There are some things people tend to accept as universal truths without any questions, and one is that everyone wants to be as happy as possible. But I learned at a young age that this actually wasn't true for me. It's OK not to be happy, and what's more important to me is developing awareness of how I'm truly feeling, whether it's pleasant or unpleasant.
"If our goal is to be happy all of the time, then we block ourselves from vital elements of the human experience that help us grow," practicing psychologist and Harvard lecturer Holly Parker, PhD, author of If We're Together, Why Do I Feel So Alone?, tells Bustle.
"Unpleasant emotions such as sadness, fear, and anger certainly aren’t fun to feel," she says. "Yet they’re a lot like pain receptors in our body — they offer important information about a situation we’re facing and are worth paying attention to rather than ignoring. For instance, without sadness, you wouldn’t feel a meaningful loss (e.g., 'My friend just died? Oh well'), or be motivated to address a challenge in life ("I have no sense of purpose or direction in my life. That’s okay”). And we’d never take risks and venture outside our comfort zone, because that opens the door to discomfort and negative feelings."
Here are a few reasons it's totally OK and even beneficial to have your ups and downs.
1Emotions Are Feedback
Emotions give you valuable information about what you want. If you're in a situation you don't want to be in, you might feel angry or anxious or sad. These feelings tell you that you need to get out. If you were always happy, you would go along with everything. You wouldn't be as motivated to chase your dreams or make changes in your life because everything would seem just fine as it is.
2Other Emotions Can Feel As Good
When I think back to the best moments of my life, they spanned a variety of emotions, not all of which were happiness. Many involved a sense of inner peace, when I wasn't smiling but just calm and centered. Others involved a sense of fulfillment more profound than happiness. Some actually involved sadness, because it was so cathartic to be getting that emotion out. Sometimes, it's nice to feel some discomfort. It's the emotional equivalent of a dog that's so ugly it's cute.
3It's Important To Feel Your Feelings
If you think you're happy all the time, you're probably not being honest with yourself. It's much better to be sad, mad, scared, and aware of it than to be happy because you've repressed all your other feelings.
4You Don't Have To Perform
I used to feel like I had to be happy to please other people. But now I think that anyone who won't accept me for my less-than-happy-go-lucky self is probably not worth pleasing. Negativity rubs off on people, so not everyone wants to be around it, and that's fair. But there's a difference between being a negative Nancy and just being mellow or having your ups and downs.
Telling people to smile not only can be sexist but also can distance them from their true emotions and personalities. When I'm smiling less, I feel more like myself.
5Happiness Does Not Always Equal Fulfillment
There's a profound happiness that can come from being where you want to be in your life, but there's also a shallower happiness that can come from momentary distraction, meaningless pleasure, or even destructive behavior. Being happy isn't always a good thing if it impedes your goals or leads to unhappiness down the line.
6Variety Is The Spice Of Life
Life would be boring if we were always happy. There were be no drama, no conflict, and no resolution. We probably wouldn't really appreciate the happy times because we wouldn't have anything to compare it to.
7The Hard Times Make Us Stronger
If we never felt any unpleasant emotions, we wouldn't experience much personal growth. It's sometimes necessary to experience hardship in order to become wiser and better people.
Of course, this certainly isn't to say anyone should cut happiness out of their emotional repertoire. "Happiness is a pleasant sign of how things are going for us, and it’s a beautiful emotion that we’re right to enjoy," says Parker. "But if we shield ourselves off from other feelings, then we may hinder our path toward a fuller human life that just might, ironically, lift us up to deeper happiness along the way."