EPISODE 43: YOU DON'T HAVE TO FEEL HAPPY
with Lauren Selfridge
Lauren: Hey Podcast Cafe, it's been awhile since I've talked to all of you and I wanted to just take a little bit of time to say hello, see how you're all doing and talk with you a little bit about what's been on my mind lately...and it’s starting to get to be the end of 2018 and there's the thought that's been on my mind recently that I wanted to talk to you about, which is the idea that we are supposed to be happy.
It's a little bit controversial because I think for a lot of people the meaning of life is happiness, and I understand that because I really enjoy being happy and I think sometimes I can fall into the line of thinking that tells me that happiness is an indicator of success. So for some people that's true. For me it's not true. Sometimes I can be in the midst of a really difficult time and to me, my definition of success can be about the fact that I'm living through it. And with this podcast, a lot of the conversations that we have each episode highlight the, the wonderful learnings and illuminations that people have living with chronic illness...and at the same time, I think sometimes we can get the sense that people have better lives than we do or have happier lives than we do or that they're more, that they have more value in their lives are more fulfillment because we look at, you know, one short episode. So like if we look at, if you were to sit with me and we did an episode together and we only talked for an hour, we'd only be able to share a small sliver of your life.
But what I want to say to you today is...first of all that I do not live a life that involves feeling happy all the time. And I want to say that because a lot of times I think we can compare our insides to other people's outsides. And what we present in public isn't always the most accurate representation of us. And so what we wind up doing is comparing a lot of our internal processes with the little slivers that we see of other people's processes. And so the reason I want to tell you this is because I think we're all pretty similar in the sense that it's sort of impossible to feel happy all the time. And I want to take that off the table because I think it's a false goal and it's not one that's actually helpful to us. I, I want people to know that it's okay to not be happy, to not feel happy for a minute, an hour, a week, a month, a year, a decade. It's okay to have periods of your life where you're just not feeling joy. And the reason that this is important to me to share with you is because part of the path of having chronic illness, of having health challenges involves a number of really difficult emotions that can show up for us, including disappointment, sadness, and a lot of fear about what the future will hold or about how the present moment will play out.
And when we find ourselves focused on trying to be something other than we're not, what winds up happening is we can become even more disappointed and sort of reject who we are and where we are in the moment. So what I've found is that when I start to take a step back and look at how I value my life, kinda like when I ask people at the end of each episode, what does it mean to you to live a fulfilling life? When I take a step back and give myself a chance to really assess what full hearted living means to me, what fulfillment means, what living a wonderful life means. I start to realize that it has a lot less to do with what my emotional state is from moment to moment. Because what we know about humans is that our emotions change, just like everything they change. Rarely does an emotion stay forever, whether it's joy or sadness. So when I take having to feel happy all the time off the table, what I find is that I'm just living a life and I want my one wish for you would be in on this topic, is that you allow yourself to feel what you're feeling when you're feeling it. Because you know, I think people have given me feedback before about the podcast. Like it seems like it's a happy podcast and an uplifting podcasts...but then when people start to listen to the episodes, they start to see that we have such a range of experiences and that it takes a lot of bravery to share in a public forum that, yeah, we don't feel happy all the time. We don't feel joy all the time. And I do believe in living a life that allows me to feel like I'm continually growing.
But one of the myths that showed up for me pretty early in my experience living with MS was the idea that if I started to grieve or if I started to experience hopelessness, that I would cease to be a growing, thriving being. And what I've found is pretty much the exact opposite of that, because one of my biggest fears was to let myself fall apart because I was afraid that if I let myself fall apart, that I wouldn't ever put the pieces back together but the reality is sometimes we need to fall apart in order to reconstruct and create something even better than what we had before. So in one of the episodes this season, I talk about my experience of, of sharing with my therapist actually at the time, right after I had been diagnosed about my deep, deep fear of letting myself feel the deep sadness and the deep fear of what a potential future with MS could look like, and how I didn't know what my life was going to be because I had a vision for myself, and I became very terrified that it wasn't going to be able to play out...but I wasn't able and willing to look at that at the time. And that was okay. And I actually took my time and I'm still taking my time letting in the grief. So there have been stretches where I don't feel the grief and I don't feel sad and I don't feel scared and part of it's because I'm not able to because I'm trying to move past it and sometimes it's because I've let myself feel it enough for now and I don't need to feel it every moment.
