11 Apr 2015

the cult of awesome: we! must! always! be! happy!

always! be! happy!
Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

I wish I were happy all the time – I just don’t think it’s a very realistic possibility. The daily parade of disaster on the news is sobering enough. The fact of my own mortality is a downer. Old age and sickness frighten me. The difficulties of human communication produce as much isolation as connection. The corruption and venality of the powerful are daily reminders of the ubiquitous nature of injustice. The lot of most people in this country who simply work and work harder and harder in order to spend, or simply survive, strikes me as profoundly un-jolly. –From Tim Lott’s “The secret of happiness? Stop feeling bad about being unhappy”

Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light. Even in the beginning, there is a moment we’re hurtled out of the dark and into the light. That first cry uttered, our bodies–a miniature version of ourselves, the smallest we’ll ever be–cave inward; we’re frightened because for so long we had enjoyed being swathed in the cool, calm dark and here we are, our eyes pressed shut because we’re being assaulted by the very thing which we’ll be taught the rest of our lives to cleave: the light. A tower of matches set aflame. In that small slice of time we’ll be blinded, frightened, and we’ll want to crawl our way back into the tomb from which we’ve come. Yet from those flames. No light, but rather darkness visible. This might be the only time when we invite the darkness in, welcome it with fragile arms.

“All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others.” ― Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (my absolute favorite of her novels!)

Everyone’s always telling me to look on the bright side. They say, don’t be sad! They speak in sing-song or emoji; they send me “cheery” photographs: a kitten hanging from a tree (hang in there!), a baby owl being groomed by its mother, a woman on a beach in sepia. Friends rhapsodize over the perception of liquid in a glass and how its meaning oscillates between optimism or pessimism, depending on how you view a situation. Often, they remind me of an auctioneer who hocks joy to the highest bidder. The auctioneer’s voice is a torrent and you’re drowning in the velocity of words, how quickly they flood out of his or her mouth; we never never consider the meaning of what is being said, we only know more, more. Joy, joy. Happy, happy. Every day I read articles lobbying for a happy life. Daily, I’m reminded of all the health benefits of a joyful life. My social media feeds and readers are cluttered with images of joy–toes scrunched under sand, a pristine glossy workspace complete with a monogrammed mug–you can even see the plume of heat from the coffee rising up. Everything rising, rising.

Everything that rises must converge, Flannery O’Connor wrote. I would also add, combust.

aren't you happy yet?
Photo Credit: Death to the Stock Photo

I knew a woman once. She was prideful, perhaps too much, of the fact that she’d never seen a “dark” movie, that she resolved to not absorb anything “gruesome” depicted on the news. Instead, she erected a prison of her own making, and in this prison there existed only glitter, hot pink, saccharine sweet pop music, and movies with happy endings. Can I tell you her life frightened me more than any horror movie? That I realize I sometimes live amongst people for whom their waking lives are consumed (consciously or unconsciously) with the relentless pursuit of the scorching light (from which our initial human instinct was to recoil) at the expense of the annihilation of any sort of sadness. Never did we consider the extremes of light–bodies burst aflame, and the fear and greed solely reserved for those who live in a perpetual fear of sadness.

People crave the pleasure of your happiness, not the burden of your sadness.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not advocating for a life shrouded in darkness, rather I’m desperate for balance. At this moment, as I type this, I’ve so much happiness and joy in my life, and I know I wouldn’t have been able to feel all of this if I didn’t, for a time, settle into my own sadness. And settling, my friends, is different than a full-on immersion, a gasping for air underwater. All too often people I know want to instantly jolt me out of any dark moment. I say jolt because that’s what it feels like: a shock. I tell them that dumping happy emojis on my status update or sending me “happy” missives isn’t helping. That this sadness is temporary, a storm that will pass swiftly, and can’t you just chill the fuck out and ride it through? Your words aren’t a salve, they’re wounds. Wounds that remind me we’re desperate to cleave to only one emotion, joy, and to forsake anything that would grant even a modicum of discomfort.

But discomfort is part of life!

I think about the factors that sometimes contribute to my sadness: loss, failure, heartbreak, fear. For me, sadness is a quiet meditation, it’s the in-between place between two moments, and I’ve come through stronger, resilient, smarter, on the other side. Some periods of sadness last longer than others, and the only thing I’ve to worry about these moments is to not dwell on them for too long. To not become a martyr to my own heartbreak or failure. In these moments I don’t need people to erase a very necessary and base emotion. I don’t need people to rub it away, make me feel better–I need people to say, how can I help? How can I love? What do you need?

Because if you only entomb yourself in one extreme (light conversation, happy music, joyful books, happy endings, sweet songs), your inevitable fall will feel bottomless, infinite. Nothing is visible in this kind of darkness because you’d spent your whole life artfully dodging it. It’s shape and form are so unfamiliar, the first taste of it makes you wretch–all of it is worse than you ever imagined. Had you allow for it, even in minor degrees, you’d allow yourself to settle in this place, breathe through it because you always know there’s another side.

There’s magic in the oscillation, in movement from light to dark and back again. A body pulsing between the two. A heart surviving the two. A life enduring and having real joy because of the two.

