“Okay” and “happy” are considered "normal" emotions in our culture. “Sadness” is weird. Sad people (even when they are generally happy people that are only occasionally sad) are weirdos.
When you lose someone you love strongly, that loss changes the world as you know it. So, in a big way, I was right when I said nothing was going to be okay ever again. Nothing is the same as it was before my brother died. That loss still cuts me. That loss still hurts and it still shadows so many moments in my daily life.
Last weekend, I wanted my mother. I just wanted her. And, out of the blue, I fell on my bed and started sobbing for my want of her – and the impossibility now, of having her. It was not “normal behavior.” It was weird. But if I had spent even a moment reprimanding myself or apologizing for this weird behavior, that grief storm wouldn’t have passed through me so quickly because I only would’ve made myself feel worse.
Sometimes we are sad and there is nothing that can be done for that sadness. And despite the fact that “sadness” is deemed weird in our culture, we have to be unapologetic about our sadness in those times.
Sexual abuse. Divorce. The death of those close to us. How screwed up some aspects of our world seem to be – especially at this geo-social-political moment. These are appropriate occasions for sadness. And there are many others. A falling out with a friend. A lack of friends. Feeling lonely. Being seriously ill.
I often share this npr interview with Eric G. Wilson, the author of Against Happiness with my students. Mostly, I try to get my students thinking about cultivating happiness and how each of us has the ability to do so in our own lives, despite our life experiences and circumstances. But… what is the point of cultivating happiness if that happiness is, ultimately, a lie – just a façade you wear so that you can “appear” happy when really you are dying inside? Wilson argues firmly that there are appropriate occasions for sadness and to force oneself to “don’t worry be happy” at a time when they are actually really sad, is totally inappropriate.
I have written a lot about cultivating happiness. I believe in it. I believe it is our RESPONSIBILITY to not stay in that “dying inside” place too too long – for the sake of our loved ones and the world – because NOTHING will get accomplished in this world with a bunch of sad sacks who can’t get over their shit. HOWEVER… there is a time and a place to not see sadness as someone being a “sad sack” but rather expressing the healthy emotions that make them human. I can’t name that time or that place specifically because it is different for each person, each situation, each moment. We each make that decision every day in how we choose to offer compassion to people or not offer compassion to people.
On the other hand, I can offer you a couple of hard-and-fast rules:
- it is not your job EVER to tell someone else to “get over” ANYTHING. At first I was going to say this about the loss of a loved one or a break-up or an incident of sexual abuse BUT REALLY, this is as true for those situations as it is for a paper-cut. If your co-worker is in pain because of a stupid little papercut and they want your compassion about it, why withhold from them? What’s it going to take from you to give them a little bit of compassion? People voice their sadness and their pain because they seek your compassion. It is simply NOT our job to decide whether they “deserve” it or not. Even in the case of a friend, family member or lover not letting something go that we did wrong after weeks, months, years… GOD! THAT’S ANNOYING AS HELL, RIGHT? … but, if we care about that person, we have to understand that they are only bringing it up because they are STILL hurting and the only way they will probably ever get over it is if you KEEP offering your compassion and your apologies forever. Yes, forever. And if you love them, forever won’t be too harsh of a sentence for you. [P.S. you probably shouldn’t let them “punish” you forever either – but that’s a different blog post]
- Similarly, it is not your job to tell someone to “stop crying.” My father’s favorite saying aside from “people in hell want ice water” was “I’ll give you something to cry about.” My God, People! THAT’S parenting at its very best, right? Because the obvious assumption there is that whatever you’re crying about is ridiculous – you have no right to cry. Tell you what: I’ll cry anytime, anyplace, and for any reason I damn well please – and if that makes YOU uncomfortable, perhaps you should check in with yourself and see where that callousness and inability to process emotions comes from.
- I know this is very hard for those of us who have that tendency of feeling like we have to give people advice but DO NOT OFFER YOUR ADVICE unless someone asks for it! If they don’t ask for it, all they want to do is talk. All they want you to do is listen. And often – especially in the case of old, intermittently aching hurts – that is all that is required. Talking & listening. No advice. I’ve had to get used to saying, “Are you looking for advice here?” in as kind a tone as possible. Good lord, do I ALWAYS want to be giving advice (obviously, THIS BLOG right here, people!)! But often, I just need to stop myself and I’ve even started stopping my friends who are also inclined to be advice-givers. “I’m not looking for advice here,” has become another conversation staple.
More importantly, don’t let anyone do these things TO you. If someone tells you to “get over” something, “stop crying,” or offers advice you didn’t ask for, immediately file that away as their inability to process difficult emotions and accept their own humanity. DO NOT allow this lack of compassion to make you feel like there is anything “wrong” with your sadness. You're sad because you are human. You are part of a very large club! Congratulations!
If you need to and want to, Teamies, be unapologetically sad, and once that storm has passed through you (however long that might take), open up all your windows and find the sun.