When I think back over the schooling I’ve had in the subject of cultural history, I realize this virus I am learning about just now has placated societies for decades venturing into centuries. I call it a virus because it is harmful, highly contagious, and thus rapidly multiplying within individuals and society as a whole.
This “virus” is our thought patterns regarding happiness.
Wait…What? How does that compute? Allow me to elaborate.
We feel a range of emotions on a daily basis. Feelings are constantly in flux: up, down, bigger up, bigger down, at different points in our lives.
Feelings are never right or wrong, they simply are an indication of what’s going on for us. However, we tend to judge our feelings: Happy = Good; Sad = Bad. By judging my feelings, I invalidate them and whatever I am experiencing. Furthermore, we have categorized “good” feelings as “Normal”; and “bad” ones as abnormal.
Ever feel helpless when someone is crying? Interesting concept. Feeling this way is me believing two lies: 1) This person needs to be happy; 2) I need to make them happier.
Feeling sadness is a normal part of life, and is not synonymous with “bad” or “wrong”. As mentioned above regarding someone else crying, I judge myself the same way. If I am upset or depressed, I think something is terribly wrong and I must do something to feel better.
I feel sad sometimes, and that’s okay.
Telling myself it is not okay, and trying to force changes in my feelings is perhaps more detrimental than the depression itself. I have fallen victim to the virus: I believe I must be happy in order to be okay.
Society has taught us to judge and try to change our feelings. We have taught each other to do so. We live in a culture of bigger, better, more.
Consequently, I personally tend to put on a mask of feigned okay-ness. If I am happy and have myself together then I blend in with the rest of the Normal people. Problem is, we have defined Normal in a grossly abnormal way.
I am constantly bombarded with societal messages of “This will make you happy!” or “Feeling depressed? Fix it with this!” Which implants the idea that I am not okay as I am. We then spend countless time or even money trying to make ourselves or others happier.
I am going to be bold and say: Nobody has it together! What does this even mean?! Well, on the surface, it means having a bigger house, better job, and more happiness. But look around -where do you actually see this playing out? More specifically, do you know people who are truly happy with the more stuff they get? Truly happy?
I am not saying happiness is unattainable. Nor am I saying everyone is secretly miserable. But what I know from my experience is pretending to be happy leads to more misery.
We all walk around with our own demons, struggles, even just negative thoughts. But how often do we honestly share these? In my experience, sharing the truth of who I am and what’s really going on for me invites others to do the same, thus creating an even playing field and a real sense of relief that I am not, in fact, abnormal or wrong because of the way I feel.
There is no medication to cure a virus; it has to run its course. It takes a number of generations to make a change, and I do believe we are in the middle of de-stigmatizing mental illness and the way we think about mental health in general.
While we venture into future generations, let’s try to gear society toward feeling, instead of feeling better.