I love the happy people in my life. They radiate like the noon sun, dazzling over a calm ocean. Oh wait, that’s not an ocean, it’s an oil slick, and it’s ready to poison us all. I kid, I kid…sort of. But seriously, isn’t the pressure to be happy just sickening sometimes? Hey, I love my friends and want them to be happy. Yet happiness is just one aspect of well-being, and I find that we’re constantly being told to ignore everything else. If we do that, how can we be truly happy, truly whole people?
Folks have taken to calling this trite, meme-esque pressure to be happy the, “cult of happiness,” pointing out how unhealthy it can be to ignore the bad for only the good. We need to process what happens to us, good, bad, and in-between. Smiling through pain, ignoring anger, acts as a spark to the oil slick – if not now, someday.
It’s okay not to be happy.
The latest article I read on the cult of happiness pointed out the tendency for people who don’t shine like the full moon on a crystal clear night to be labeled as negative people, to lose friends, and the like. How brutal is that? Unable (or unwilling) to play the happiness game, to put on the mask, just when you need them most, your support system abandons you. Worse, they throw this “thou shalt never be saved” label on you. Talk about kicking you on their way out the door.
Listen, especially because of the work I do, I know I have a flashing “NOT FUN! NOT FUN!” sign on my party dress. But we’re not talking about people who can unerringly point out 5 rapists in a 20 minute conversation (“Oh that song? He’s a rapist.” “That team? Quarterback’s a rapist.” “Actor? Rapist.” “That book series? Main character rapes someone in book 3.” “The icon you’ve adored since childhood? The only person to give you hope? Rapist.”). Generally, the cult of happiness shames everyday you and me into silence. There is some devastating stuff happening in the world, happening to us. Who does it serve to ignore it?
It’s okay not to be happy. I teach the “abnormal” (oh how I despise that word) psychology section of my class this week. As usual, we’ll talk about the consequences of pressuring people to be happy, of stigmatizing sadness. Let me tell you, when I display the latest data on deaths by suicide in the U.S., it gets very real. When do unpleasant emotions, students ask, turn into something more, like depression? Often, I answer, when we’re denied a chance to work through the emotions, to heal. That’s what the cult of happiness does.
It’s okay not to be happy. So to you, the Debbie Downers of the world, I say live your truths – you have a friend in me. And to their friends, I say, you don’t have to take on someone else’s pain. You aren’t expected to be a pillar they can unendingly lean on. But let them work through their emotions honestly, without shame. And for goodness sake, don’t kick them when they’re down. We’ll all be happier for it.