0 Comments

  1. Felicia, oh my goodness. I had never thought about happiness this way before. That maybe true happiness is something you can only fully appreciate if you have experienced true sadness. As I’ve been raising all of my children on my own, my one goal has been to make sure everyone is happy, all the time. And I measure my worth as a mother on my ability to make that happen. I have also felt harsh judgement from others when one of them is struggling and that has made it worse,, and has the ability to make me crumble. Maybe if I change my perspective; maybe if I realize that sadness is necessary, and stop focusing all of my energy on the fruitless quest for everyone’s happiness, and instead teach them that sadness is okay, that it even has valuable qualities, maybe that will take some pressure off of me and even help them to be happier in the long run. I think this perspective could be freeing for us all. Thank you for a great post and a wonderful new idea for the day.

    Posted on 4.11.15 · Reply to comment
    • Thank you, Celena! Your comment really moved me because I think the tension between joy/sadness is a profound one–one with which we all struggle. Sometimes I think it takes more energy to snap out of sadness too early rather than sit in your emotion, feel it (really feel it) and see what you could have learned from the situation to make you stronger, wiser.

      Warmly, f.

      Posted on 4.14.15 · Reply to comment
  2. SD Gates wrote:

    Beautifully written post!! I agree. People want to be so artificially perky these days!! I believe you cannot enjoy the peaks in life if you don’t have the valleys. You can’t go on one straight line of happiness because then it becomes the norm and you find yourself in a rut of forced happiness (and even the slightest deviation from that line can be devastating).

    Posted on 4.11.15 · Reply to comment
  3. Exactly my thoughts! If you’re sad you should be allowed to expres it and use it to empower your further life. Don’t feel obliged hide sadness away.

    Posted on 4.11.15 · Reply to comment
  4. so beautiful, brave and kind of delicious. yes I notice this, even on good podcasts that I like, people always seem to push this super happy super positive ideals. Its like were not aloud be unhappy or something, I wonder what happens if you understand the unhappiness thing too much, do you turn into a buddha or something?

    Posted on 4.11.15 · Reply to comment
    • Hahaha, so true! I’ve found this joy-pushing to be ubiquitous on most blogs and podcasts. Feel deal with the real sticky stuff, the in-betweens, the times when life is stagnant or joyless–parts of our life that I feel are as informative as our halcyon moments.

      Posted on 4.14.15 · Reply to comment
  5. glenda1203 wrote:

    I call it the ebbs and flow of life… the peaks and valleys…and I welcome them both because NO ONE can be happy all of the time. It’s unreal! Beautiful post!!!

    Posted on 4.11.15 · Reply to comment
  6. Cause i’m happy! 🙂

    Posted on 4.11.15 · Reply to comment
  7. lisalou46 wrote:

    So true…we all need a rainy, dreary day, watching sad movies and a good cry once in a while.

    Posted on 4.12.15 · Reply to comment
  8. I love this so much.
    I suppose I have always felt strange because I can appreciate both extremes so equally. A large part of my life was spent in the dark, and I formed thoughts and feelings that I never would have been capable of if I hadn’t of resided there.
    I believe that your creative self is largely comprised of your experience in the dark, and that is why I am thankful for the days that the light isn’t visible.

    Posted on 4.12.15 · Reply to comment
  9. I so agree!! balance in both.. as they say you cant have a rainbow without a little rain. strive to see the happy things but dont ignore the sad totally!! and dont get wrapped up in the sad!

    Posted on 4.13.15 · Reply to comment
  10. Well said Felicia.

    The obsessive cover-up culture bothers me as well. I too have gone through some darker times, and I’m pretty quick to share my experiences with others. What I’ve been finding is that most people seem to jump quickly to discomfort or pity- both of which I find odd. I thought for a while that maybe I’m the oddball for being comfortable sharing both the ups and the downs in life, but this isn’t so. The truth is that most people are uncomfortable with anything even remotely imperfect. They lack the ability to, as you’ve put it: sink into things. To experience life and allow it to better you, and to teach you what happy really feels like. Appreciation!

    Posted on 4.13.15 · Reply to comment
  11. I am so incredibly pleased to have found a fellow blogger who understands my need to accept the bad in life. I prefer to ride the waves of grief and disappointment that come and go like the ocean to and from the shore. I get so sick of people telling me to cheer up, ignore the bad, smile through it, or even encourage me to run from it. Life should be a fine balance of good and bad. Besides, people who are always happy, who never complain, they are the ones you should watch out for. They’re sick and in denial. They will never truly experience anything good or fully appreciate a blessing because they have nothing to which it contrasts. Those people seriously worry me. People like me, the realists, those who see the negatives in life for what they are and accept them as they come, we are just fine. The infinitely joyful people, they’re the crazy ones!

    Posted on 4.13.15 · Reply to comment
  12. THANK YOU!

    I don’t mean to shout, but I appreciate this post so much, especially since I’ve battled my dark friend – depression – all my life. I’ve never thought of “sadness… [as] a quiet meditation” before. I’ve spent my life trying to dodge it, and not so artfully. But it makes sense. I’ve been avoiding life. I could weep for joy, because of my gratitude to you.

    And I LOVE your blog!

    Posted on 4.15.15 · Reply to comment
    • You’re entirely too kind, Nadine. I’m thrilled my writing resonates with you. All the best, f.

      >

      Posted on 4.15.15 · Reply to comment

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