I stumbled across a cheeky post by Katherine Fritz on Facebook yesterday, and it really resonated with a less cheeky sense of unease that I've been carrying around, and not sure how to articulate. (Kathryn blogs over at I Am Begging My Mother Not to Read This Blog, if you want to check out her other stuff!). I love (lovelovelove) the way this post calls out "habits of happy people" posts. Why? Because I FUCKING HATE those posts. They make me want to find the author of the post and punch them in the face. Hard. And why, might you ask again? Because they make me feel like I'm failing. (you know, again). Not only am I failing at staying on the top of the constant motion of my single-mother-phd-student-broke-person-anxiety-bomb-at-the-best-of-times life, not only am I failing to get enough good homework done, enough good-enough mothering done, enough paying the bills done - but I am ALSO failing at getting the being happy-enough done. For not putting enough joy and sunshine and dandelion fluff out into the world.
Think I'm overreacting? Maybe. I do tend towards that general emotion trend sometimes. But I'm also very aware that I'm not the only one. In fact, part of my reason for writing this post, in addition to reading the awesome blog by Fritz, was the status of a friend recently, who said that they were feeling judged and ashamed for 'not being okay.' There is pressure in our world to achieve this thing called 'happy.' To be joyful. To look on the bright side. To have a glass half full. To 'create' the world we want to live in. To spread positivity. To be 'okay.'
It seems to me, in fact, that the pressure to be happy and zen-like has become a social requirement - something to be pursued with the same zeal as a paycheck in our neo-liberal capitalist society. The happiness quest sells books - gazillions of them - like "The Secret" or "The Happiness Project," and most of them tell us the same thing. If we aren't 'happy,' we're doing something wrong. If we aren't 'happy,' we have failed in creating our happy realities. Happiness, spun this way, feels a bit tyrannical.
We, as a culture, are deeply deeply uncomfortable with sadness. With anxiety. With all kinds of feelings that normal people experience within the course of a day, a week, a month, a year, a lifetime. We ask how people 'are', as a social nicety, but we all know the 'correct' answer to this question is "Fine!" or "Great!" or "super swell! Thanks for asking!" And, as a person who has experienced bone fide depression and anxiety (by this I mean the debilitating kind, not the flippant, I'm-having-a-big-feeling-and-it-scares-me-kind), and who tends toward the Eeyore at the best of times, I often feel like a big liar answering this question. I often want to say things like: "I'm actually really anxious and spent most of last night worrying about the oil tanker spill, the state of global politics, my kids, whatever, whathaveyou," or "I'm really sad and I can't concentrate," or something of the like. (Sometimes I want to say "I'm so happy I could pee my pants!" too, but I don't this this should be a social requirement).
Whatever happened to authenticity?
Why are we sooooooooo fucking uncomfortable with sadness? With not-okayness?
When did happiness become social requirement?
Look around, folks. This world is hard. It's really hard. We are profoundly isolated and disconnected from each other. The bad bits of the world often seem so insurmountable that they are impossible to fix. And on a smaller scale and deeper level, we, as people who mean well, often hurt each other deeply.
Sadness makes sense. Anxiety makes sense. Frustration makes sense. Anger makes sense. And sometimes happiness, calm and contentedness make sense too. Sometimes, all of these things at the same time make sense. (And as an aside, if we weren't fucking messes some, or even a lot of the time, we wouldn't appreciate those beautiful shiny spots of happy-delightedness nearly as much).
My fear is that the push for happy-happy-okay-ness in our culture will only serve to disconnect us from each other more; create further isolation. My fear is that we are losing our ability to be emotionally authentic in the quest for soothing our cultural discomfort for sadness and less pleasant emotional states. (My secondary fear is that we miss seeing the privilege inherent in the articles and books we write and read about the quest 'to get happy.' The class and race privilege. The time privilege. The living-without-oppression privilege.)
Our commodification of 'happiness,' our expectation that everyone around us be 'okay,' doesn't actually lead to more general contentment. And it definitely won't enhance our ability to create and sustain community.
So I guess this is my way of saying - be how you are. Be sad. Be anxious. Weep on the way to work if you need to. (And ask for support if you need to, too).
Because I think, in the end, that kind of authenticity is some radical shit.
*** Caveat - this is NOT in any way intended to induce shame for those that say, take meds etc. to deal with continued and debilitating states of unhappiness, a category which yours truly falls into. Love my meds. Love 'em. Love the daily functioning. Love it. Some day I might not need them. Right now, I do and I'm so fucking glad they exist.