There’s a famous author named Shakespeare (ever heard of him?) who wrote the words, “To be, or not to be; that is the question?” And maybe Shakespeare, in his famous play Hamlet had it right when it came to happiness and emotions all those years ago.
This week, I read an article that Harvard psychologists think the more one tries to be happy the less satisfied or happy they are. This seems counter-intuitive, because in life we are told the harder we try the more successful we are. We see these results over and over again. If we study, we do well on a test. If we work hard and bring in business, we get a promotion. If we set a goal and work hard to achieve it we’ll succeed. Following the same formula, it would make sense to think, if we try to be happy then we will be happy.
Instead of trying to be happy, the psychologists argue that “showing up” to your emotions and allowing yourself to feel produces a happier and more fulfilled person overall. When we allow ourselves to feel our emotions without judging them, even our negative emotions, we receive important information about why we’re feeling that way. This information can help us make necessary changes for a happier life. It can help us become more assertive. It can help us get rid of negative people in our life. It can serve as a signal that something in our life needs to be changed. When we sweep our emotions under the rug, they come back to haunt us, so to speak.
One of the parts of the article that really resonated with me was the part about stopping judgment. The author states, we should stop labeling whether our emotions and thoughts are good or bad. When we have thoughts they are just thoughts, and we should let the thoughts come and go. When we have emotions, they are just emotions, and we should let those emotions come and go. The article ended with the following quote, “Ultimately, the goal is to be — rather than to be happy, which is somewhat freeing.”
The thought is freeing. Instead of struggling to find elusive happiness, just be. Feel emotions: sadness, happiness, joy, cowardice, anger. Allow your brain to receive the information that your body is trying to give you so you can make changes that will lead to a more fulfilled life. As someone who suffers from depression, I’ve struggled with my down times. I’ve told myself to snap out of it before. I’ve swept feelings under the rug. I’ve done everything. But through the years, I’ve learned that my down times come in a cycle. And they usually are there to remind me of what my up times feel life. Without sadness, we would never know what joy feels like, right? This analogy was described perfectly in the movie Inside Out. If you have not seen it, rent it. I’ve started to let myself experience those down times without further negating myself and without trying to artificially drag myself out of the deep dark ditches of depression before my body and mind are ready. And since I started realizing my feelings and thoughts are valid and not good or bad, my depressive periods have lessened. Plus, on the upside after I go through a depressive period I generally have a great period of creativity. The darkness leads to the light.
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