People are often told to smile or made to believe it’s unacceptable to experience uncomfortable emotions. For women, a bad day is maybe blamed on PMS, or menopause or some other mysterious female ailment. Thus many women bury their true feelings under a false cheerfulness. For men a bad day is maybe blamed on having an argument with their partner or a difficult day at work.
That's not okay because it's okay to not always be happy, otherwise it's the only feeling we'd be equipped with. By embracing our own emotions and not feeling as if we are obligated to conform to society's expectations of emotional expression, we can improve our emotional health.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
That song became an expression to fuel a generation encouraging casting worries aside to be forgotten and just smile. Although the song has valid points such as not allowing excessive worrying to dictate our life, it does give the impression that happiness is an expectation. That expressing other emotions is taboo and that we are somehow diminishing the joy of others by not projecting happiness—no matter what our true feelings may be.
As if we must walk around with an unnatural smile on our face and bury our hurts, disappointments, and fears. This could result in bottling up emotional baggage to bury and endure. When people ask us to smile even if we don’t feel like smiling, the action may be more uncomfortable than not. Or we may become resentful of the person who assumes we are angry or unhappy if we are not displaying happiness no matter what inner turmoil we may conceal.
Experience your Feelings—Not What You Think You “Should” Feel
Everyone doesn’t express emotions in the same manner—and that’s okay. This trait is part of what makes us unique individuals. Try to disregard those that disdainfully suggest we refrain from being a “Debbie Downer” or who complain if they assume we are being a “Positive Pollyanna.” The only person to be held responsible for our feelings is ourselves.
Everyone doesn’t cry at a funeral and some people cry at every commercial on television. What brings one person joy may not stimulate a smile from their closest friend. Emotional expectations vary from culture to culture as to what is deemed appropriate or rude in emotional expression. The environment in which we were raised and the manner in which our family expresses feelings, could influence emotional reactions.
Judging someone based solely on their emotional response is likely to produce an incorrect assumption. When unsure of the emotional well-being of a loved one, it’s okay to just ask rather than encourage them to smile away their troubles.
For a person we know well, a significant change in their usual demeanor may be obvious. Take the time to offer a chance to talk, or purge a bottled up emotion. If they aren’t ready to talk, let them know you’re available if they change their mind. Likewise, if they offer a willing ear, consider taking them up on the offer.
“Some might not even realize that they are depressed, especially if they seem like they're managing their day-to-day life. It doesn’t seem possible that someone can be smiling, chipper, functioning, and at the same time, depressed.” - Rita Labeaune, Psy.D. clinical psychologist in Beverly Hills
In an Age of Endless “Have to Do” Make Time for What You “Want to Do”
Everyone is busier than ever. We need to give ourselves a reason to smile. Investing all of our time in the daily grind, and the needs of others, could result in neglecting oneself, and the things we enjoy doing.
- Make time for yourself each day and plan something you look forward to doing.
- Just say, “No”, to the many requests for your time and energy.
- Spend some time doing nothing and recharge yourself.
- Start a journal and write something you are grateful for each day, or simply journal your thoughts and feelings onto the page.
Accept and Embrace Your Feelings
We aren’t “raining on anyone’s parade” if we don’t feel like smiling. If you are the only one bursting with joy, don’t feel bad about sharing it, because smiles and laughter can be contagious.
Is Something Else Bothering You?
Pain, physical or emotional, doesn’t show up in our lives for no reason. It’s a sign that something needs to change. If a lingering, or unusual unhappiness, appears for inexplicable reasons, take the time to perform inventory of your overall health.
- Are you due for a medical checkup to rule out a physical cause of a significant change in your emotions?
- Are you getting enough rest?
- Have you changed your diet? Or your vitamin supplements?
- Have you started a new prescription? Or increased a current one?
- Is there an underlying stressor that you might benefit from talking to someone about, or journaling your feelings to relieve the chore of suppressing this?
- Has something changed in your work or personal life that makes you unhappy?
When it might be something more
Everyone experiences sadness and the occasional emotional rollercoaster. Although if you’ve experienced an overwhelming sadness for two weeks or more, you may be suffering from more than a bad day and it might be time to seek help in dealing with your feelings. Depression isn’t something you choose, or can shake off; it’s a medical illness.
A persistent change that might indicate you’re dealing with more than a bad mood includes:
- Your sadness is affecting your work or family life
- Your sleeping patterns have changed
- Your eating habits have changed
- You’ve lost interest in things that used to make you happy
- Your concentration is fragmented, or lacking
- You have thoughts of suicide
If you struggle with a lingering sadness, or experience any of the other persistent changes indicated above, speaking with a trusted psychotherapist at Nassau Guidance and Counseling located on Long Island can help. Our licensed therapists have helped many people unburden themselves of bottled up emotions so they can experience their true feelings and live life to the fullest.