So there have been times for me where I have what has felt like fallen apart. I've curled up in a ball and cried, and there's like tears and snot and all the stuff coming out of my face. Curling up in a ball can be a really helpful way to just let yourself feel like the real feelings, and to just know that like that's your only job in that moment, to just feel them. And what's scary about that is that when I have done that in the past, there's been this fear that the feeling will never end, and the fear is that I'll be consumed by my emotions and that all these other thoughts and judgments come in like...I'm not making progress. I'm not worthy. I'm not doing anything valuable right now. I'm not being productive. I should be doing something else, but when I take a step back and I look at what I'm doing, I realized that I need to be falling apart in that moment. It's actually one of the bravest things that I can do is to let myself feel, is to let myself drop down into deep sadness or deep fear so that my life, my body, my spirit, have a chance to live. It's part of life truly is to fall apart and come back together and fall apart and come back together.
So the good news is that what I found is that when I let myself really go to the depths, like really move into the darkness, move into the fear, move into the sadness. One is I realized that I've always survived. Those times have never not come back. Some of the times are longer than others. Like I've had weeks where I've, you know, for several weeks felt hopelessness. And in those periods, luckily I've had resources and people and therapists and books and speakers who have reminded me that there's a sacredness to allowing ourselves to feel the sad, difficult, angry, hopeless feelings. That there is always another side. There's always more on the other side of that. And so what I want to do for you today is be one of the people who can remind you that...that when you are moving through a period of darkness, that there's something really important and sacred to living through it. And that our definition of success doesn't have to be measured by how our emotions are in a given moment. It can be that we are partnering with ourselves and being a loving presence for our own sadness, our own anger, our own fear, our own hopelessness. That there is a part of us that can shepherd us through, that can allow us to feel what we're feeling when we're feeling it. And it is one of the most special ways to develop a great relationship with ourselves. So yeah, so the good news is really wonderful things have come out of dark periods and I actually want to refer to an an episode from Season One called “Everything About You is Worthy of Love.”
So that episode was my first solo episode of the podcast and I had been putting off doing any solo episodes because I have all these internal blocks that tell me things like you don't have anything to say and what if you mess it up and this is going to be boring for people and they want, they only want to hear you if you're talking to other people. So there's all those stressful kind of self-sabotaging thoughts that come in and as much as I love to try and work with those and say, Hey, I'm going to move through them and do it anyway. What, what led to my actually creating my first episode, uh, my first solo episode for the podcast was that I went through a really difficult, like 48 hours before I made it. I had something happen in my personal life. I was dealing with shame. I was dealing with feeling like I wasn't worthy, and then by letting myself just really crumble on and just let myself feel the deep sadness and hopelessness, I got to get in touch with my inner shepherd that allows me to be who I am and that reminds me that everything about me is worthy of love. And so when I got in touch with that, I was like, I need to remind myself and everyone else that everything about them is worthy of love.
So it was actually in moving through those deep, dark, difficult feelings that the little spark of inspiration showed up and I was able to create something really beautiful and it's been several months since that episode was released and people have reached out to me personally to say, hey, that episode meant a lot to me. So something really great came out of my ability to move through the darkness, and we're about to move into the darkest period of the year. Weather wise, there's just not as much sunlight. It's a time for a lot of introspection. It can be difficult. There could be a certain slowness to our way of life at this time of year where there just is more solitude in many ways. There's definitely opportunity to like take stock of our lives and reflect, but it can also feel depressing. It can feel sad. It can feel...you can have all kinds of feelings that show up in this darkness, and what I want to say is that not only is it okay to not feel happy during this time, but maybe your spirit needs an opportunity to feel even more of your range of emotions because maybe your spirit just needs that permission and I want to remind you that it probably won't last, but that you will probably have moments in your life...Whether it's this time of year or other times of day or just different periods in your life, when your spirit needs a rest from joy or needs a rest from seeking accomplishment, that maybe your spirit needs to feel something else and you'll know...like, you will know.
You'll know because the feelings will show up. They always show up at the right time and we feel them as much and as deeply as we can and it's okay to rest and like I always say, you can watch Netflix, you can call a friend, you can cuddle with your dog, you can do all the different things that help support you in the difficult times. We don't have to be on the floor, curled up in a ball, feeling sadness all the time, but sometimes it really helps when we have the ability to do so because it gives our spirit a time to create and recreate who we are. So when it comes to living with chronic illness and disability and health challenges, I really think it's important for us to especially give ourselves permission to have the difficult feelings. And I'm not saying that happiness isn't a worthy and valuable part of life too. It's just that's one part of life and I don't want people to ever listen to these episodes and think, well, the goal is to live a joyful life. The goal is to live a happy life. And so when I'm happy, I'm worthy, and when I'm not happy, I'm not. That's not how it works. And what instead I would hope is that we're building more and more resilience to be with whatever is real and true in this moment that we're able to value our lives just as much when we're curl up in a ball on the floor or crying with a friend or brooding and listening to sad music and looking out the window or journaling or drawing and just feeling really low that we value our lives just as much in those periods as when we feel we're soaring high, as when we feel like we're doing super well and we're feeling joy and everything's possible. You know, all those feelings. That it's all part of who we are. It's all part of the experience of living.
