Embracing the depths
Updated: Jan 9
There has been a fair bit written about ‘the cult of happiness’ - the idea that if we are not fully displaying a range of positive emotions from joy to contentment we are some sort of failure - to embrace life we need to be happy. Whilst I agree that finding joy and contentment in our lives cannot be a bad thing, I am a big advocate of acceptance of other emotions and not only acceptance but to fully embrace them - emotions like sadness, disappointment, anger and hurt.
To see emotions as either positive or negative is damaging to our psyche. We are human, therefore we possess a vast range of emotions and feelings - it’s not that difficult emotions cause us harm, the harm is caused by not looking at why we are feeling like this, what triggered these feelings and what do we need to learn from this? Many people try to push difficult emotions away, they may use drugs and alcohol, they may plaster a smile on a sad face, their inner voice may become very critical - ‘pull yourself together’ and other judgemental phrases may ring through their heads, maybe they believe that to be accepted in their social groups, they need to only show their ‘happy’ or ‘fun’ side, further adding to their sense of isolation.
Of course this happy cult is fuelled by social media, we mainly see happy faces and people ‘living their best life’. Does their best life mean that they can’t cry, can’t feel sadness or don’t have days that they can’t get out of bed? My idea of successful is the ability to be comfortable with all human emotions, as Kipling said in his famous poem ‘If’ -
‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same’
In order to feel wellbeing, we need the ability to understand that emotions can be difficult but also transitory, we need to find our own methods of working through emotions and actually benefiting from the ones we find challenging. Sadness can feel good when we are watching a film, anger can feel good when we have found a way to release it. Accepting that some of your days you might feel sad, lethargic, hurt or confused is part of a healthy mindset. We learn and progress from adversity not from fortuity.
In my work I often use analogies to describe ideas and thoughts, some of them are pretty crude and some are more descriptive. My analogy for accepting all emotions in your life is this - if you liken life to swimming in the sea - many people often will sink under the waves to touch the sand or rocks, to give themselves an idea of how deep they are and to feel safer. If you have done enough exploration of what’s below the surface and under the rocks and know how deep you are comfortable with, then you will also know that you should rise to the surface again or when to ask for help if you feel out of your depth. We will also know that laying in the sea with the sun on our face is nice but there is also the possibility of a big wave sinking us under - life is like that, don’t fight it - it’s all part of our journey.
All emotions are there to teach us and progress us forward, embracing and exploring them all is key to wellbeing. We can’t have happiness without sadness, we can’t have light without dark.