zinnia in black amd white

Life is made of joys and sadness. Ignoring the sad, painful times neutralizes the joyful ones.

One of my office managers keeps insisting that we not talk at all about the negatives of our job. He would prefer that the staff and physicians only project happiness, sunshine, and roses at all times. I am not sure that is entirely healthy.

This is the way of life lately. No one wants to hear or even acknowledge the negative. Sadness makes us uncomfortable. It is painful. It is a natural thing to want to avoid it.

Why can’t you just be happy?

The problem is that completely ignoring it promotes isolation. It keeps us from recognizing who is suffering, who is at risk, who needs help. This is a tough job for all involved. What is wrong with acknowledging that so we can all work through it together? 

Am I the only one who feels this way? What is wrong with me?

And it takes away the drive to get better. 

If everyone is happy, why do I have to do it right?

The worst part is that it takes away the celebration of the real triumphs. 

What? Can we BE more happy?

It is OK to feel fear, doubt, sadness, frustration. It is what we do with those emotions that is the key. How do we respond and use them constructively?

I see this in patients, too. So many believe they should not have to feel any negative feelings, that such feelings should be avoided at all costs. 

I know I should still be happy. I am going bankrupt, my wife left me, and my son is in jail, but I should be happy. Everyone tells me I should just be happy. Make me feel happy.

Doc, I am really, really trying to stay positive. I have metastatic cancer and I am in pain all the time and chemo is kicking my butt. Everyone tells me I should stay positive or I won’t beat this but I really just want to cry. I need to cry.

You know what? Being sick sucks. Having cancer sucks. Sometimes life just sucks.

And it should be OK to say it sucks. It should be OK to grieve and be sad and to cry if need be, even if it makes others uncomfortable. 

What we need is balance. Not a cult of happiness.


145 thoughts on “Comparing 

  1. “The problem is that completely ignoring it promotes isolation.”
    Ignoring it— like teaching ignorance of what is perceived as negative. Sooner or later the reality catches up… and that’s not a bad thing.

    It’s only natural to honestly feel and work on things. Plugging our ears to the “uncomfortable” is outright denial.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice reflection, Victo. You mention twice that expressions of unhappiness offer the opportunity to take construction action to make things better. And even when things can’t be “fixed” there’s an opportunity for empathy and compassion. That said, your request for balance is important too. I have to admit I have little patience for complainers who don’t help themselves – teenagers who say they’re bored, coworkers who whine that no one made coffee, or politicians who say government doesn’t work. :-D.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It is my experience that when troubles abound, one’s world-view shrinks. The news, national and local, is less important. Even the weather becomes less consequential. I think this can be turned into a positive. Progress is an incremental thing and there is satisfaction to be found one step at a time.

    Despite the growing aches, pains and anxieties of advancing age I find comfort in the small things. Making morning coffee, that first sip of orange juice, the newspaper, the crossword and sudoku puzzles. Chats with acquaintances at the gym. Moments of humor with the wife. Life, in all it’s complexity, is a stew to be savored.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Have you read Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, _Bright-sided_? I still haven’t read the book but I remember when it came out I was thinking, finally, it’s about time someone threw a little refreshing realism on this unrelenting cultural boosterism for positive thinking. But she clearly needs help in this quest, because the boosterism is still out there. Ehrenreich makes a similar point to one Susan Cain made in _Quiet_, that too much positive thinking contributed to the economic crisis of 2008 and following. People overlooked sensible caution, uncertainty, and doubt, in favor of groundless optimism and brought about economic disaster. You make a good point here as well that the losses can be personal as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I hear you. It becomes even more bizarre as a physician who has something traumatic happen like the recent passing of my mom. People look at me in the oddest ways, some stay away, some talk to me in weird hushed voices like we are still at a funeral. Some just randomly hug me. They sense that I am sad, but I don’t have the luxury of my emotions. I have to keep it together for everyone else and still take care of people and their needs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ignoring does make it worse! Sometimes you have to duck and wait for the acuity to wear off to the point where you can face it head on for what it is. Sometimes it takes time to even figure out how you feel about a situation before you can act on it properly. I think where I (and others) have a tendency to get in trouble is acting too soon, in the heat of passion when I am not thinking straight or when things have calmed down and are somewhat bearable, I never act at all. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Totally agree that its fine acknowledging pain and disappointment in your life is healthy, just not dwelling on it.
    I truly believe with a positive attitude and perseverance you can beat most of life adversities.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Embracing sadness, that others may live – Learning to Speak Politics

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