I remember when I was speaking with Emily Garnette in season one and I asked her what a fulfilling life meant to her and she said, it means to live a big life, to have big feelings and allow ourselves to have big experiences. And I think about how our bodies remind us that we're not gonna be here forever because they get sick, they get injured, they die, and one of the gifts of illness and of disability and I've injury is that we get those little reminders maybe a little bit more often than the average person. And while that can be hard, it's also really beautiful because it helps us to stay in touch with what's important to us. And I know I just spoke with Drew this week on this week's Episode 40 and talked about with him what it means to be alive and how important it is to him that he lives now and what a beautiful reminder for all of us to be able to focus on the fact that life is finite so that we can be truly here. That we can be truly present for what's here and part of being present for what's here as being present for what's hard. And I kind of love that. It's taken me a long time to start to figure that out.
I think we live in a culture that really values the shiny, positive, happy exterior and people don't really post a lot of crying selfies online. I think in the chronic illness community, more of us do. I've seen that more than the average group of people, but overall we generally don't share those parts of ourselves publicly and so it can be really attractive in a way to start to measure ourselves against that external vision of success. And really, the deeper truth for me and I think for a lot of us, is that our lives are never going to be one thing. They're always going to be changing. There are always going to be growing and moving and asking us to show up with them. We are not supposed to feel one way all the time and that's okay and that's actually part of the excitement of being alive. So if you are going through a period right now where you're starting to feel like you're in a rut or if you're not making progress or if you feel like you're supposed to be doing something different...before you start to take action to be different or to feel different, I would encourage you to first sit with what's happening right now and consider that maybe for even a short period even if you can give yourself 10 seconds or 30 seconds of feeling the way you do without trying to change it, that experience will change you because it will allow you to connect with part of yourself. And sometimes you need a lot longer than 30 seconds to feel unproductive. Sometimes we need a lot longer than a day to feel hopelessness. The hopelessness I think is just asking us to let it self live through us. You know, like just let me have my process with you so that you can feel it and see that it's real, but that it also isn't everything. To know that the hopelessness isn't gonna take over your whole life if you let it live itself through you. And then when we see that we survive feeling the feelings we become, I want to call it like a little bit more spiritually invincible, right? Like our bodies are very, her body, our bodies are very mortal, you know, they're very fallible, but our spirits are super resilient when we really rely on them to shepherd us through. And part of that is allowing our feelings to live themselves through us. So I think the more we let ourselves feel, all of the whole range of emotions, the more invincible we become spiritually because we know that nothing can take us away from ourselves. Like that's the one thing that we always have is ourselves.
I call it elevator skills when we have certain things, certain tools and reserves within us that no one can take away from us. Like even if we were trapped on an elevator and we had really nothing physically with us to get us through, we'd still have our emotional resilience and our ability to let ourselves feel the terror, feel the frustration, feel the curiosity, feel the joy and excitement that we'd have that inner shepherd that allows us to get through all that we do to work on ourselves internally and spiritually is with us on the elevator. It's pretty cool. Uh, so no one can take us away from ourselves. Even if you're trapped in an elevator, you still got yourself. And I also mentioned in one of the episodes this season about how I had this one day where I was in bed and it was this beautiful day out. And I really was bummed because I had a lot of desire to be outside and experience the weather and be outdoors and feel like I'm quote unquote seizing the day. And when I was lying there, I had this realization that even though I was taught growing up just by our culture, that you must take advantage of good weather by going outside. I found that it wasn't actually true for me on a spiritual level that I had to go outside in order to feel like the day was fulfilling or worthy and the idea that I could waste a day started to reveal itself to me as being completely false. I really don't think you can waste a day.
