Every other day, someone in the wellness industry will put something up about being happy. It’s usually one of those cute little word poster design things, like the one below.
This is the world that I am a part of and I do love the people in this community but today, I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate to the ‘be happy,’ mantra. I suppose since this is an ‘industry,’ one would need something to sell, but I do wonder if selling happiness could be dangerous to the public. The way it is portrayed, it looks like being happy is the be all and end all of your purpose to life. You eat well, you exercise, you smile, you pick happy friends and that’s what life is supposed to be.
What about the other emotions that we, as humans have the capacity for? It seems to me that as we push the ‘be happy,’ mantra, we alienate the rest. Sure, the rest is not as pretty as being happy, but pushing things under the rug is just not healthy. At some point these emotions will bubble up in an eruption, and like larva flowing out of a volcano, it will burn everything in its path. Also, with the rich array of emotions that humans are capable of, happy seems to be a bit trite, and dare I say it, ‘fluffy.’
And what about the people who are going through a tough period? What if this whole idea that we are made to be happy just makes them feel like there’s something wrong with them? I have met so many people who go through a tough time and the first thing they do is think themselves ill, seeking psychological help, and medication. As the world reaches for this concept of ‘happiness,’ it is like being unhappy every once in a while is just not normal. (Note, I’m not talking about prolonged periods of depression here, but the times when one could be a bit down on energy due to any number of things including work, relationship or even physical health issues) Or worse still is the person who just doesn’t feel like going out, but with all the YOLO and ‘be happy,’ going around turns to party drugs. Why? Well, because according to the hippy trippy stuff, not being happy is somehow wrong. Because we are meant to be happy all the time. And when we are not, we are somehow lacking or unwell.
On the other side of the spectrum, there is this issue with surrounding ourselves with happy people. Sure it’s great. Happy people make other people happy, but what about that person who stuck with you while you were down in the dumps and is perhaps going through a prolonged period of misery. What if they just got divorced or if they just lost a parent? They have every right to be miserable and even angry for a while, but does that mean that you walk away because being with them makes you miserable? Does that mean that they are mentally unwell? Time is relative. Some people get over things in a month, others take a year, and it might cramp your happiness vibe but time is what a lot of people need.
I know most people mean well when they tell other people to be happy, but perhaps the message needs a bit of a revamp. Happiness is not a permanent state. It is balanced off with periods of disappointment, sadness, grief, anger, exhaustion and a myriad of other feelings. Life is like the ocean while we are this little sand castle on the beach. Sometimes you just don’t know what the waves will bring in. It can just tickle you or completely destroy you. These experiences and feelings, even though they might not be pleasant, do enrich our lives in their way.
Pushing happiness the way we do, is not honouring this fact that there are things greater than us. Actually, sometimes I feel like it’s the opposite extreme of drumming the Seven Deadly Sins in someone’s head. Difference is, the mantra, “you must not blah blah blah,” is replaced with, “you must be happy.” This idea of, “must,” “should be,” or “shouldn’t be” anything is always a dangerous one to have. It is too black and white, and if anything, as teachers, we want people to accept the greys in between.
Perhaps in this world where people come searching for something more, our message should be a kinder one, like acceptance, compassion and most of all, peace. To be happy all the time is to deny or even fight other emotions but to be at peace is to calmly accept any feelings that come with a lot of compassion and allow them to stay as long as they need to. It has an element of surrender and softness, but also a lot of strength. It is not denying or burying things in order to ‘be happy,’ but entering the space that is not happiness with a sense of acceptance. Because being human is feeling a range of emotions and we need to accept this in a way that is healthy and compassionate.