Have you ever felt pressure to be happy?
Some of that pressure has come from me: my own brush with death, and the death of my son Hugo has left me with (amongst many other things) a sense that days of my life must not be wasted. That I must appreciate every day of life, and to the full.
Some of the pressure is external, from things like inspirational quotes that get shared on social media. Dependent on my mood, I can appreciate what some of them are saying but others can be what I like to call ‘unicorns farting rainbows’.
Rationally, I know even the more unrealistic quotes aren’t expecting people to go around hugging strangers, and dancing in fields full of flowers. They are trying to tell people to not sweat the small stuff, to appreciate the good in every day, to take a moment to think about the things that make them happy.
That near-death experience and Hugo’s death have given me a sense of perspective: I tend to not get stressed about trivial things like I used to. I don’t sweat the small stuff. Conversely, however, a legacy of what happened is anxiety. Anxiety can make feeling happy a challenge. That can be frustrating because anxiety very often defies any rational explanation.
As you might expect, I often feel sad. Sadness is the polar opposite to happiness. Sometimes turning the frown upside down just isn’t easy – or possible.
I know that I am fortunate to still be alive, which forms a fundamental appreciation of the good in every day. Every day I try to think of three good things that have happened to me (however small). It is a good habit to get into – but mostly I forget. Sometimes, the forgetting makes me feel bad – I’m not doing something I ‘should’ be doing.
There are many things that make me happy in life. The trouble is, my perspective on the things that make me happy has changed in the past year. That is bound to happen, really. The joy I felt for spring’s arrival has been tempered by thoughts of what happened last year. The pleasure I used to take in watching films and reading books isn’t quite there in the way it used to be, due to poor concentration and being vigilant for triggers (I am getting back in to them, though, which is something to be happy about). Perhaps I need to write a list of things that make me happy.
Or, at least things that make me smile, lift my mood a little.
I say that because I sometimes ask whether I can feel happy? Bereavement can make me think that I will never again feel happy, partly due to the sadness of grief and partly due to guilt that I ‘shouldn’t’ feel happy.
Of course I deserve to be happy, just like anyone does. Easier said than done, though.
So, happiness is something I want, and that I deserve. But this most humble of concepts can be hard to grasp because of changing perspectives, shifting moods, grief taking away happiness, guilt when feeling happy, guilt when not feeling happy, anxiety, being frustrated with the anxiety, pressure to feel happy (and pressure is rarely good).
With all those complexities in mind, I was relieved to spot this quote on Twitter today.
I know, you’re sad, so I won’t tell you to have a good day. Instead I advise you to simply have a day. Stay alive, feed yourself well, wear comfortable clothes, and don’t give up on yourself just yet. It’ll get better. Until then, have a day.
For many people, for so many reasons simply getting through a day is an achievement. Sometimes you need a bit of time to just be.
It’s not that I don’t wish you a ‘good’ day. I hope you have a lovely day. But that isn’t always possible.
Expectations are tiring, as is guilt.
I am trying to tell myself that feelings are what they are (and don’t tell me it’s ok to not be ok).
Easier said than done, I know all too well.
Don’t give up. Step by step, things can change. Maybe not better, different perhaps. I have days I can call a ‘good’ day. I have days I call ‘bad’ days. I have days where I feel both joy and sorrow. And lots of other things besides. Most of us experience a range of emotions during a day, whatever we are doing.
If days are going to be labelled perhaps it is better to label them retrospectively, when the day is done.
So have a day.
No prefix, no expectations. No shoulds or shouldn’ts.
Sometimes you want a good day – and you can feel it. Being positive, if you genuinely feel positive, is great. Sometimes, though, you can feel it’s going to be a bad day. Can you make a day good or bad through positive and negative expectation? Maybe, maybe not. Some things are within our control, others are not. A discussion for another day.
You don’t have to anticipate a good day, or a bad day. Especially if getting through the day is a going to be a challenge.
Just have a day.
Do you feel pressure to be happy?