Shiny Happy People

A chance conversation with a friend of mine recently started me thinking about our attitude to sadness. It has often been observed by people far wiser than I that in order to be truly, ecstatically happy, you have to know what it is to be truly, desperately sad. Yet we seem to suffer from a collective and growing urge to pretend that sadness doesn’t exist. To sweep it under the rug, deny it three times, and surround ourselves with protective amulets and charms to ward it off.

I have wasted a ludicrous amount of time in my life trying to deny my feelings, pretend I wasn’t feeling them, or being angry with myself for how I felt. It wasn’t until I began to admit my feelings to myself that I was able to handle them successfully. Well, ok, less unsuccessfully.

My friend, Rebecca, summed it up beautifully: “To be a happy little pollyanna all the time – that’s unnatural…. so get off our collective cases and let us be sad and down from time to time…. and if we give ourselves permission to be sad maybe it won’t feel so horrendously like failure.”

Permission to be sad. That’s a beautiful concept. Why do we have so much trouble allowing ourselves to be sad? Of course, it’s no fun being sad (by definition), but denying it forces it down into something corrosive and damaging, instead of it being a natural part of our lives.

We have a conspiracy of silence about the hard parts of our lives. It’s not “done” to admit to struggling – witness the media frenzy whenever a public figure “confesses” to suffering from depression. Why must it be a “confession”? We don’t have to confess to the flu, or our eye colour, and depression is just as much a fact of life. According to the National Health and Medical Research Council, around 20% of young people will have experienced significant depressive symptoms by the time they reach adulthood, and at least 15% of people will experience significant depression at some stage of life.

Think about that. Not sadness, or mild depression. Significant depression will affect a staggering 3 in 20 people in their lives. Of course, all of us will be sad. My bet is that all of us will be mildly depressed at some point, too. But for some reason we don’t talk about it.

How many times have you parents out there felt that everyone else was a better parent, or having an easier time of it than you? But there is an appalling conspiracy of silence about the tough times in family life. Too often we wind up competing in the “my child sleeps/eats/talks more/less/faster than yours” game, and pretending that life is all peaches and cream (it may be an indicator of my current family life that I first wrote that as “peaches and scream”).

What about the workplace? Have you ever felt inadequate, or as though everyone else was better than you, harder working than you, cleverer than you, or just finding climbing the ladder much easier than you? My bet is that you’d be staggered to find out how accurately your thoughts are mirrored by almost every other employee in the place. Yes, even the CEO.

We all have low times. There are always going to be times when we feel inadequate or overwhelmed. We all know it. What would the world be like if we stopped denying it?

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