There’s something I hate that goes around the internet all the time. I see it in memes and inspirational pep talks from bloggers and entrepreneurs. It’s this idea that you can “choose” to be happy just by thinking positively about any situation.
I’m all for trying to maintain a positive mindset, but:
- Nobody is magically going to turn happy when they are sad or pissed or frustrated.
- You need to feel your actual feelings. Feelings don’t turn off and on by a switch. If you stuff your real emotions down under false positivity and optimism, you’re not going to change anything and you’ll probably give yourself a stress induced ulcer.
- I have multiple mental illnesses that affect my ability to regulate my emotions, and I can tell you there are times that I am NOT in charge of my emotional reality, no matter how much I would like to choose a different emotion. (Or choose to feel any emotion at all.)
You don’t have to be happy today. You have permission to feel what you really feel. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for that. Instead of trying to force a bunch of emotions you don’t have, choose to show yourself compassion. Here’s what I do:
- Name my feelings: Example–Right now I feel frustrated as fuck because I woke up at 3 o’clock in the morning for the third day in a row.
- Accept my feelings: It’s okay to be frustrated. I don’t have to run away from it or pretend to be happy. I don’t have to make a fucking gratitude list right now. (Note: I am not in any way suggesting that gratitude is a bad thing or that gratitude lists are bad.)
- Sit with my feelings: I will fully feel this frustration and express it however I need to (usually muttering to myself and hitting my face with a pillow if I’m in bed.)
- Decide to accept or change the situation: I have chronic insomnia that doesn’t respond to traditional treatments and remedies. It doesn’t matter what time I go to bed or how stringently I follow a sleep routine. So I can’t change the situation. I must accept it. (But I don’t want to, because it sucks.)
- Practice Self-Compassion: Rather than get down on myself for what I “should” do or feel, I acknowledge my reality. This is hard to deal with, and that’s okay. Frustrations are natural and so is wishing that things would go differently.
- Give myself a time limit:I’m allowed to sit and be grump for a certain period of time.In this case, about 10 minutes. After that, I need to get my act together and do something constructive.
- Channel my energy into something useful. In this case, I wrote this blog post.by the time I was about half done, I realized that my mood had changed, and I felt a lot more positive about my situation. I’m still not happy about the insomnia, but I know that I can cope with the lack of sleep, and there are ways I can use the time constructively to help others. Now I’m energized, happy to have accomplished something, and am ready to take on the next task of the day
This is how a lot of goal oriented people work, especially creatives. We’re highly empathetic, prone to mood disorders, and draw inspiration from the tough stuff in our lives. But we’re also motivated by action and tend to spiral if we’re given too much time to ruminate or feel like we aren’t making progress toward something tangible. That means we can’t work through our feelings by thinking or journaling about them, and our mindsets don’t shift because we’re aware of our thought patterns. We need a way to use our emotional energy in a constructive way in order to create transformation.
For me, that means finding a way to use my problems to help others, and using my emotions to power that effort. For you, maybe it means painting or woodworking until you’ve worked out the excess energy.
If you shy away from any emotion that you perceive as negative, you end up spending all your time and energy either trying to avoid it or trying to change it, and more often than not you feel WORSE because it doesn’t work.
If you want your reality to change, acknowledge it. Accept it. Be present within it and own the emotions associated with it. Maybe you will find a way to change the feelings you don’t like, or maybe you won’t, but either way you can use them to move yourself forward if you’re brave enough.