We have often been told that it doesn’t matter what we’re doing, where we live, what we’re majoring in, or even whom we’re with, as long as it makes us happy. To me, this is a way of saying, “Hey chill, don’t stress out about life, because the only measure of success you should be living up to is being happy!” So, now I ask, does that mean that if I sometimes feel sad, I’m failing? Or even worse, that I AM a failure?
To be completely honest with you, it has always bothered me — the way it seems to be a silent rule in society that we all do our absolute best in order to appear functional, active and — yes, you guessed it! — happy. But the key word is “appear.” Not “be.” As people, we are first and foremost visual beings; we like seeing things in order, we admire beauty (or at least what we are taught is beautiful), we enjoy watching people have families and dogs and live ordinary lives. Or just the opposite: we love watching people being themselves and happily admitting they do not belong to any preconceived notion of whom they should be, and that instead, they are individuals. We like that as well. We like everything, as long as it looks fine, as long as the person seems happy. But what if they are not? What if they are actually sad?
I don’t like when people put on a mask and try to project a perfect Instagram image where everything is in order, their lives are put together, and they are exuberant about absolutely everything going on around them. And you know what? Maybe they are; maybe their lives are going well, maybe there’s nothing to complaint about. But does that mean they’re always happy? I know I’m not.
It’s not that the concept of happiness is erroneous, and that we should all just adopt a 2007-era emo attitude and be done with everything. It’s not that there is something wrong with associating happiness with success. On the contrary! I love the fact that success isn’t only associated with things like money, jobs, careers, etc., as if life were just this giant to-do list, and success is reached upon completion.
The problem is not associating happiness with success. The problem is doing it so emphatically that we are then assuming sadness is equal to failure. And it is not.
Sadness will usually show up in our lives during specific periods and due to very specific circumstances; we lost a loved one, we got fired from a job we adored, a friend betrayed us, we couldn’t match the asking price for our dream house, and so on and on. These sadnesses we can somewhat control, because we know where they come from and that they’re associated with a particular event. And just as the event passes, we will move on, and our sadness will, too.
But what if you just feel sad for no reason? You could be having everything in your favor; a good job with an awesome salary, a wonderful roommate who even lets you use their Netflix account, a loving partner and a nice size apartment. And yet, despite all that, we still may not be able to feel happy all the time. Sometimes just get this overwhelming feeling of melancholy, and we don’t know how to handle those emotions.
I want to tell you it is okay, and you are not alone feeling like this. Because I, too, have felt the exact same way.
I am 23 years old and have already graduated university; I have a pretty nice, coveted job as an in-house lawyer in a telecommunications company; I am single, and have wonderful friends and family whom I am very close to. So, from the outside, that does paint a picture of a very good life, and sometimes it feels like there’s no reason for me to be anything but happy all the time. But that’s not my reality.
The reality is that being happy all the time is neither realistic nor achievable. Because the truth is that there are often days where I just feel like there’s no reason to keep doing the same thing over and over again; I struggle to find a greater purpose, and I get sad thinking that life could be just this.
I don’t like using words like depression or anxiety lightly, because those are serious conditions for which people seek treatment. And precisely because I know those are matters that need be taken seriously, I know I don’t suffer from them. And that’s the thing — sometimes, even the fact that I don’t have a diagnosed disorder makes me feel worse, like I literally feel sad for no reason. And for the longest time, I could not comprehend why I was having these feelings, and why they only occurred on certain days — days which could not be predicted, and therefore found me unprepared for how to deal with the overflowing river of emotions that rushed through me. And whenever that happens, I feel unmotivated, unhappy about everything and everyone around me. I experience this suffocating feeling that everything will always be the same, and at the same time, I also constantly feel like nothing lasts long enough, that the people I love today may not be here tomorrow.
And at the end, the entire rollercoaster can be summarized in one word: sadness.
As if having this feeling of sadness isn’t bad enough, I also feel guilty for feeling this way when I don’t have a reason for it, and guilty because no one around me can make me feel better. On the contrary, I much prefer to be left alone to profoundly drown myself in these emotions.
But this guilt changed when I realized something. Yes, we are all individuals, and therefore each of us is different. But at the same time, we are all going through this human experience together, and if I am alive and feeling this way, there is surely another person feeling this way, too. I needed to find them and make them know that they were not alone.
So if you are that person, if you are also feeling like there’s something wrong with you for feeling sad even though everything seems to look great in your life, if you are feeling guilty for feeling sad about something that happened long ago but still hurts you, I want you to know that you are not alone, and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with you.
You are a successful person even when you feel sad. Shit happens and it is inevitable, because life isn’t supposed to be perfect, and neither are you. You are allowed to feel lost, and to feel frustrated; you are permitted to take a day to yourself and just cry your eyes out, letting everything go out of your system. Because you know what? Sometimes we need to feel sad. Sometimes sadness is a feeling that helps us regain balance and allows us to see things clearly. It allows us to give ourselves the right to processes things at our pace.
Happiness is maybe something we should all strive for, to be in a state of wellbeing and contentment. But don’t base your success on constantly feeling happy. Instead, base it on the fact that you are an awesome individual going through this journey of being alive, and embrace the ups and downs of it, embrace the joy and also the anger, the sadness — embrace it all!
After all, your biggest success is living.
Roxana is a 23-year-old Venezuelan lawyer with a passion for writing, Pablo Neruda, and overly sweet coffee.
Image via Unsplash