let's be honest - life is pretty messy9:49 AM
I've been seeing a lot of conversations stirred up recently about authenticity, honesty and the push and pull between negativity and positivity. This focus on and almost obsession with "positivity" started over a decade ago with the birth of "happiness psychology." People became infatuated with chasing happiness. There were endless amounts of books, movies, articles and blogs centered around this topic. There was this belief that happiness could be captured, bottled up and enjoyed eternally.
Of course nothing in life is so simple, especially not the elusive feeling of happiness. Even for a more or less healthy adult it's not a feeling that is ever present or even necessarily easy to conjure up. Happiness is often (not always, but often) outside of our control, something that happens to us like an unexpected visit from family, an extra long kiss at the end of a long day or some snail mail. And by the same token that is what makes it so delicious - it's a gift bestowed upon us by the universe, by our friends, our family or sometimes even a stranger. Then of course there are those of us who have struggled with depression, anxiety, ocd or other mental disorders. For us happiness is gold. It is something we thought we may never get to experience and something we value and cherish dearly. Anyone who has worked through such disorders in therapy knows just how much effort, time and determination goes into getting to a healthy place. And it rarely stops with therapy, it's something we work on every day.
Then there's life - the daily grind of it all, the routine, the monotony. The ever present stresses that are all part of being an adult in this world - bills, insurance (car, health, house, etc), yard chores, work responsibilities, parental responsibilities, juggling relationships, taking care of our health, the heavy stuff (sick parents or children, financial woes, things breaking [cars, house repairs, etc]) and then the more existential stressors such as an identity or faith crises. We live every day surrounded and sometimes weighed down by all this. Some days are easier, some are harder but more or less any or all of this will cross our minds at least once a day. And it gets draining sometimes, it gets overwhelming. I know for me personally I often feel like just giving up - like there is no way I am going to get control of it all so why even bother? On weeks like that I end up seeing my therapist to sort it all out because here's the truth - "focusing" on the positive things does not "fix" it, it does not make me happy. Sweeping negativity, stress or problems under the rug of H-A-P-P-I-N-E-S-S does not make it go away. Sweeping anything under any rug doesn't make anything disappear. Ever. You're simply hiding it temporarily. And more often than not you either take care of it or it will force you to take care of it by confronting you in the form of somatic disorders - physical symptoms in response to mental problems.
There unfortunately is no getting away from the unpleasantness of life. From hard things. From the big scary questions and problems that seem to have no solution. There's no true escape, it just doesn't exist. All we can do is an oft used phrase among therapists which is: "DO THE WORK." Sometimes it's not particularly fun or easy or something we want to do but problems are there to be solved, resolved or at the least addressed adequately. It's rarely a pretty sight but sometimes in life the most worthwhile things are the ones we fought for with blood, sweat and tears. I've always loved the word "grit" and everything it connotes - strength, resolve, fortitude, determination, courage and hope. We all have it and we all have had experiences in life that have made us stronger, better but perhaps coarser and hardened as well. Sure innocence is beautiful, aesthetically pleasing if you will, but as most adults will agree it is a gift of the young. As adults all we can do is work to preserve as much of our children's innocence as we can, knowing all too well that as they grow up it will fall away just like the tender petals of a dandelion. But I want to venture out a little bit and say that this is ok.
The individuals who we look up to, living or dead, are more often than not people who have weathered some of the harshest storms that life can offer and it is their growth, strength and bravery that we find so inspirational.
Unfortunately, I often feel that, on social media at least, I see very little in the way of celebrating life's hardships and a person's perseverance. Instead I feel as though perfection, idealism and innocence is what is celebrated and admired. We can't get enough of idyllic scenes that seem to glaze over anything difficult, ugly or unpleasant. And so we scroll through square after square of dreamy, happy, homey scenes feeling like the black sheep. Wondering where our problems, tears, fights and fears fit in. Social media increasingly feels like the "lite" version of life - everything is only "a little" hard, only "kind of" scary or confusing. And even when someone dares to "lift the veil" a little bit there is such an emphasis on qualifying any sort of honesty or admission of the difficulty and reality of life by saying that "of course it's all still so incredibly perfect, satisfying and wonderful." So there is the feeling that if you don't feel this way all the time, that it's always worth it, there must be something wrong with you. And that little devil that tries so very hard to convince us all that we are actually bad people begins to whisper lies.
Because the thing is we all have days and yes, even weeks, where we find it difficult to see why it's worth it. Sometimes it all just feels too heavy and draining. We're not sure we can keep going. We question whether we are cut out for this. We feel confused and lonely and depleted. And then we go and punish ourselves by comparing our life to the happy-go-lucky, "lite" version of someone else's life. And we feel even worse. And resentment grows as does a rift between "them and us." I want to believe it doesn't have to be this way. And I think that the responsibility does not only lie with the reader, it lies with the person putting the content out there too.
If we truly want to connect and support each other we have to be willing to bear our souls. We have to be willing to be open, to show not just the good but the bad too and not always have to qualify the bad. We have to be willing to give each other something more than smoke and mirrors and empty phrases. Just like when people who have never dealt with a mental health issue tell someone to just "not be depressed" or just try "not to be anxious." Telling someone who is struggling in life to "just focus on the positive" is, at the least, empty and sometimes just downright insulting. One does not simply "think their way out of depression" and one does not simply "focus" themselves out of a negativity. In both situations it takes a lot more than "focus." Because, emotionally, it doesn't take much to style a pretty photo. However, it does take a lot of courage to say "hey I'm flawed too, my life is hard and messy too, I make mistakes too." And these sorts of admissions can be transformative both for the person uttering them and the person on the receiving end as well.
I think in this era of social media, where everything is short and fast, we are finding ourselves craving more. More connections, more heart, more soul, more truth. Life is hard for all of us in different ways and yes a lollipop can taste delicious and be satisfying for the two minutes that you enjoy it. A hearty pie crafted with love and care for hours that demands to be relished and devoured slowly is so much for filling. So yeah, lollipops are totally cool. I like them from time to time. But I need more pie in my life and I hope that sometimes I can be the pie too. And the best part about honesty, openness and authenticity (imho) is that it requires nothing of you, neither eloquence, nor wit nor a fancy title to your name. All you need... is yourself!