Genuine well being for ourselves and the planet

Posts tagged ‘Sadness’

The “Happiness Lady” Is Sad

I was momentarily at a loss for words after choir practice last week.  I had just introduced myself to a new choir member who smiled and said, “Oh, yeah, you’re the happiness lady, right?”

I was briefly taken aback because I didn’t feel that happy.  In truth, I was sad.  Of course, cultivating happiness is not about dismissing or ignoring negative emotions.  They are valuable contributors to the palette of life.  So I quickly recovered my equilibrium enough to smile back and say, sure, yeah, I guess  I am the happiness lady.

My sadness is still with me today, and I’m okay with that.  I just had two major losses in my life: 1) I closed my Happiness Paradigm store and 2) my baby granddaughter, who had lived with us for almost all her first 17 months of life, moved with her mother to a distant state.

My granddaughter "helping" me with my suitcase as I prepare to leave her new home.

My granddaughter “helping” me with my suitcase as I prepare to leave her new home.

Though both events are positive developments, there is nonetheless grief.   My daughter landed an excellent job, which is critical to the long term well being of her and her daughter.  Still, I deeply miss having a beloved baby under my roof.  How could I not?

As for the store … one reason I closed it was to open a new space in a more populated area where I can do workshops, mediations, coaching, and writing.  But my new office is still being built from two old closets and isn’t ready yet.  I’m feeling un-moored.

Plus, it’s fall and the darkness is closing in.

So, what is a sad “happiness lady” to do?  Or you, for that matter?  It’s a fundamentally important question, not only for my current minor distress but also for the much more daunting pain and struggles we will all be forced to grapple with sometime (s).

Indeed, small challenges are also opportunities for us to practice the coping skills that we will need to endure the really tough suffering.

What might those skills look like?  For starters, they might look like the previous paragraph: shifting one’s perspective to find the positive aspects in a negative situation (ie, challenges are also opportunities).  In my mediation training, we called this “reframing;” you could just say it’s looking for the cloud’s silver lining.

Being aware of, and present to, our sadness is vital — as is humor.  Comedian Louis C.K. combines both in this timely video my daughter alerted me to (a video that will be especially entertaining to Bruce Springsteen fans).  Louis C.K. also highlights ways not to deal with sadness — another valuable lesson.

I’ve cried on and off these past few weeks, and that’s good,  too.  In another timely internet offering, neuroscientist Mark Brady’s new blog on “Crying In Restaurants” observes that “tears of grief are filled with neuro-toxins and crying is one way the body is built to move them out of our system.”  Tears are a great gift — if we give ourselves the time and space to cry them.  I’ve found the time to do that, choosing to stay home alone or with my husband and just be with the sadness.

There are so many other ways to cope, and your choices will be different from mine.  My coping strategies include singing in the church choir (which combines community, spirituality, service, learning, and the transformative power of music); hard work (a huge home improvement project, designed to simplify our lives and substantially curtail our personal contribution to climate change); service to others (through another church committee, “Lay Pastoral Care”); and exercise (yoga, bone builders, and kayaking).

And then there are my two favorite happiness strategies: gratitude and savoring.  It is, after all, autumn in Vermont.  When Bob and I kayaked on one of our favorite local lakes, the sweetly named “Peacham Pond,” it was a brilliantly sunny, cool, and windy Saturday.  Perhaps because the water was choppy, we had the lake to ourselves — except for a half dozen loons.  I was in love that day with Vermont, with Peacham Pond, with the tantalizing beauty of the foliage just starting to change, with my husband, with life.  So much to be grateful for, so much to savor.  My current bout of sadness isn’t through with me yet, but it sure did leave me alone for that glorious afternoon.


New Years Eve: Embrace Your Sadness

In my last post, I wrote of paradoxes.  Here’s another: to find genuine happiness, I believe it is important to accept — even embrace — your sadness.

This is a fundamental tenet for many spiritual leaders, in contrast to Western culture which encourages us to keep pain and suffering at bay.   The  Dalai Lama, for example, has written extensively on the intersection of happiness and suffering.  In The Art of Happiness, he observes that while upbeat Western views  can lead to “a happier and healthier life … the inevitable arising of suffering undermines these beliefs  … (Even) a relatively minor trauma can have a massive psychological impact as one loses faith in one’s basic believes … (and) suffering is intensified.” (p.147)

My mediation training also illuminated the importance of “leaning into the thorns,” as instructor Alice Estey put it.   Shining a light on difficult issues (there’s that mindfulness piece again!) provides the opportunity to get to the root of conflict — or any other source of sadness.  Appreciating the cause of pain is a good first step toward fixing or ameliorating the problem.

Sadness can even be a building block for happiness.  Through the commonality of suffering, we build relationships, community, and compassion.  It is sadness that provides the backdrop which allows moments of happiness to glow.

I had the opportunity to personally appreciate these benefits a few weeks ago when I woke up deep in the blues.  In addition to my own disappointments, I have a large family and many friends — some of whom were in the midst of crisis. It all weighed heavily on me that day.  I didn’t feel hopeless, and I didn’t feel like wallowing or being sorry for myself.  I was just sad.

I decided to write about my sadness on Facebook because I like to share my genuine emotions on my FB page.  Also, I don’t want anyone to think my focus on happiness means I believe anybody, me included, should try to be chipper all the time.

Immediately, I got that sweet boost of support Facebook friends can provide.   Simply, I felt the love — but I was still sad.  I read all my friends’ lovely messages, and just wanted to cry.  Obviously, I needed to embrace my sadness.

When I arrived at yoga that evening, still on the verge of tears, the most amazing thing happened.  A yoga classmate had a present for me.  Liz Snell said she and her husband John had thought of me when they were at a craft fair in July and spotted small, handmade happiness quote books.  Now, on this dark early winter night, she gave me the one they bought for me (pictured above).  I was surprised, moved, and grateful.

No doubt, if Liz had given me the book on a sunny summer evening when I was riding the wave of a good mood, I would have sincerely appreciated the gift — but not in the same way.  Now, every time I look at the book, or read from it, I have tangible proof that I am not alone in sorrow.  That is so, so comforting.

Giving from the heart, and receiving heartfelt gifts, are both manifestations of compassion.  I’ll close this blog with an observation on how suffering builds compassion from one of my all time favorite spiritual books, Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life, by longtime yoga teacher and Yoga Journal columnist Judith Lasater.  I love Lasater’s book because it’s so real, completely accessible — yet profound at the same time.  In the chapter on compassion, Lasater writes:

“The old axiom wins out.  Charity begins at home.  So, too, with compassion.  You must begin with yourself.  To be compassionate toward others, you must first understand that you suffer.  This awareness allows you to see that others suffer, too, and to respond with clarity to this condition, which is shared by all living beings.” (p.51)

So, to all you living beings, from another — here’s a heartfelt wish for a happy — and sad — New Year!