I mean every day in every moment something is happening, whether we're just breathing or we're sleeping or were thinking whatever it is, we're living through the day and so there is no day that gets wasted. When I take that off the table, the idea that I can waste a day, it really relieves me. I start to feel like, oh, okay. I don't have to put so much effort into managing every last detail of my life, into grading myself regularly, into giving myself a hard time when I'm not quote unquote productive. I don't have to waste my energy judging myself because everyday is worthy. So in that particular day, what I wound up doing was creating like a little instagram story of the breeze blowing through the curtains from my bed and it was just this lovely little moment and I thought, I'm going to share this because this is part of the art of today is like there's, there's a moment of beauty that I'm appreciating and that is awesome and I want to celebrate that. And it allowed me to connect with the world a little bit because instagram, Yay Internet. We got to connect with each other, even from bed, even if all you can do is move your thumbs and create something. And I found that I was able to actually enjoy the day that I hadn't planned for myself because I wasn't trying to be different than what I was in that moment, which it happened to be that I was very, very exhausted that day. Um, and so when, when I let myself feel and be exactly as I am, I wind up finding that the day is in its own way exactly what I need. And I think I've shared this quote with you before, but I'm just going to share it with you as often as it comes up for me because it is one of my guiding concepts of my life, which is a quote from Byron Katie, which is, “It wasn't as she had planned.
It was perfect instead.” We can spend so much time trying to manage our lives, to plan them out, and sometimes those efforts work out beautifully. Have you ever had like one of those trips where you plan out all the details and things worked out? That's great. It's really exciting when that works out, but it also gives us the illusion that that's what it means for things to work out is for things to go according to plan. When we have bodies that do what they want, when we have bodies that are reliably unreliable, we are taught over and over again that there's another way to live life. Even when our bodies don't do what we want, we're taught over and over again that life happens despite our plans, that our bodies show up the way they do despite all of our efforts. And that it's really never a reflection of our spirits. Our spirits get to show up for our bodies wherever they're at, and it's okay for our bodies not to be doing what we want them to. And it's also okay to feel sad about that. It's okay to feel angry about that, to feel hopeless. Um, it's okay to have all of those emotions because it's kind of natural and normal. And I want you to feel that permission to be doing this dance between your spirit and your body, to respond to what's going on with the body, to allow it to be doing what it's doing, but also to let your emotions live their course.
So the reason I picked the term “full hearted living” versus “joyful living” for this podcast is because I really do believe that our lives are not measured by our emotions. Emotions are gifts. I think they're part of like there are some sweet emotions, there are some salty emotions, there are some spicy emotions, but they are all gifts and none of them are more worthy than others. None of them are less worthy than others. They're all part of the flavors of life, and so when we allow ourselves to feel them, we're living full lives. That's my opinion. All of this is my opinion and if you're listening this far, then I think something about what I'm saying feels true for you too, and I just want to end by saying I want to invite you to just take a moment and get in touch with yourself in this moment. If you want, you can close your eyes. Don't do it if you're driving and just take a moment to pay attention to your breathing, to notice the sensations in your body, to notice the places that there isn't sensation, to just feel it all as much or as little as you're capable of feeling, and to also notice what emotions are here with you right now in this moment. Just paying attention to the emotions without needing to change them or judge them or grade them, and to just know that whatever you're feeling physically, whatever you're feeling emotionally is okay. To know that none of it is a representation of how much progress you're making in your life. To know that there is no other way, you have to be right now in this moment and to know that all of this will very likely change either in a few minutes, in a few days, in a few weeks. That most things don't last and that all we can do right now in this moment is be here for what's here. I want you to know that wherever you are on your path, you are so welcome here in this world, that you are so needed, that your experience of being you does make an impact, that you get to be here, that you don't have to do anything in order to show up as a person here in the world.
You don't have to be happy. You don't have to have a positive attitude in order to be worthy, in order to be a part of this community. You get to be you. And so thank you so much for sitting with me today. Does anybody have any thoughts or questions or reflections? I'd love to hear what this topic has brought up for you. If you have any questions for me, I know that there's probably all kinds of stuff that goes on for people. I'm reflecting on what it means to not be happy all the time, that it's okay to not be happy all the time. Do you have any judgments that show up for you about when you're not feeling great? Do you have thoughts that you notice in yourself when you're not feeling joy? Is there ever resistance to that? Is there ever something the opposite of resistance? Do you ever embrace the sad feelings, the angry feeling, so hopeless feelings? What happens for you when you're really present with what you do when you get sad? I'm curious about all of that. Please bring whatever parts of yourself you'd like to sharing with our with our community in the podcast cafe. I'd love to hear what's going on in your world and I will probably try and respond to everything that people post, so get in there and tell us what's up for you, and if you want to comment on this video, I'd love to hear your thoughts. So, whether you're watching this live or you're watching this later, thank you for joining me and I hope you have a beautiful day.