Sometimes life can be a right bitch. And it is thus in varying degrees of spitefulness. Some days, we arise with good intentions to achieve a lot, or to be kinder and everything just goes wrong. Life doesn't always smile on us. Every traffic light is red when we're in a hurry, our computer crashes just as we were about to press save, that person fails to call back or we say something we wish we hadn't and spend the rest of the day worrying about it.
Other days big heavy duty tough stuff can occur - this can involve loss or heartbreak or other life-churning awfulness. Loss of a job, loss of an opportunity or even loss of an actual person, which is beyond bad. (I, for one, am well aware of what it means to lose a person - or two people in my case). Yes that's another level of horrible sadness.
And when you take into consideration that human-beings have an in-built negativity bias (which means we tend to focus our thoughts on the bad, anxiety-creating, stress-inducing stuff rather than the good, joyful and hopeful, this can end up not boding at all well for your average person.
So, whilst we can and should strive to focus on what's right with us rather than what's wrong with us, and do our best to have a PMA (Positive Mental Attitude), it's not always easy to sustain a shiny happy demeanour and see the silver lining in every single cloud. Sometimes those clouds are just too darn dark and gloomy. So why not be open to that?
But is it possible to flourish when you feel in a funk, whether there is no real reason to this humpf or whether we are responding to something incredibly unfair and awful that life has just plonked on our lap?
Yes it is. Because sadness is part of the full spectrum of our emotional capabilities. If we ignore sadness and avoid it, we are not being true to ourselves, we are being inauthentic.
If growth comes from change and happiness comes from acceptance, flourishing comes from authenticity:
- feeling aligned so that who you are matches up with what you do and what you say;
- feeling aligned so that those you surround yourself with are the right people;
- feeling aligned with your emotions so that you embrace life, warts and all and let your emotions flow freely. If the day has been rubbish; if plans haven't panned out; or if life has bitch-slapped us down, we need to be true to how we feel about that.
Just as our ancestors needed a negativity bias to protect them (by thinking of worst-case scenarios, they were able to protect themselves against vicious sabre-tooth tigers and the like - they needed the negatvity bias to protect them) we too need to embrace our negativity sometimes rather than push it away.
Yes, it's a good idea to practice mindfulness to help us gain better control over our thoughts so that we can attract good things into our lives, rather than attracting more gloom.
Yes, it's wise to practice gratitude regularly to appreciate what we have rather than focusing on what we don't as this boosts the level of positive emotion and creates joy.
But it is also important to accept when we are feeling blue, to sit with that sadness, to give ourselves time to really feel the funk, to embrace it.
Why? Not only because this allows us to be true to ourselves, but also because embracing the full spectrum of our emotions, being open to vulnerability and pain, enables us to empathise and interact better with others when they are feeling that way. That was a key realisation that the wonderfully brave Erin Moon had, as she questioned what she had to live for following the death of her darling husband (as discussed with Jonathan Fields in his Good Life Project podcast here in Walking The Path Back To Life).
Embracing our pain also enables us to empathise with ourselves too. To recognise that we've had a bad day and need to take action to cheer ourselves up (once we've allowed that sadness in). For example, we can spend a chunk of time embracing that bad mood and then get up, dust ourselves off, and make a cup of tea/have a shower/watch a comedy/reminisce at photos of our children/phone a friend/plan an adventure/go for a walk/kick some leaves... i.e. do something to lift us out of it, now that we've given ourselves the opportunity to really feel REAL.
It's only when we wallow in that sadness; when we get stuck in those murky waters, that problems can arise and we can end up languishing rather than flourishing.
If we beat ourselves up for feeling bad and allow our negative thoughts to spiral into resentment, bitterness, fear and anger, that's when we lose perspective and authenticity.
Another technique when you're feeling funky (or 'fuzzy' as Jess Getty calls it) is to give that feeling a character. See it as a big fuzzy ball of fluff who follows you around from time to time like a rain cloud, draw a picture of it, and even share it with others. That (and more) is what Jess is doing with her community: The Fuzzy Project, where she has animated that feeling to express herself and enable others to do the same. In doing so she is giving people with depression hope and an outlet to feel the funk and flourish anyway; to be open to vulnerability. You can support Jess here.
Sometimes, when we bare all and share our vulnerability and embrace our truth, amazing things can happen. As is the case with Lotte Lane who reveals all about her journey in her utterly brilliant new book - Everything is Awesome. We can choose how to respond to events in our lives and, the more positive we are in general, the more resilient we become and the more able we are to bounce back quicker and stronger.
But we should also pause for a minute prior to seeing the silver lining in every cloud and focus on the dark side of that cloud. In doing so we give ourselves a chance to feel it and be curious and gain perspective.
By accepting the full spectrum of our feelings in this way, we seize back control and we can have that realisation that everything will be ok again, just as it has been before.
Sometimes powering through like a superhuman bionic person, going on autopilot in order to survive dark times, can be the right thing to do. But only if, from time to time, you also allow yourself to be engulfed by the blackness, if even for just a moment. Because you know you can come out the other side. Tomorrow really is a new day. (Actual fact). And, when you do, once you've sat with your sadness and accepted it, you can choose to focus on what's right rather than what's wrong; on the good rather than the bad.
To embrace emotion, whatever that is, that's a terrific tool to put to use.
We all get caught up in the story of our life. Sometimes all we need to do in order to flourish, is to put down our pen as the author of our own life. And. Just. Pause.
Anyone who has ever been through anything difficult knows that the bonus of having been through tough times is that we end up enjoying the good times that follow (they always do) even more than we would have had we not had to endure some bad times.
This we all know to be true.
When you survive an utterly crap day, week or a far deeper tragedy, realising that you survived, that's empowering. That makes you stronger. That in itself enables you to boslter those positive reserves of yours. Because you did it. You lived through it. And so you can and will again.
And you'll be better equipped to help and listen and empathise and interact with others and reason with your own negative self-talk too as a consequence.
So, next time you are having an off day or feeling the wrath of life, give yourself a break and lean in to it rather than away from it. Sometimes you might choose to quieten your negative thinking and make the bold choice to focus on the good and what you're grateful for. That works too. That's flourishing and powerful. But equally, you can minimise negativity by accepting it before you respond to it.