[As published in River Valley Woman magazine]
I’m not sure if this is going to be OK with readers, but this month I had a disagreement with Oprah. She doesn’t know about it, but we’re fighting. It’s all because of this little quote of hers: “The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.” I call baloney!
It’s OK not to be OK. And it’s even more OK to openly admit you’re not OK. This time of the year, with the barrage of self-help books that hit shelves just in time for New Year’s resolution season, the so-called “Church of Positivity” is out proselytizing in full force. “Think positive thoughts,” “push past the fear,” blah! All this dogma does is make you feel like there’s something wrong with you when life hands you sour grapes and you feel like a pile of doggy doo doo. Can choosing to focus on the positive be helpful? Absolutely! But only when you’re in the mental space to do that work.
Denying yourself the right to feel negative emotions is not helpful. Constant optimism is not possible. Not in this world. Probably not in any world. This idea that happiness can be a constant state of being is a myth, and it’s a harmful one. In fact, I would argue that it’s actually killing us. We become hopeless in the face of even the slightest iota of adversity because our culture is feeding us this constant message that there’s some person, some book, some pill that can take away our unpleasant feelings.
All too often, when we are not OK we compound our “not OKness” by judging our inability to just shake it off and be happy. “Why am I feeling like this?” “I shouldn’t feel like this?” “What is wrong with me?” “Everything is fine, why am I like this?” Sound familiar? I hate to break it to ya, but there’s not always a self-help book for this. I’d like to propose instead, that you are not a project to be worked on, fixed, or upgraded. You’re not software that can run a simple virus scan and shake the bugs out! Indeed you’re not software at all, you’re a human being! And there’s no shame in being human and experiencing the full range of humanity. Which includes unpleasantness from time to time. This whole being human thing is hard. And when it gets hard, it is far more helpful to accept your feelings fully and allow them to come and go without labeling them as “bad” or avoiding them.
I read something interesting about quicksand recently. There are all these cowboy movies where the good guy sinks into a mess of mud that quickly sucks him in to what we presume is an inescapable tomb. The reality is that the only way quicksand can kill you is if you struggle. Quicksand behaves like water, and humans are full of air. So all we need to do to escape it, is relax, lay back, and float until someone finds us. Also, what lurks beneath, is more often than not, about 4 feet deep. So what we imagine in our minds is about to kill us is, at worst, just going to leave us stuck for a while and we’ll merely be uncomfortable for a stretch.
This is the nature of negative emotions. We only compound when we struggle with them rather than accept them. Our fear and anxiety that what lurks beneath is dangerous is doing us more harm than the negative emotions themselves. In all reality, all we need to do is accept what is there, lay back, and float. Can our fate be unfortunate? Sure can! And often it’s outside our control. But what IS in our control is our decision to either struggle with our situation, or float it out. To do this of course requires a lot of tenacity. But life requires a lot of us.
Sometimes…it might even require you to disagree with Oprah herself.