I was having my cup of Papuan coffee this afternoon when a friend texted me. “How do you stay happy all the time?” she asked. I replied immediately with: “I don’t.”
And I am telling her the truth. I don’t stay happy all the time—whatever that means. I am still a human being, after all. In fact, I cried under the shower two days ago—when anger consumed me in such a short burst. On the bus ride to the office this morning, I got really pissed when a mother asked her kid to just-throw-the-trash-into-the-floor. A few months ago, I got heartbroken and I went into my pathetic mode for a while.
I do get sad. And mad. And bitchy, sometimes.
However, I always remember something a friend told me once: “It’s okay to be sad. Or mad. Feel it. Recognize that feeling. Accept it. You don’t have to fight it. But don’t indulge yourself in it, either.”
And I learn to do just that. When I’m sad, I’ll cry. But when my tears stop falling, I stop. I know I am still sad inside. I can recognize the pain—as if something has been taken away from me, causing that empty feeling—lurching somewhere above my stomach. So I let myself be sad.
But there are other things I can do when I’m sad apart from keeping crying or punching my pillow or feeling sorry for myself (or not taking a shower all day long). I can write a blog. I can read a good book. I can go out with some friends and have a good laugh with them. I can bake a cake. I can watch some cheesy teenage movies. These are no fancy things, just some random things I enjoy doing. Normally, I won’t even notice how these simple things make me happy and lift up my mood. But sadness makes me appreciate happiness more. It’s a reminder for me to be grateful for life’s simple pleasures.
When the desire to stay miserable creeps in, I remind myself not to indulge in it. I refuse to go back into my bed and just stay there thinking about all the bad things that have caused me this sadness, replaying the hurtful scenes over and over again. I do other things that will make me happy instead: go for a short walk at the Botanical Garden, treat myself two bowls of my favorite chicken noodle (with loads of chili), go on a photo-hunting, write poems, sing stupid songs in a karaoke place, browse over cute kitten pictures…
I told my friend just that, and she said she had heard it all. She had read books about it. “But I find it so hard not to indulge myself in sadness,” she said. “It’s not that easy.”
At that moment, I remembered asking her a few weeks ago about the things she enjoys doing.
“Singing!” she replied. “I have always wanted to take a vocal lesson!”
“Then do it!” I smiled. “Now you have the time and money to do that, so why not? Do the things that will make you happy.”
As I recalled that episode, I texted her back: “Hey, anyway, what about that vocal lesson? Have you enrolled in one?”
She replied with: “No. Not yet.”
I wish there’s a simpler way to do this—but I’m afraid there isn’t. I know that for some people out there, this may sound too harsh; or it may appear that I oversimplify the problem—but sometimes, to get out of sadness, the first thing you need to do is wanting to get out of it. And then start climbing out.
“If we focus only on happiness, we’re neglecting the richness of the full emotional spectrum–and we’re overlooking the fact that you couldn’t make sense of happiness if you didn’t know sadness. The loss gives you access to a wonderful array of very real human experiences, especially the connection between people. Sadness is tinged with an incredibly profound depth of appreciation of life. You’re acutely aware of what’s important. A lot of the things that preoccupied me before seem rather trite and superficial now. Now, I’m much more connected to the little things. I’m much more profoundly moved by music. A walk in the evening just seems like a gift.”
Chris Skellett, When Happiness Is Not Enough