Happy all the Time A rich life is full of many emotions
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A youngster once commented, “Happiness is truly a choice. I choose to be happy all the time even when I'm dying in the inside. You can drown in sadness but you can't drown in happiness! You swim!” Words are just words. We can draw limited conclusions; but not comprehend the complex intertwining of feeling and context. But these particular words, whatever the intended meaning, struck me, representative of a prevailing mode of thought—positivity.
The myth that we must continually experience glee exacts a costly toll on well-being. We charge ourselves with forcing happiness. There is confusion between experiencing pleasurable emotions and living a rich and meaningful life. Certain segments of the happiness movement popularize the myth that we must be happy—experiencing pleasurable emotions—all of the time; if we aren’t happy, we are defective.
Happiness is a choice, they proclaim. Instead of having empathy for the grieving, hurt, and downtrodden, their advice simply is: “why are you choosing to be sad?” I’m concerned. Many awash in despair, possibly as this young poster describes, “Even when you’re dying inside,” feel an uncanny drive to force a smile and ignore the underlying factors bubbling beneath the surface. Emotional expression, such as a smile, isn’t a singular event, unconnected to the complex stream of emotions, evaluations and memories combining to create the underlying despair. Some studies, however, have discovered a smile does positively impact mood; but impacting the mood doesn’t suggest we ignore despair, or constantly force a smile.
Sometimes, on a gloomy day, a smile might be all we need, other times something more sinister is at work requiring much more than a deceitful grin while unchallenged feelings demand a more sophisticated cure.
Faulty expectations of happiness create internal conflict, when life—at the moment—is unhappy; we engage in a battle that can never be won. Attempts for continual pleasure clash with reality, the body seeks homeostasis, not an extremity or monopoly of any one emotion. Extreme emotions motivate action; we avoid challenges, engage in pursuit, or aggressively defend. We need motivation from both pleasant and unpleasant emotions.
We are increasingly surrounded by smiling people, chanting life is wonderful, but dying inside. How are we to express empathy to those falsely expressing emotions? Perhaps, the growing masses of people suppressing emotional expression will create an unplanned epidemic of loss connection. Is our push for unrestrained happiness creating a generation of loneliness?
Henry David Thoreau said, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." If the mythical land of continual happiness is what we seek, we may never sing the song of a rich, fulfilling life that includes a whole array of emotions. To connect and effect positive change, we must face difficulties that naturally evoke discomfort. Intimate relationships require sorrows from loss and the occasional pain of disloyalty. But these deep pangs of feeling create meaning, connection, and purpose. The feelings create wholeness. Building connections on superficial pleasant emotions composes a thin personal narrative, constructed from a disjointed patchwork of misunderstood emotions.
We must face the heartache of personal and societal suffering, reality consists of happiness and sadness, both contributing to fullness, and imparting wisdom. Sadness is not a sign of defectiveness but a sign of passion and connection. We can swim or drown in the thickening flow of emotion; but our survival depends less on the nature of the emotions but our compassionate acceptance of our internal feelings—the energy of richness and life.