It seems that culturally, we are pressured to be thankful for what we have. Because no matter what we’re dealing with, we can always find someone who is dealing with something worse. We reinforce this in each other. We point out to ourselves and others how there is always someone out there that is struggling with something worse than we are. The message being, essentially, suck it up buttercup and get on with your life.
I’m all for gratitude. I think gratitude and thankfulness are wonderful things to practice as much as possible.
And yet, here’s the thing. Sometimes, I just want my misery. I just want to be able to say that it’s okay for me to feel sad, or lonely, or pissed off. It’s just okay to feel that way sometimes. Even though I’m still grateful for all of the wonderful things in my life. And there are many wonderful things. And sometimes I’m sad. I want to just be able to be sad, even though at the very minute that I feel sad I have many wonderful things in my life and even though someone else doesn’t have enough food to eat or is suffering through the loss of a loved one or something much more horrible than the sadness I’m currently feeling. That sadness is mine, and I want to be allowed to feel it.
I think that we do ourselves a disservice by trying to talk ourselves out of our so-called bad feelings. When we say to ourselves “I shouldn’t be sad because there’s so much to be grateful for”, or “I shouldn’t be sad because my friend’s daughter is going through chemo right now” we essentially deny ourselves the ability to learn from that feeling. And then we apply another bad feeling — guilt — on top of things. I now feel guilty for being sad. Or guilty for feeling guilty. It’s crazy making.
It’s okay to feel sad sometimes*. Or mad or irritated or tired to the bone or annoyed or stressed or or anxious or guilty or just generally apathetic. It’s not only okay, but sometimes necessary, to let those feelings teach us something. Just feel them, let them go through us. Sadness can teach us about happiness. Guilt can teach us about peace. Anxiety can teach us about calm.
The thing that I’ve found, for me anyway, is that words are not enough to banish those bad feelings anyway. Trying to talk myself out of those feelings doesn’t work. So I have to add something else to distract me. For me, it’s food. For others it might be booze, drugs, spending money. A life time of eating to distract myself from my feelings has not done me any good. So now I just feel those feelings. Ask what they’re trying to tell me. Ask what I really need right now. And then I can make rational decisions about things. I can say to myself, hey I’m feeling pissed off right now, and so I’m not going to make the call to eat several spoonfuls of brown sugar, because I’d be making that decision from a place of being pissed off and then I’ll just feel guilty too. And probably even more pissed off. So not now, not today. So I’ll just feel it. Have a dialogue with it. Acknowledge it. And then it will probably go away.
Here’s something that made me smile. My kids are really good kids. Even though they get on my nerves, as all kids do, I know I am extremely fortunate that they are the people they are. So last night, when I went to say goodnight to my 11 year old son, I said to him “You’re such a good kid. How did you get to be such a great kid?” And he said “Because I was born from you.” With kind of a smirk on his face. So I think that his response was partly a suck up for future credit response, but also a wonderful compliment. It was a really good feeling. And I let myself feel it. Because as it turns out, sometimes we don’t really let ourselves feel the good feelings either.
* On the subject of sadness, anxiety and all things related, I am clearly not a mental health professional, and of course believe that while it’s part of normal life to feel those things sometimes, it is not normal to feel them most of the time, and to believe that you can just snap out of an ongoing time of depression or anxiety. If you feel sad or anxious for extended periods of time, talk to a doctor about it.