Emotions are in general difficult for many people to discern. In recent years, the notion of emotional intelligence has become more popular and, some even believe it is more important than intellectual intelligence. Understanding your feelings is a gateway to having healthy relationships in both personal and professional settings. The issue is, any emotion that is labeled as being ‘negative’ is frowned upon. This generates confusion and internal turmoil which then manifests with most people suppressing those emotions and not taking the time to explore and process them creating unnecessary sorrow.
The notion of ‘happiness’ has become a sort of trend in recent years. The happiness and positive thinking industry is a more than $11 billion a year industry and although it all sounds great, in actuality, this happiness train is causing much more harm than it is good. The idea that being happy and positive all the time is the key to living your best life, has seriously misled people. In fact, it has misled people to such an extreme that they don’t even recognize their own feelings anymore. All this because anything other than ‘light and love’ is frowned upon. Anywhere you look nowadays – Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok – people are posting how happy they are all the time. We are so accustomed to posting the best 5 minutes of our day that we forget to talk about the moments where we may not be feeling so happy. This happiness illusion that social media has created has become a type of poison to our ability to see things clearly because all we see and read about is how happy everyone is all the time making our own lives feel mundane and sad. We have to remember that although encouraging people to live happily and posting happy moments is a great way to share with friends and family, it seems today – more than ever – one major piece of the puzzle is missing – REALITY!
Although it may not seem so, I am a huge proponent of positive thinking and happiness but, I am also a fan of emotional well-being and the ability to accept that being happy and positive all the time is not only unattainable but unrealistic, and possibly even emotionally damaging. We need to put an end to telling people to ‘suck it up’ or ‘stop being too sensitive’ and normalize being able to feel sad, angry, confused, frustrated, and even mad without being made to feeling guilty about it. The residual damage we are causing ourselves by burying our feelings is not only affecting our mental well-being but also our physical health.
I can personally remember a time when I was on a field trip with my then 7-year-old daughter. It was a trip to the safety village which unbeknownst to me, involved a tour of the inside of an ambulance. The moment I stepped inside, my entire body froze. My heart started beating faster, my palms became sweaty and I started to feel lightheaded and took a step back to lean against the wall. Within seconds I was physically overtaken by my emotions so bad that I thought I was having a heart attack. As I realized what was happening the “you can’t have negative emotions guilt kicked int and I told myself – get it together Eleni. The teacher even looked over at me and asked “are you okay?” “Of course, I said” making sure to be as convincing as possible and like a good girl, I sucked it up and moved on with my day not speaking of it again. All this, because I had not processed emotions from a traumatic experience that happened years prior.
WHY IT’S OKAY NOT TO BE HAPPY ALL THE TIME
Happiness is not sustainable as a constant state. On any given day, a person will experience thousands of feelings and emotions which is completely normal. Living with the expectation of always needing to be happy will only set a person up for feeling confused and frustrated. When a person is emotionally intelligent they are able to recognize and understand their feelings which gives them the tools to process them which will result in one of two things happening. The emotions will either move through you and be done or, they will become a part of you as a whole changing the way you navigate through life. This is how we grow and evolve. When we set the expectation of being positive and happy all the time, we struggle when we feel anything different and often end up simmering in turmoil. As a result, we become numb and desensitized leading to more internal frustration which can become difficult to quantify.
IT’S OKAY TO NOT BE OKAY OR….IS IT?
I’m sure we’ve all heard this by now. It’s the new catchphrase aimed at removing the stigma surrounding mental illness and neurodiversity. Although I agree with the motivation behind this, I also believe it’s lacking a very crucial component that can leave people feeling more confused and frustrated. The notion behind “It’s okay to not be okay” – in my opinion – is to allow people to do just what we have been talking about – feel their feelings without being afraid of becoming a social outcast. The problem is, we are forgetting to tell people that although acknowledging feelings is imperative, investigating the cause and taking the necessary steps to heal might be just as important – if not more – in order to heal. To me, this phrase encourages people to allow themselves to not be okay but is missing a very crucial component which is to also encourage them to do the work. It can be compared to a doctor communicating a cancer diagnosis but not providing a treatment plan – crazy right?
So what is the answer? It’s clear that the positivity train needs to leave the building but on that same note, we also need to clarify that not being okay all the time, is also not okay. These two extremes need to meet somewhere in the middle and for the same reason we are able to explain why we feel happy, we should be able to understand what it is that’s causing us to feel anything other than happy. It’s time we accepted that feeling one emotion all the time is just not sustainable. What if instead of focusing only on destigmatizing mental health, we also focused on destigmatizing negative emotions thus, removing shame and guilt from the equation. This approach could possibly even allow people to deal with whatever might be going on before it manifests into something bigger? Maybe this approach would in fact allow people the freedom to finally be real about who they are and what they may be dealing with instead of having to pretend to be something and someone they are not all the time. Maybe, just maybe this could be the answer to allowing people to finally be human – in every way!