Someone I know recently posted this on Facebook – and it was all I could do not to immediately unfriend this person.
“Oh, Eric,” I’m sure you’re saying, “Don’t be such a crab. In fact it might do you some good to be a little happier about your life.” WELL!
First of all, I am quite happy with certain aspects of my life. One that pops immediately into my mind is that my cat is over his recent illness and is back to his delightful and cuddly self. And I just made plans to spend two-and-a-half weeks on the Continent this fall. This is exciting and serves as a reminder that I am very lucky to have a job that gives me sufficient paid time off and pays well enough to take such a trip. This is a good thing!
But then there are components of my life which make me unhappy. Being single and pushing 50 is not exactly a bed of roses – and since being not-single generally requires input from someone other than myself, I only have a certain amount of control over making this “change.”
I think what galls me the most about the underlying idea of this “unhappy? then change” message is that somehow every aspect of one’s emotional life is controlled internally. Certainly, some of it is – but would anyone print up this noxious cartoon and hand it out to parents visiting their kids in the cancer ward? Or to workers punching out of the time-clock for the last time after being laid off from the job they’ve worked for 30 years? Or a child who just got beat up by a parent? Or the retired secretary who has to choose between taking her heart medication or buying groceries? Or the Iraqi War vet suffering from PTSD who can’t get an appointment at the VA for six months? “Oh, come on! Turn that frown upside-down! Just engage in some magical thinking and everything will be fine! And if it’s not, well, then, it’s your own fault for not changing!” Ugh. Vomit. It’s the same bullshit spewed by that horrible book The Secret.
Of course, I also take great issue with the idea that happiness is somehow the “norm”; that being sad or angry or fearful or experiencing any other “negative” feeling is somehow pathological, something to be cured or avoided. Certainly, those suffering from clinical depression or other neuroses should seek out and get treatment. But I’ve always firmly believed that, in order to experience the entire spectrum of human emotions, from despair to joy, you have to embrace them all. Suppressing or ignoring the more difficult emotions such as unhappiness, hopelessness, dread makes for an emotionally-stunted person, someone who can’t feel compassion for others – and probably can’t experience the heights of joy and happiness.
My life has seen plenty of changes, some of which I chose, some of which were chosen for me; some good, some bad; some made me happy, some made me miserable. And I have much to be happy about, though probably nearly as much to be unhappy about. And if you’re advice to me is to “change something”? Well, then, I say again – go fuck yourself.