. Seek help from a licensed therapist who can help you to take care of yourself.
You lost someone you love, someone near and dear to your heart. Maybe this was a person you spoke to on the phone a few times a week, or someone who lifted you up and supported you. Maybe it was someone that was part of your day-to-day life. Maybe it was a parent, child, sibling, friend, or even a pet. Regardless of the circumstances, losing someone you love is incredibly difficult. It can be hard to “go on” after such a loss. You suddenly don’t know what to do with your time, what to do without that person or pet by your side.
Honor what once was
The fact is, we are not the same after we lose someone. It is not easy to transition between what once was and what now has to be. Grieving is building a bridge between the old and the new, with each piece being put into place a piece at a time. It is a slow and concentrated deliberate process. You may have heard others say, take it a “day at a time” or even a “moment at a time.” Start slow. Don’t expect to feel better in a day, a week, a month. Yes, you will find that new normal. You will find your place but it is a process.
For example, maybe you have lost a grandparent whom you visited every Wednesday afternoon for coffee and a chat. Although things have changed, you can create a new tradition. Maybe replace it by going to a coffee shop and reading a book your grandmother enjoyed or visiting a special place of hers. Maybe use the time to call a friend or relative and chat. You don’t have to completely change your routine just alter it a bit to ease the transition while honoring what once was. If you have lost a pet that you walked every morning, replace that morning walk with a jog. These small changes, although full of a emotion and feeling much larger, will help you to build that bridge from old to new and rediscover contentment.
Loss is not easy but the pain does subside when we acknowledge it and honor it. You can move forward, you can hold on to the old while going forward in the memory of your loved one. After all, they would want you to find happiness again. We don’t need to gloss over our grief. Grief exists because we love.
What small steps have you taken to build a new normal after loss?
I had a friend who recently died of breast cancer. Before she passed, her words to us were: “take the scenic route.” It was a reminder that sometimes we squeeze too much in—rushing around, hurrying, trying to get everything done that we can in a short period of time while ignoring the quality of our lives.
When we spend so much time running from one activity to another, trying not to be late, we become stressed. In turn, our relationships with others can become unpleasant. We are shorter with those we love because we feel anxious, overbooked, and overwhelmed. The truth is we are trying to have a fulfilled life, and yes we should aim for that but we also need to enjoy it.
Every time someone is near death and reflecting on their life they say the same things (i.e. the book When Breath Becomes Air) —why didn’t I spend more time with my kids? Why didn’t I take more vacations from work? Why didn’t I take things slower, embrace the time I had when I had so much of it? There has to be something to these words of advice — you are not going to regret missing that meeting at work, but you are going to miss watching your kids play in the backyard. You are going to miss those afternoons when nothing was planned and you decided to have a picnic in the park. You will miss the impromptu movie night, the long conversations with your parents, the teaching/learning moments with your children. You will miss hearing about their day. You will not miss that you didn’t take the afternoon to clean your home or rearrange your closet.
I try to remember this when I feel stressed and overwhelmed, when I hear my kids laughing in the backyard and look at the pile of dishes in my sink. I remind myself to choose that time with my kids. In the long run, it will make the biggest impact on mine and their lives. It will be a memory, a moment to cherish…those dishes can wait.
My friend said to me: “Here I lie dying, looking back I should have shortened the to-do list and started a to-enjoy list.”
What is on your to-enjoy list?
As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, my five-year-old daughter thinks another girl is pretty. She decided she wanted to give her a pretty plastic ring, so she made her a card and put the ring on it.
During the process, my daughter said she was embarrassed and “scared.” She said a few of her female friends were making comments like “eww, that girl isn’t that pretty anyway” and “I am weird.” It doesn’t surprise me that female competition is beginning to start at her age. Child and adolescent psychologist Katie Hurley describes in her book No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident and Compassionate Girls the trend of toxic female competitiveness that is creeping down from high school, and starting as young as grade school. She offers many reasons for this, citing busy schedules, rise in stress and anxiety levels, and increased pressure for children to do well in sports and extracurriculars.
Girls uplifting other girls
I responded to my daughter’s concerns over giving this card to her friend, by telling her “we can show people we like them in many ways.” I told her, “girls can think another girl is pretty. And girls can uplift another girl.” Her twin sister also supported her, the best any five-year-old can. She also made the girl a card that said: “my sister thinks you are pretty and wants to give you a ring.” Afterwards, the twin quietly told me she doesn’t care if girls are not “suppose” to like girls, she loves her sister anyway. I told her, “we can like people in many ways. We are just going to send nice words to uplift another girl! Cool, right?!”
We, adults, have a lot to learn from young children about loving and not judging each other. We are conditioned to compete with our peers. We draw on our insecurities and instead of turning them into positives, we put other women down. We are not being uplifting because we are afraid of other women being more successful, prettier, “bigger” than us. We need to dig deep inside and find that inner strength to uplift each other. Us, women, we need each other. We need the support from others, the kindness, the acceptance. We should be helping each other to feel good about ourselves, instead of doing the exact opposite.
How do you uplift the women around you?
More on Hurley: https://www.thestar.com/life/relationships/opinion/2018/02/08/why-girls-are-getting-meaner-younger.html
As I have gained more roles in my life—mother, wife, daughter, and business owner—I have had to take more charge of my time. I have become more direct and less passive in the way I communicate. I am setting stronger, healthier boundaries. But, it took some time and some changes in the language I was using to really be successful with those boundaries.
I used to say “Because of xyz, I am unable to..” The use of the word “unable” made myself seem small. It came off as I am not the one making decisions for my own life. Instead, I now say “xyz happens, therefore I will not…” Such as “I spend time with family on Friday nights, so I will not be attending your event” or “I have my money in somewhere, I will not loan it out now.”
Forget the word “unable”
Forget the word “unable.” Remove it from your vocabulary. You are not small. You are the decision-maker in your life. You make your own rules. Don’t let other people think they can have control over your plans, your money, your life. You are the master of your world. Take charge in the language you use, so you don’t come off as passive.
I hear from clients all the time that they feel stretched too thin, they are afraid to disappoint people by standing up for themselves. This is why we tend to use the more passive language, but that can have a counterproductive effect. By not being direct in our language it can be perceived that the boundary we are setting is not really important. That it can easily be changed. Using direct language makes it more concrete. It is setting a rule and showing people you won’t budge, and you know what everything will be fine. You will feel more in control and more relaxed and people will grow to respect those boundaries you have set.