With such a global state of suffering, who even knows how to feel joyful? There can be an awkwardness or discomfort when you have big wins, like being the only one in a rainstorm with an umbrella. But let’s dispel a myth up front: Finding joy in your life right now isn’t selfish, it’s survival. And as discussed in our recent Well+Good TALK on mental health during the pandemic, it’s natural to have other emotions sit alongside that joy.
“One of my big pet peeves, I think, is people saying that, like, ‘your natural state is happiness,’” Amanda E. White, LPC, founder and lead therapist of Therapy for Women in Philadelphia, said during the TALK. “And that’s just not true. We’re meant to feel all different types of ways, depending on what’s going on.”
That said, how do we allow ourselves to really savor happiness when we feel guilty about the horrible things going on around us? How do you celebrate, for example, getting a new job when many of your friends have been out of work for months?
According to Jasmine Marie, breathwork practitioner and founder of black girls breathing, it’s usually not worth doing a comparison of your experience and someone else’s. You know how sometimes you have to catch yourself when someone has something—a cool job, an engagement ring, a goat farm in Ireland, whatever it is—that you don’t? And you scold yourself: “I shouldn’t compare because that’s their life, and I probably have things they don’t have.” This same idea applies to feelings of grief of sadness.
“Hold [your feelings] equally,” Marie said. If you wouldn’t compare the high points in someone else’s life to your own, why would you compare the low moments?”This isn’t a competition on how bad we can all feel. Who’s a winner in that?”
Watch the Well+Good TALK on the state of mental health with Jasmine Marie, Amanda E. White, and Elyse Fox:
Beyond that, when you have good news you want to celebrate, it always helps to have at least one group of cheerleaders who will root for you no matter what—siblings, work friends, your therapist, your book club!
“I always say, it’s so important for your mental health to have your tribe, people you can just go to and dish and indulge, whether it’s positive or negative,” added Elyse Fox, founder of Sad Girls Club, an online platform and IRL community committed to removing stigma from conversations surrounding mental health. “They will be happy for you in this time.”
The comparison game is unhelpful for another reason: “If we talk about this from a brain perspective, your brain doesn’t really care whether someone has it better than you or worse than you,” said White. “You’re going to have emotions, they are going to come up. They’re a function, they’re trying to tell you something. And while logically we can think about how we should or shouldn’t feel [one way or another] way, emotions are data, emotions are information, and they’re not always rational.”
“And one of the big things that I talk about in my work with people is giving up the idea that you’re going to be able to figure out exactly how you should feel,” said White. “You can feel more than one way. At the same time, your emotions may not always make sense. And that’s okay, as long as you can feel them and work through them.”
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