I know the internet is going to tell you differently, but I’m going to say this anyway:
Being sad is not a bad thing.
I know, I know, but why should you be sad when there are 10 Things That Happy, Well-Adjusted People Do Every Day? Why should you be sad when only happy people are living their “authentic lives” and “hustling for their dreams” and all of the other internet jargon that tells you that you’re not good enough at handling your own emotions or living your life?
Here’s the thing:
As with our bodies, the internet does not provide a very good representation of what a real, whole, well-rounded human being looks, acts, or feels like.
And a real, whole, well-rounded human being cannot, by definition, be happy all the time. A real, whole, well-rounded human being cannot be untouchably and imperturbably happy. A real, whole, well-rounded human being gets road rage, has bad hair days, says something stupid and feel embarrassed, gets lost, cries, feels hatred, feels lonely, feels grief, feels out of control. A real, whole, well-rounded human being has encapsulated in itself the whole range of the human condition—which includes happiness, yes, but does not stop there.
I want you to know that it is okay to go through a period of depression. To have anxiety. To “feel fat.” To get scared. To have a mental illness. To not have a mental illness and also feed sad. To feel like it’s never going to get better. To want it to get better. To feel grief at the bottom of your soul. To not be able to put words to it. To put words to it and stew in the feelings for a little while. To feel. To not be happy.
You’re allowed. In fact, you’re probably required.
When you’re trying to reconcile with your body, your diet, and your exercise, not every day is going to be easy. In fact—and especially at the beginning—it’s going to mostly be hard. And listening to people who tell you that you’re supposed to be happy, that you’re supposed to feel perfect, that you just need a little perspective probably isn’t actually going to help.
It might make you feel worse. Because you don’t have the perspective.
When we say that “the only way out is through,” you can’t see what “out” looks like when you’re in the thick of it. You literally don’t know what it feels like to be all the way through. But it’s the process of grief, sadness, loneliness, and fear that helps you learn the coping skills that you’ll use to stay out once you’ve been through.
And that happens one day at a time.
I know that’s not what you want to hear—especially when you can just go on the internet and read another listicle that tells you it’s possible to be happy all the time and here are the six steps.
The same way that you don’t want hear that your body doesn’t have to be thin to be healthy when you can just go on the internet and find another “lifestyle” (read: diet) that comes with promises of thinness and health.
I know: happiness is a nice goal. But you actually can’t enjoy it unless you have perspective. It’s the same thing with immortality: if humans lived forever, we wouldn’t appreciate life as much as we do.
I don’t want to be happy all the time. But that said, I do at least have the perspective to understand that grief, loneliness, fear, sadness, embarrassment and all of those “undesirable” emotions will eventually end. And the coping skills to get through them.
I use gratitude. I talk about this a lot, but gratitude is not the same as happiness. Gratitude is a coping skill that helps me find perspective in a good or bad emotion. Sometimes, when I’m overwhelmingly happy, gratitude helps me ground myself and remember that this is something that I will want to hold onto without expectation that it continue forever. When I’m overwhelmingly sad, I can look back on that moment and recenter myself. Gratitude helps me remember that I am human, that it doesn’t last forever, that happiness is fleeting and that’s a good thing.
I want you to know that it’s okay to feel all of the things. That includes sadness. That includes grief. I want you to know that you are okay. You are okay.
In this week’s podcast with the author Blaire Sharpe, we talk about the human condition and how it’s never just one thing or the other. Her book, Not Really Gone, is a terrific example of this—and while I have to give you trigger warnings as with any memoir that includes mentions of disordered eating, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, death, and any number of other things that happen during the experience of being human, I really highly recommend it. It’s a good example of how the only way out is through—and how going “through” can make being “out” a truly special place to be.