Look on the bright side!
Good vibes only!
Do you feel like you should be happy all the time?
Happiness is celebrated and heavily promoted in our society (just think about all the happy people you see in marketing campaigns). We adopt it as a goal to work towards, for ourselves and our children.
The socially constructed ideal of the perfect mother includes being happy and completely fulfilled by motherhood. Even constant self-sacrifice and a never-ending workload don’t get perfect mum down. She enjoys putting everyone else’s needs first and juggling all her responsibilities. (Remember, perfect mum isn’t real or attainable.)
Happiness feels great and has benefits for our wellbeing so, of course, we want more of that in our lives, but if you think you should feel happy all the time, or you think one day you’ll reach the ultimate goal of being happy then you’re likely to end up disappointed. You may even feel like there is something wrong with you if you don’t feel happy all the time.
There’s nothing wrong with you.
Here are some reasons why.
(Note: Just to be clear, this article is general in nature and is not focused on mental health concerns. If you do feel like your level of happiness is unusually low and it is significantly impacting your life, please seek professional support. Much love to you if you are facing this.)
Happiness is not necessarily our default natural state
There’s a myth out there that happiness is the natural state of humans and so we should experience happiness as a default. However, there are so many other emotions that are part of living a rich and meaningful life. We don’t reach a state of happiness and remain there forever. We experience happiness as part of living life, just like we experience other emotions. Humans are emotional beings and we experience a constant flow of varied and changing emotions.
I often share the Feelings Wheel, created by Dr. Gloria Willcox, with my clients to help them expand their awareness of the different emotions they experience. We need language to describe and make sense of how we feel and this visual can help.
We need to feel all our emotions
Let’s face it, some things in life are hard and unpleasant. We all make mistakes, experience loss and setbacks, and have to deal with people who upset or frustrate us. In modern motherhood, we have so many competing pressures and expectations to deal with and trade-offs are often made. We need to feel the emotions that come up for us in those situations. Ignoring or suppressing them doesn’t make them go away. They simmer below the surface, growing more intense. It’s important that we can acknowledge and make space for all our emotions in order to process and release them.
Have you ever shared a difficult experience with someone who then found the silver lining for you?
Silver lining statements usually start with phrases like “at least…”, “On the bright side…”, “It could be worse…” or “Think of the flip side…”.
How did this make you feel?
Finding the silver lining in difficult situations has the potential to make us feel happier by interrupting negative thought patterns and finding a new perspective, however often it feels invalidating because it minimises the problem we are experiencing and makes us feel bad for feeling bad.
The other person is likely trying to offer encouragement and comfort, but sometimes we just need to feel the difficult emotions first before returning to a happier state. It’s ok not to be positive and happy all the time.
Our emotions are messengers
If we only focus on feeling happy, we discount the importance of our other emotions, especially the ones that are typically labelled “negative” (I prefer to call them difficult or uncomfortable because there are no good or bad emotions, but some of them certainly don’t feel as good as others and aren’t as easy to work through).
For example, anger can tell us something needs to change, or something wrong is happening. Anxiety or fear can draw our attention to potential threats. Guilt can show us where we aren’t aligned with our values and who we want to be. Resentment can alert us to our unmet needs. These emotions invite us to respond to our environment and what is happening to us. We need them to help us make decisions, learn from experiences and navigate life.
Our emotions also help us empathise and connect with others. They help us understand other people’s perspectives and respond appropriately to them. Sharing difficult emotions as well as positive ones can build deep bonds. It’s ok to let people see that we aren’t happy all the time.
Happiness doesn’t always exist on its own
The things in life that bring us the most happiness can also lead us to feel other, seemingly contradictory emotions. Having children is a great example! We might feel so incredibly happy that we have our children in our lives, but in raising them we feel a myriad of difficult emotions such as frustration, overwhelm, fear, resentment, disappointment, and guilt.
Think about something you have achieved in your life that made you feel really happy (for example, starting a business or new job, completing a course, letting go of an unhealthy relationship, or buying a home). Can you recall more difficult emotions that you experienced as you worked towards that goal?
Happiness from specific events can lessen over time
Another reason that we can’t expect to feel happy all the time is explained by hedonic adaptation. This concept describes how humans adjust to changes in their life, with the initial positive (or negative) effects of a change fading over time.
“Retail therapy” is a good example of how this adaptation works. Buying something new can give you a feel-good boost, but before long you need to buy something else to reach that same high.
While an event or change might make you feel very happy initially, the effect is not necessarily lasting because you adapt to your new circumstances. You get used to the good things and they have less of an impact.
Emotions are part of being human
One of the things I often work on with clients is acceptance of our full range of emotions. We may have learned as children that our more difficult emotions were “bad” because they were often shut down. “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about” or “go to your room until you have calmed down” are examples of what many adults were told as children. This is not because our parents didn’t care about us, but because they were not equipped to deal with our more challenging emotions in any other way.
Now, as adults ourselves, we are learning that all emotions are real and worthy of acknowledgment. That the emotions we feel don’t make us bad or good and that we don’t have to limit the emotions we experience.
We experience happiness as part of living a rich and meaningful life, along with many other human emotions. Your worth or success is not dependent on your level of happiness or how frequently you experience it and you aren’t a bad mum if you don’t feel happy all the time.
We all want to be happy and there’s nothing wrong with looking for ways to experience more happiness. Just remember that you don’t have to be happy all the time, and happiness is not an end state where we arrive and remain.