“I’ve never suffered from major depression, not from the crippling nightmare that I have watched in others, but I haven’t always been very happy. I’ve had—as the many euphemisms go—a hard time of it, been in a bad way, down in the dumps. Sometimes the reasons were clear, but other times unhappiness came—what Winston Churchill called the “black dog”—and settled in and nosed my palm and kept me up at night and wouldn’t let me alone or tell me why, exactly, it had come.” ~Jennifer Tomscha
After watching Inside Out, seeing loved ones struggle, and seeing my own melancholy in what many would expect to be an extremely happy time in my life, this piece from A Practical Wedding speaks to me. Here’s something we don’t always hear a lot about. While being in your 20s just after college is some of the most exciting, dream chasing time of your life, it’s also really hard. And unhappy.
In the piece Jennifer talks about the linguistic connection between happiness and happenstance. It can sometimes be a simple mix of the life we have and our own personalities. I also thought about how we call it unhappiness. We don’t have unsadness, or unanger, but we have unhappiness, because happiness is the expected state of being. Jennifer speaks on that point:
I want to advocate for more honesty about happiness: when and why some might be more happy than others, and how the structure of our society perpetuates myths that happiness is available to all (or to most) in equal measure.
Happiness isn’t available to all people at all times. Happiness is very fleeting. I notice the expectations of happiness within Christianity as well. Although in Inside Out, Joy was personified by exuberance and overwhelming happiness,
this is a more Christian understanding of Joy as defined by Rick Warren:
Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.
Nothing about being positive, feeling good, or happiness. Yet, joy or even honest negative emotions are not generally well expressed or encouraged within the Church. When we live with Christ, we live in happiness. And yet, if you look at Jesus life, it’s marked frequently by anger, stress, and sadness. I mean just think he wept over the death of Lazarus, when he knew he would raise him from the dead. And weeping isn’t just getting a little sad and shedding some tears, it’s a visceral, body wracking experience. Of course He was also happy, many times, especially around children, despite the paintings you’ve seen of Jesus
Yet, many Christians don’t feel safe expressing sadness, grief, or anger in the church. And inside and out of it, we often don’t know how to deal with deep “negative” emotions. We don’t know how to continue to care for those who are actively grieving, when the dead have been long buried. So we just stop. We don’t know how to respond to the friend who feels like God has forsaken them, so we offer pithy statements and prayers. And depression, don’t even get me started on that. Needless to say the world at large doesn’t always know how to deal with unhappiness, let alone the church.
Yet part of why I feel so loved, accepted and understood by Jesus is because he felt all those things. He knows what its like to follow God and not like it. He knows what it’s like to be rejected by those who love you. He knows (more than any of us) what it is to feel like God doesn’t care. He grieved, He was angry. He felt all the emotions.
For me it’s been unsettling how I have learned to accept my emotions. I am not ruled by my emotions, but neither do I suppress or ignore them. I respect that part of my life is unhappiness. Unhappiness with how life is going. Unhappiness about wedding planning. Unhappiness about friendships. Unhappiness colors my life, much like happiness does. I love though that Jennifer ends her essay not on a happy note, but on a true note
We won’t always grasp [happiness], and we’ll forgive ourselves if we don’t. Our lives might not always be happy, but they will be full with experience and with one another.
Life especially at this stage of life is not always happy. It’s full of rejection, confusion, weird crap with friends, journeying into faith, and instability. Yet, life is full, of richness, of true friends, of good times, of unexpected opportunities. And sometimes what’s most rewarding isn’t so much that we are happy, but that we are alive and fully experiencing life, happy and unhappy. Traversing through life with God and people who show us how blessed it is to be alive with all its unhappiness. I want a life that is full. A life that is full of love. A life that allows me to fully be myself, unhappiness and all.
All the glitter,