The other day I saw a quote on Facebook: Just because I am laughing, it doesn’t mean I’m happy. Just because I’m smiling, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to cry. I just believe in not emphasizing the negative.
There are worse things than not being happy — living a lie, for example. According to a team of researchers led by Iris Mauss at the University of Denver, “Valuing happiness is not necessarily linked to greater happiness. In fact, under certain conditions, the opposite is true. Under conditions of low (but not high) life stress, the more people valued happiness, the lower were their hedonic balance, psychological well-being, and life satisfaction, and the higher their depression symptoms.”
In other words, living a lie and pretending to be happy is exhausting and stressful and can make you even more unhappy.
Other studies have shown that we are seldom happy in the present. We are happy in retrospect. Think of some of the happy times in your life. Back then, were you aware you were happy? Chances are, you were involved in living and didn’t bother to stop to think how you were feeling. Happiness is elusive. If we go chasing it, we don’t always find it. If we stop chasing it, happiness often finds us. And even if happiness doesn’t find us, being unhappy is not necessary emphasizing the negative.
When my life mate/soul mate died, I had no intention of sharing my unhappiness here on this blog. I’d intended to keep it private, but I became so frustrated with writers whose characters blithely went on with life despite devastating losses, that I figured someone ought to tell the truth about how it feels to lose the one person who connects you to life. Because of my grief writing, I gained support, friends, and a mission — to tell people that it is okay to grieve, that it is important to grieve, and that they will survive. If I had kept my grief to myself and pretended everything was okay in my life, I would have missed out on these positive results, and in the end, I would have been even more unhappy.
It has also been a blessing to be able to reach out to other bereft. Grief is so isolating that it brings comfort to know that others have felt this same sort of all-encompassing loss, and the only way to do that is to be vulnerable and show the hurt. This is not being negative. It is being realistic.
Being realistic sometimes seems pessimistic, sometimes optimistic, but it is neither. It’s seeing the truth of the matter. A pessimist magnifies the negative side of the truth, and the optimist magnifies the positive side, but neither are being realistic. Nor does being realistic adversely affect the outcome of a situation, because a realist knows that no matter how bleak the future looks, there is always a possibility that things will work out.
There is a chance that I will find happiness in the future or it will find me, and if not, well . . . at least I won’t have the stress of living a lie.
May 20, 2012 at 11:39 am
As someone who lives with depression every single day I truly can relate to the idea of smiling or laughing and not really being happy. I’ve learned to place a false face on when it’s needed to get by.
Adding to depression I did live a lie for many years and it was draining, exhausting and only made life more terrible. What was worse for me was losing the ability to feel my feelings. I got so adept at pasting on a face I lost sight of how I really felt or how to properly express it.
Reading your work on grief has helped me to gain perspective on my own life, my own feelings and I’m learning what to do with those feelings. I know this might not have been your express mission but I wanted you to know how much you’ve helped me.
I think happiness will sneak up on you when you least expect it. What I admire so much about you is your willingness to put yourself out there, to keep living your life as you deal with your loss, your grief. You’re something of a hero to me, Pat.
May 20, 2012 at 7:20 pm
Wanda, when it comes to true depression (not just a general feeling of discontent), sometimes acting as if we are happy is the only way to get by. It takes all we have not to fall in that pit. I’ve been there, which is how I knew that grief was something completely different from depression, though one can exacerbate the other.
Thank you for your kind words. You always say such nice things to me, so it’s good to know that my grief blogs bring some comfort to you. Facing our feelings and letting them flow through us is so very painful, but sometimes the only way to bear the unbearable is simply to deal with it however we can — screams, tears, and all.
I hope you find happiness, or at least a surcease of your depression.