Essays, general essay

The Lie of All Happy, All the Time

Last week, I looked at how I have to face and work through my anger to get to the point of being able to forgive. And one of the things I pointed out is that we, as a culture, are really uncomfortable with anger. We don’t have any really solid ways of dealing with it, which is really a problem because anger drives a lot of negative thinking.

I’m not a big fan of negative thinking and struggle with it constantly. It’s not fun. I assume people hate me. I mentally call people names who don’t deserve it.  I assume the worst motives in everyone who crosses me. This is not healthy or good or anything like the person I want to be. But how to stop it? Aye, there’s the rub.

So, I’m reading this article by someone I won’t name, a) because I tossed it already and b) the author was a freaking idiot (which I will explain). The good points this person made were that negative thoughts have a nasty way of happening, whether you want to think them or not, and that one of the best ways we can deal with them is to confront and analyze them. And he suggested asking whether the thought is true and then reframing the thought if it isn’t.

The first problem is that he insisted that at the moment a negative thought occurs (and he was very insistent about this next bit), the reader should stop immediately and write it down, along with the analysis. I don’t know about you, but negative thoughts don’t hit me when I’m at my desk with pen, paper and several minutes to spare to think them through. They come at me in the shower, in bed in the middle of the night, while I’m driving or walking. In short, when stopping to write the frickin’ thought down is next to impossible, let alone analyze it. And it didn’t occur to the author of the article that this might be the case for most people? How stupid is that?

The second problem is that in the examples he gave, the thoughts were all untrue. Well, gang, there are some people out there who really don’t like me. There are plenty of people who by their actions give me good reason to assume that their motives are the worst. There are certain social situations (thank God, not many anymore) that if I didn’t go into them mentally armed to the teeth, I was going to get kicked and kicked but good. And there are people out there who do deserve the names I think up. Like the idiot who wrote the article.

The author wrote multiple times in one article that if we keep thinking negative thoughts, they will ruin our lives. I admit, negative thinking is not fun. I want to dump a good bit of it. But my life is not ruined by a long shot and I do have good relationships. If you have to use that kind of hyperbole to make your point, my first thought is that you don’t have much of a point to make.

But, see, this is where the author and a lot of the other folks out there who want to help us form happier thoughts fall into a trap. They create the impression that we’re supposed to be happy all of the time. That if we’re feeling sad, fearful or especially angry, that there’s something wrong with us. That we shouldn’t feel these things or that we should be able to control it and get back to happy.

Folks, All Happy, All the Time is a big, fat, freaking LIE. When somebody hurts you, you are supposed to feel angry and sad. In the real world, shit happens and you don’t have to rationalize your angry feelings. In fact, rationalizing those feelings can lead to you being hurt even worse. For example, women in abusive relationships will often explain away their hurt and anger by excusing their abusers. Instead, they need to be angry so that they can get the fuck out of the relationship. Sometimes the problem really is that your boss is a control-freak sociopath and your angry feelings are a vital clue that you need to do something about getting out of that workplace or reporting the jackass or whatever.

The bitch is that there are far more people who genuinely like me than who hate me. Most people I meet are fairly intelligent and at the very least do not deserve to be called idiots. The vast majority of people out there are not trying to actively cause me harm, even if, occasionally, their behavior is pretty trying. I don’t need to be obsessing on the few people who are a real problem. I just need to find a way to deal with them effectively. Or, if there is nothing to be done, then find a way to use the resulting angry feelings to fuel something else good and holy.

Because even if it were good for me to scream at people call them names, which it isn’t, calling someone an idiot, no matter how much that person personifies the label, is not going to get that person to change the behavior. However, there is one thing that can and that’s forgiveness. I just have to get through the anger, first, and that is not easy.

Anne Louise Bannon

2 Comments

  1. Not to suggest that I’m actually any good at this, but, can you try to come up with some kind of mental mantra (or more than one)? Something short that you can repeat while driving or whatever. Something that acknowledges your feelings and the possibility of their validity, but also embodies a sense of perspective? A “this, too, shall pass,” kind of thing, but something that speaks to you?

    • Ask the easy question, Carol. It’s a good one, though. I think it depends on the situation. If your negative thought is false or even mostly false, then you can try to re-frame it. Such as, yes, there are people who don’t like me, but there are a lot of people who do and the people who don’t like me are people I don’t want to be around, anyway. If the negative thought is true, such as my boss is a sociopathic control freak, then what can I do about it and how can I best respond, and then mull over strategies with an emphasis on being positive. Or even, this too shall pass.
      At least, I *think* that’s how it’s supposed to work.

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