It is tempting to want to avoid all pain and discomfort. In fact, it is part of the human experience, even evolutionarily advantageous, to recognize and avoid pain. But simply trying to forget unhappiness or brush it under the rug will not help. It can actually hurt you to avoid unhappiness. It’s not fun or easy, but there are some important reasons why acknowledging your unhappiness instead of avoiding it is essential to living a healthy and whole life.
1. You cannot selectively numb unhappiness without numbing joy, gratitude, love, and happiness
Researcher Dr. Brené Brown says that, “You can’t selectively numb. When you numb shame, you numb everything.” If you are continually numbing and forgetting your discomfort then you have no room in your life for joy, gratitude, love, and happiness. It’s a package deal. I don’t want to just gloss over pain with one wide brush of cliches — “you can’t reach the light without going through the darkness,” “there’s always a storm before a rainbow,” blah, blah, blah. But these ideas become clichés for a reason — they’re true.
Experiencing unhappiness is a part of the human experience. Admittedly, it’s my least favorite part, but what can I do? I have to go through it. By allowing my pain to exist without trying to shove it into a deep, dark closet somewhere in the recesses of my soul, I can use that pain to understand more about why it’s present in my life. And when I allow myself to experience it, then I can experience joy and gratitude when it passes.
2. Unhappiness will not go away simply because you choose to ignore it
That might sound negative. But think about it this way: if you are always avoiding the pain in your life, where do you expect it to go?
A relationship might be making you unhappy. Ignoring your unhappiness in that relationship will not make the sadness go away. Only dealing with the root of the pain can have any impact. I know how easy it is to try to ignore, to attempt to forget and run away from pain, only to find it constantly knocking on the door of my heart. If I ignore it long enough, the pain will start leaking in through the windows and manifesting in weird ways (ever had a crazy meltdown if Starbucks gets your order wrong?). Forgetting about the pain just won’t work. It will always be there, waiting to be addressed, waiting to be felt.
It’s like if you were experiencing a surprising pain in your back but you didn’t deal with it. You just take a ton of Advil and try not to move as much. The problem will not resolve itself and spine issues are no joke. It won’t be resolved until you go to a doctor and discover what’s happening beneath the surface. I’m not saying that every single source of unhappiness requires professional help, but it does require attention. And it’s not going anywhere until it gets what it needs.
3. Unhappiness is a sign that something needs to be adjusted in your life
When you are unhappy, sad, angry, disappointed, lonely, or frustrated, the last thing you want to do is stop and process that emotion. If you’re anything like me, you want punch that discomfort in the face and run and hide under a blanket of Netflix and chocolate, hoping that the pain will forget you ever existed. Take it from me, this is not a useful coping technique. Instead of trying to forget about the unhappiness in my life, I’m learning to treat it as a sign. Discomfort in your life is a sign that something is wrong, or that something needs to be adjusted.
If you feel extremely anxious in certain social situations, maybe it’s time to evaluate who your friends are. It might be time to find safer people to surround yourself with. If you just really sad at the end of the day, it’s time to examine your career choices. If that’s not an option, think about what would make coming home at the end of the day a relaxing and rewarding experience. Do you tend to overreact when someone forgets about an appointment or a friend blows you off? Think about the first time you felt that deep pang of rejection or abandonment. You might be reliving a more fundamental and serious pain that is aggravating smaller more mundane sources of frustration.
Featured photo credit: Ed Gregory via stokpic.com