We see it all the time on Instagram: motivational accounts of smiling influencers, telling us about their journey to pursue their happiest life. They remind us all, constantly, that we too should be positive! Our best lives are always just a motivational quote away!
But somehow, they seem almost like a martyr. Their quest to always be positive seems laden with sadness and strife (At least for the ones that are transparent online).
But how does that make sense?
How is it that trying always to be happy makes us less happy?
I fell into this trap for many years. I structured my life perfectly: exercising for happiness, journaling for happiness, eating for happiness, breathing for happiness.
Should a rogue negative thought pass through my mind, my body would go on red alert. I did everything to rid myself of negativities. I’d perk back up and continue on with spreading kindness and positive thoughts.
But in reality, I was an unstable mess.
Alan Watts, a writer, known for making Eastern philosophy digestible for us Westerners, made popular a Tao philosophy he deemed, The Backwards Law.
“When you try to stay on the surface of the water, you sink; but when you try to sink, you float’ and that ‘insecurity is the result of trying to be secure.”
- Alan Watts
In other words: the more we grasp at something, the more it evades us.
Imagine holding a handful of sand. If you wanted to keep as much sand as you could, would you gently cup your palm or squeeze the sand as tight as possible?
After feeling not so positive and a bit of a fake, I decided to embrace my negative emotions instead of fleeing from them. I realized the whole positivity movement really wasn’t doing me any good. I felt like a robotic version of myself from an alternative universe, spewing motivational vomit wherever I went.
As someone who struggles with major depression disorder, embracing my less-than-stellar emotions was terrifying. The last thing I wanted was to slip back into a depressive episode.
But as I started to accept the times when I was sad, snarky, annoyed, or lonely, I realized there was something to be noted in those emotions.
Every emotion, including the bad ones, have something to teach us.
Through emotions like sadness and loneliness, I started to create a life that made me feel abundant and proud. I prioritized seeing my friends. I created goals to work on, rather than focus on things that simply masked my emotions.
I also learned how to love being alone. Sure, sometimes I’d feel lonely. But if I filled my time with things that I truly loved, that loneliness began to turn into solitude. And I now cherish my solitude.
The second I started to face my shadows, the less dark they were. I realized that doing everything I could to avoid what was inevitable — feeling sad, alone, mad, etc. — the more power these emotions had over me.
When I turned to the pain, I realized working through these emotions is part of the journey of life. Through this, I understood my emotions and became better equipped for my encounters with them in the future.
But please, note that I said worked through them.
There’s a fine line between living in your pain and working through it.
Bear in mind, I am talking to those of us that don’t suffer from paralyzing diseases, the type of depression that is chemical and all-consuming. I don’t want to belittle these people’s experiences.
For the rest of us, though, the question seems inevitable to ask:
Am I living in my pain or working through it?
We’ve all come across people in our lives that seem to dwell in a “woe is me” mindset. You attempt to give them advice, and they meet you with excuses.
Then there are the people that think things can’t get better. That somehow, a shitty experience today determines the rest of our lives.
These are the kinds of people that are living in their pain. They don’t avoid the negativity; in fact, they embrace it and refuse anything else.
And call me crazy, but that doesn’t seem like a fruitful way to live either. Life has inevitable lows, but our mindset and ability to hope for better is what lets us experience the highs as well.
For some, the thought of returning to inevitable negative emotions is enough to crush their spirit. But maybe we need to refocus on what our meaning is for life.
Through embracing both the positive and negative thoughts and experiences in my life, I learned something important:
My sole purpose in life isn’t happiness.
There’s no end game of eternal happiness. I’m never going to wake up one day and have zero problems or worries.
There will always be a loss, always be stressors, and always be another parking ticket from a meter that was expired for two minutes.
And I’m ok with that. Because my purpose in life isn’t to attain eternal happiness, it’s to do the things I enjoy.
I want to write, travel, draw, swim, and pet all the doggos I possibly can.
I want to meet new people, spend time with those I love, and eat bomb food with our worrying about my waistline.
I want enjoyment, and therefore happiness. But not eternal bliss. That’s the key.
For too long, I was too positive, at least externally.
I missed my humor, my sarcastic way of looking at the world, and witty one-liners (at least in my mind).
I missed being able to cry without shame. Because crying feels fucking fantastic. Think about it… it’s so cathartic.
I missed posting memes on my Instagram stories of side-eyeing babies condemning people for their choice of fashion. Because memes are objectively hilarious.
I missed being me. I’m not only the bright, cheery, happy person you see “candidly,” looking off into a sunset on my Instagram feed.
I’m also the girl whose feelings get hurt by mean comments on my articles. I’m the girl that misses her parents during the holidays. The girl that wants to feel loved and accepted in a sometimes cold world.
Always being positive turned out to be everything I didn’t need to be happy.
What I needed were all the emotions. In the negative feelings is the real growth.
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