“…that the effort to try to feel happy is often precisely the thing that makes us miserable. And that it is our constant efforts to eliminate the negative – insecurity, uncertainty, failure, or sadness – that is what causes us to feel so insecure , anxious, uncertain, or unhappy. They [psychologists, philosophers, the occasional self-help guru] didn’t see this conclusion as depressing, though. Instead, they argued that it pointed to an alternative approach, a ‘negative path’ to happiness, that entailed taking a radically different stance towards those things that most of us spend our lives trying hard to avoid. It involved learning to enjoy uncertainty, embrace insecurity, stopping trying to think positively, becoming familiar with failure, even learning to value death.”
Last year I realised that I file my emotions under “good” and “bad”. The good emotions can be freely expressed, the bad ones are best dealt with alone; mulled over, pushed down, ignored. I was in the midst of a yoga practice when I realised how unhealthy my approach to feeling really was – surely all emotions should be acknowledged and expressed, regardless of their connotations? And why do those connotations even exist?
Apparently we are trying too hard to be happy and it’s turning us into a miserable bunch, so says Oliver Burkeman in his best-selling book The Antidote – Happiness for people who can stand positive thinking. The best books always come by referral and so it was with this one; it made its way into my hands on a day when I was ignoring anger and putting on a brave face. I started reading immediately and its message really resonated with me. I needed to start confronting my fear, doubt and anger before it put an end to my joy, love and happiness – simple really. It was also when I began thinking about my expression of emotion and what I was teaching the children. If I ignored the so called negative emotions I was encouraging the children to do the same; a rather unhealthy and unrealistic approach to life, don’t you think?
This past week our home has been full of heightened emotions and we’ve all let loose – loudly. Yesterday afternoon the children were tired and cranky, I was overwhelmed with the washing and the dishes and was trying to deal with/accept the reality of 11 more weeks of solo-parenting (the days have dragged by). Daniel called via facetime to tell us that he was staying in an executive suite in the world’s tallest hotel with the whitest sheets and plushest towels and biggest bath (he didn’t add those extras, I did). I experienced the biggest wave of jealousy – pure envy – and it felt like a slap in the face. Instead of saying I was happy and delighted for him I told him it felt completely unfair. Because it really, truly did. Any ounce of politeness flew out the window and instead I freely and unashamedly expressed my deep, deep jealousy and frustration. I know that there will be much more envy over the coming weeks as he rides vespas through Rome, visits the hot springs in Chile, eats tapas in Madrid and drinks chai in Mumbai. Along with the exhaustion, the missing and the insecurity, jealousy is quite profound for me right now. Ignoring it would be the easier option but I don’t think it will serve me (or my family) well in the long run. So I’m acknowledging it, talking about it and waiting for it to dissipate. I’m also completely aware that whilst Daniel will be experiencing some truly wonderful things, he’ll also be working incredibly hard (6 days off in 3 months!), dealing with constant jet-lag and missing us like crazy – it’s not all fluffy towels and drinks by the pool.
Whether I like it or not 2014 will be the year for acknowledging a whole gamut of emotions – good, bad and ugly. This should be interesting.
Do you shy from negative emotions?