November 25, 2020

Why we keep Breaking Up with our Happiness.

In the ongoing wake of COVID-19 and the election…don’t panic.

This article isn’t about COVID-19. It’s not about the election, either. It’s about our individual and collective relationships with happiness. It’s an invitation for all of us to look more deeply at this and, just possibly, coax it over to a good strong therapy session.

Now, back to my original thought. In the ongoing wake of these events, I’ve been musing. There’s an age-old expression that says, “Be careful what you ask for; you just might get it.” Many of us have spent 2020 sharing, vocalizing, writing, and shouting from rooftops all of our hopes, desires, prayers, and wants for outcomes in both our pandemic and electoral realms. Many of us have indeed been granted much of what we surmised would make us happy.

However, there is still a collective air of unhappiness.

Now, there’s no denying that 2020 hit us upside the head, and it certainly won’t go down in the annals as anything we’d like to revisit. We have undergone upheaval in every possible sense. Our collective stress and anxiety have screeched to the top of the billboard hundred, and our reality has been shaken.

As a consequence, naturally we have adopted many emotions that would fit into the “con” category of life experience. I won’t try even to imagine everyone’s unique cons of 2020, because as an empath, that is a rabbit hole. It’s just to say that unrest, gloom, and pessimism have been omnipresent in many social orbits.

As a consequence, joy, happiness, and “pro” emotions have become distant acquaintances at best—our relationships with those have been put to the test as we remain in vigilant survival mode. Fight-or-flight does not leave much room for celebration of life.

So, are we on the outs with happiness? Perhaps some signs that you and your joy may be in need of intervention:

>> Do you feel guilty feeling happiness, joy, and reveling in glorious feelings and experiences?

>> When you do feel happiness and joy, do you find yourself anxiously waiting for the other work-at-home slipper/shoe to drop?

>> Do you find yourself delaying any indulgence in happiness and spirit until “this passes/this is all over”?

>> Do you worry that expressing positivity and happiness will suggest that you don’t understand the gravity of our situation?

And, my most important question:

>> Do you feel so comfortable, cozy, armed, and secure in the “con” emotions that have been ubiquitous that it isn’t really worth inviting change?

I posit that we have become a bit addicted to the con life. It keeps us in control and “safe.” We can cozy up with these familiar feelings, even if they’re downers, because we know them so well; the predictability and comfort far overrides any desire for a change in inertia.

I had a partner in college who was always so pessimistic, and I asked them once, “Why not just look on the bright side?” Their answer: “This way, I’m always either right or I’m pleasantly surprised.” Bam. Are we awaiting addictive hits of dopamine from the big slot machine in the sky showing us one of these ostensibly favorable possibilities?

So, back to the couples counseling session. Despite being a marriage therapist, my happiness and I need just as much help as anyone. We need to dig through questions like:

>> Will allowing in joy at this time take away from anyone else’s ability to feel joy?

>> Will remaining anxious or pessimistic between now and (possible future event) go toward changing the outcome of this event?

>> Do you have factual evidence that there will be a point in time in which “this passes/this is all over” and you can indulge your happiness once again?

>> Do you have proof that by indulging your joy, you are not understood as simultaneously realistic?

And, my second most important question:

>> Comfy-cozy as the con life may be, are you not plain exhausted?

Addiction to any state of mind takes its toll, and there’s a reason we seek to clean up our acts. Take your innately joyous, spirited, bright-eyed self to a hardcore session with happiness, and work things out. You belong together, and you know it.

The con life is akin to an abusive relationship—we get used to being hurt over and over, so it feels better to learn our helplessness, surrender, curl up into a ball, and wait for it all to pass. My friends, life is happening right now; it’s what happens when we’re busy thinking about what we will do when… That sentence is deliberately open-ended because we may fill in that blank differently, but don’t we all start it that way?

When I was in elementary school up in New York, winter months meant eagerly awaiting the glorious “snow day” when we would get to sleep late, make snow angels, and have hot chocolate instead of…well, school. Anything was better than school, but this was paramount because, unlike other holidays, it was unpredictable. I would get so excited the evening a snowfall began, plotting and planning the route for the sled rides I’d take and telling Dad to make sure there was extra wood for the fireplace.

One evening on the phone, my best friend said to me, “But Kiki, why do you bother getting so excited over snow days the night before, because then you may just wake up and be so bummed that we have to go to school after all?”

My response: “I’d rather get to celebrate the excitement that comes with those hours of hope. It’s my choice to have those, so why would I not give myself that?”

Perhaps we will get what we want in life, and perhaps we won’t. Perhaps we won’t even know whether, how, or when we did or didn’t. However, it always remains a choice to renew our vows with happiness and fortify this relationship.

So today, I say “I do.”

Do you?

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