“So, this is my life… And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be” ~ Stephen Chbosky
We’ve all heard it… the generic “Don’t worry, it’ll all be okay” speech usually given by friends who try to cheer us up and put a smile on our face by being overwhelming positive. However, despite the current trend of optimism, I think that there is something to be said for simply being okay with not being okay.
In our culture, there is an overwhelming trend towards an unspoken dogma of constant optimism. We are encouraged, even expected, to always wear a smile, think positive thoughts, and act “happy.” Especially in social media, there is a huge push to post positive quotes, funny memes, and overall lighthearted material.
There is this constant pressure to always have a smile on your face… and when someone asks you how you’re doing, the expected reply is the generic “I’m great! How are you?” …even when you might be crumbling apart on the inside.
But all this optimism is a good thing, right?
Well, maybe not so much…
As it turns out, it can be incredibly healthy to simply be present within your emotions, and to allow yourself to experience the wide range of emotions that we have available to us as human beings.
In fact, the wide range of human emotions are the direct result of our evolvement as a human species, and the ability to fully allow yourself to experience those emotions is an incredibly innate, natural, and beneficial human experience.
We are not meant to always have a smile plastered to our face, or to constantly think “happy” thoughts.
At the height of my battle with depression, I remember trying SO hard to force myself to “think happy thoughts” by surrounding myself with inspirational quotes and memes (thank you, Pinterest….). It made me feel as if my very human feelings of sadness and loneliness were simply the results of me not trying hard enough to “stay positive,” and that I was therefore a horrible person for not being okay.
Especially within my field of yoga and wellness, there is a constant pressure to maintain positive energy and always show up to the studio, or the gym, with a smile and a positive “I can do it! Yay me!” attitude.
But on some days, I feel like I’m lying to myself.
Not just to myself, but to others. Every time I post on social media, I feel as if I am portraying the “happy, fun-loving, social” person that I want to be, instead of revealing the reality of my daily life (which is not nearly so glamorous!). What is sad is that I wasn’t trying to “impress” other people, I was trying to impress myself. I wanted so desperately to be okay that I distorted the reality of my feelings and tried to cover them up with happy, positive thoughts and far too many fake smiles.
Finally, I came to the conclusion that it is perfectly okay to not be okay.
It is a beautiful thing to be able to be fully present with your feelings. There are so many wonderful, emotional intricacies of the human mind, and it is incredibly healthy to allow yourself to experience the wide spectrum of human emotions without self-judgement.
I know that sadness often gets a really bad rap, but it is not an emotion to be pushed to the side or “replaced” by a more socially acceptable one. Instead, allow yourself to fully absorb the reality of whatever emotion you are experiencing, even if it’s not “happy” or “fun.”
A few weeks ago I came across a study that links the emotional experience of melancholy to being a better person. It not only prompts compassion and forgiveness, but it also makes us better able to really reflect on what is important in life. In fact, almost every single emotion has an evolutionary purpose that benefits our mind/body in some way. When kept in balance, a wide range of emotional experiences are normal, healthy, and beneficial.
When you operate within your emotions, instead of completely avoiding them, you escape the dangerous effects of suppressed, withhold emotions and unprocessed pain. It gives you a clearer picture of reality and allows you to really be honest with both yourself and others.
Sometimes, the simple acceptance of not being okay is the first step towards healing. It will make us stronger, healthier, and more honest with both ourselves and others.
True strength is not repressing the pain, but rather immersing yourself in it and allowing yourself to simply feel and be.
So, instead of viewing your emotions as either all good or all bad, try to contemplate on what emotion you are actually experiencing in that moment.
Are you joyful, exuberant, hopeful, peaceful, curious? Or melancholy, frustrated, confused, apathetic?
Whatever your current emotion is, practice telling yourself: “ I feel _________, and that’s okay.”
The more you are comfortable residing within your unique, emotional self and recognizing the wide variety and complexity of human emotion, the more you will be able to find healing, balance, and self-acceptance.
So, how are you really doing today?