Is Happy Theology Bringing You Down? By Gretchen J. Penner, ASW
I recently saw a slogan that stated, "It's OK to not be OK." As a professional therapist who specializes working with those who suffer from depression and thoughts of suicide, I was drawn to that statement. It reminded me that not everyone is happy all the time, and that's ok!
We live in a "Happy Theology" society. We are told that we must be happy all the time. Parents want their children to always be happy, we want our partners to be always be happy, and we want our friends to always be happy. Advertisers will tell you that if you buy their product then you will be happy. Happy Theology, as I call it, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, but is it realistic? Does anyone feel 100% happy all the time?
Life isn’t always going to be happy.
Life isn’t always going to be peaceful.
Life isn’t always going to be comfortable.
The problem with Happy Theology is that it doesn't allow us to have the freedom to feel bad, sad, lonely or scared. Then, when we do have those feelings we may feel guilty or as if it is wrong to feel that way. Our societal encouragement of happiness may be inadvertently producing increased anxiety and depression.
Are you comfortable feeling uncomfortable?
Are you at peace with not feeling peaceful?
Are you content to not always be happy?
Pressure to be happy all the time can produce feelings of inadequacy. So we hide. We isolate. We stop doing things we enjoy, avoid people we care for, and/or bury our feelings and put on our happy mask to avoid being a "burden." Then we start beating ourselves up for struggling with feelings of fear and sadness, which only makes us feel even worse. The negative spiral inadvertently triggered by Happy Theology continues to drag us further down when we are unable to meet society's happiness standards. So what if we changed things? What would happen if we replaced Happy Theology with contentment, and became OK with not being OK?
What if we strive to, instead of being happy, be content?
What if we stop fighting feelings of fear?
What if we lean into our negative feelings, instead of running from them?
Have you ever played chase with a young child? The more you run away, the more the child chases after you. However, when you turn and chase the child, they in turn run from you. Similar to the Chinese Finger Trap game. The more you struggle to you pull your fingers out of the bamboo woven cylinder, the more it sticks to your fingers and traps you in. Once you relax, however, it comes off. Our emotions are not much different. When we run from negative feelings, such as fear, loneliness and depression, those negative feelings tend to increase. As we fear, we begin to fear the feelings of fear, which makes us even more fearful. As we fight feelings of sadness, we experience increased depression because we don't believe we are allowed be sad. Thoughts of “I shouldn’t feel like this” or "there is something wrong with me because I feel this way" increases our depression, and can even lead to thoughts of suicide. However, once we stop running from those negative feelings, they quit chasing us!
Through therapeutic mindfulness you can learn be content. Therapeutic mindfulness provides a safe place for you to sit with your uncomfortable feelings, and be OK with them. As you do, fear, loneliness and depression begin to decrease. They lose their power. Though you may still feel discomfort, the discomfort won’t control you. Instead, YOU will control your discomfort.
It's OK to not always be happy. It's OK to feel sad.
It's OK to feel fear.
It's OK to not be OK!
If you would like to learn more about therapeutic mindfulness work or desire to learn more on how to accept negative feelings, the author, Gretchen J. Penner, ASW, is accepting new clients. You may contact her by calling 619-272-6858 x713, or email email@example.com