Okay to be unhappy

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In keeping with my recent focus on happiness and passion, I want to let you know that it is perfectly okay to be unhappy.

Really. I promise.

If you’re unhappy, you have every right to feel that way AND to express your unhappiness.

Social pressures

We live in a society that is terrified of unhappiness. Our consumer ways are designed to give you everything money can buy to be happy.

When we see someone who seems unhappy, we try to get them to smile. We ask them what’s wrong.

And in more extreme cases, we try to medicate the unhappiness out of them, the premise being we would rather that you be an emotionless zombie than unhappy.

And rather than face being unhappy, many take to self-medicating whether through narcotics or alcohol, food or sex, or other social mechanisms to display an artificial happiness to the world.

We can be afraid to express our unhappiness with the world for fear the world won’t accept us, that they will take offense at our unhappiness as though we were blaming them for it.

Will my partner think I am blaming him or her? My family members? My co-workers? My friends?

If I tell them I am unhappy and can’t explain why—and often we can’t immediately see it—will they abandon me?

In some cases, with some individuals, the answer may be yes, and that is unfortunate. But in my personal experience, the answer is no.

My unhappiness

I worked for several years with friends on a sketch comedy show. It was a labour of love all the way around, but at a certain point in the project’s development, long after my creative contribution culminated, I became unhappy with my involvement in the process. But I was afraid to say something.

How could I tell my friends I didn’t want to do this anymore, that I didn’t want to participate in our dream project? Would they hate me? Would they tell me to fuck off and die?

I eventually worked up the balls to discuss this with them, to lay out my dilemma. They saw that I was serious and that I was struggling. They asked a few questions for clarification. And then they accepted my decision and continued to love me (and do to this day).

Knowing I was miserable working for one company, another friend got me a position in her company (we had previously worked together). My new coworkers were wonderful, the job was what I had wanted. But six weeks in, I realized I didn’t want to do this job anymore…I wanted to move on to a different dream.

How could I turn away from a wonderful job? How could I betray my friend who introduced me to this company? How I slap these amazing people in the face?

I told my friend I was unhappy and wanted to explore my new dream. She was delighted for me and knew I would be brilliant. I told my new bosses that I loved their company but had to follow my heart. They were thrilled and agreed that I had to pursue my passion.

We often don’t give the people in our lives enough credit for wanting what is best for us. We let fear get in our way; fear of rejection, fear of the unknown.

It’s okay

We are repeatedly told and have come to believe that unhappiness is wrong; it is an aberration; it is an affliction.

It is none of these.

It is a feeling, an emotion, a sign. And we must give it the same respect that we give our other emotions, from anger to joy, from sadness to elation, from frustration to fulfillment.

There are not positive emotions and negative emotions. There are no good feelings and bad feelings.

IT IS OKAY TO BE UNHAPPY!

Until we accept and embrace that we are unhappy, we can never figure out why we are unhappy or what we want to do about that feeling and those circumstances.

Love yourself enough to listen to yourself. Feel what you feel. Share what you can.

Ironically, being unhappy may be your first step to being happy. And if it isn’t, that’s okay, too.

See also:

Happy as a verb

Living happiness

Tales from the Other Side of Freedom (Effortless Alpha)

The Expansion Project

Fears and tears

solitude-and-leadership

Tears come unbidden, unwelcome,

Blurring my vision,

But refusing to fall.

It’s the wind.

It’s a cold.

It’s allergies.

Anything but sadness,

Anger, frustration.

Throat clenches;

Chest tightens;

But the scream

Will not come;

Restricted in my lungs,

Blocked by still sealed lips.

So much pain;

So much sorrow.

The pulse quickens.

The mind races.

But legs remain static.

I run away

By running inward;

Afraid to cry

For fear of never stopping.

My silence deafens me;

Acrid saline blinds me;

Anguish deadens my soul;

And yet, I feel it all.

No time to hate

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I’ve seen a lot of hate and anger in my social media feeds lately, directed at people of different religions, heritages, philosophies, and lifestyle choices, and it makes me sad.

I am sorry that the individuals who have posted this stuff feel this way and think these things. They are not bad people. They have their reasons of which I cannot possibly fathom. I can only offer them my love.

If I have contributed to these feelings in any way, through my humour, sarcasm or cynicism, I am sorry. That was not my intent. I meant only to induce people to smile and think.

The world can be an amazingly shitty place that naturally prompts fear, anger, hatred. The challenge is that these feelings only serve to make a shitty situation that much shittier.

The world can also be an amazingly beautiful place that hopefully prompts feelings of wonder, awe, unity and love. And just as in the previous situation, these feelings too serve to make a beautiful place that much more beautiful.

I cannot ask you to set aside your negative feelings. We all feel pain in our lives. To even suggest that you ignore these feelings is to invalidate them. That would be wrong of me.

I can only ask that you try love whenever you are able.

Not in the hope that it will cure your ills or diminish the slights you have suffered. Merely in the hope that a surfeit of love in the world will make those ills and slights easier to bear, if only because you will find you do not have to bear them alone.

obama-bear-hug

(Images are property of their owners and are used here without permission but in the hope that I have done them justice.)

Feel this, would you?

I used to stare at this poster trying to gauge what I felt...sometimes it worked, sometimes not

I used to stare at this poster trying to gauge what I felt…sometimes it worked, sometimes not

I have to admit I find it difficult to write characters. No create them, but to actually make them come alive on the page.

To develop a truly realistic character, you need to be able to give a sense of his or her emotional state, and this is where the wheels tend to fall off for me.

For most of my life, you see, I have focused on facts, not feelings. I might even go so far as to say I have completely shut feelings out of my life—or at least as completely as possible without (yet) ending up in prison as a socio- or psychopath. Thus, I have been ill-equipped to deal with the myriad emotions that form the human condition.

If I look or think back to the writing of my youth, I seemed to be able to manage moral outrage and on occasion, actual rage, but any other emotions, no matter to what extreme, came across as flat. And forget any of the subtle shades in between. I did not do subtlety.

About the only character I could develop was the noble stoic who was a tad self-involved. Hmmm. Seems familiar somehow.

Lacking experience with these various emotions, how could I hope to bring them to my characters?

I’ve never believed emotions were something you could study in the traditional sense.

If I want to understand a polar landscape, I can go online or check a variety of books. Determine the behaviour of a jet that loses one engine? I’m sure there’s a Wiki for that. But emotions, by their very nature, preclude such an academic approach.

Ah, but what about other books and movies?

Good in theory, but without a personal foundation, you run the risk of simply reproducing Glenn Close’s interactions with the rabbit or Peter Lorre’s fear of Moroccan Nazis.

No, to be able to realistically reproduce emotions in my characters, I needed to have experienced them to some extent in my life. Call it Method Writing, if you wish.

Luckily, for a variety of reasons having nothing to do with screenwriting, I have been accessing my emotional centre over the last couple of years. Through a challenging process of self-examination and “coaching”, I have started to feel—allowed myself to feel—emotions like sadness, irritation, pleasure, enthusiasm, boredom and the like. And the impact in my writing has been immediate, if continuing to develop.

When my character is angry, I find myself getting angry. When my character feels loss, I can remember when. Ecstasy? I’m all over it (the emotion, not the chemical).

And I’m not the only one who notices this. As friends, colleagues and classmates read my material, I sense they too experience the emotional rainbow. And sometimes they introduce feelings I never envisioned for a scene.

This isn’t a threat to what I wrote. It is a bonus prize I receive for paying attention and sharing, for they have found something in my words that I did not see or did not know I was channeling.

Maybe it’s gold. Maybe it’s lead. But always, it is valuable.

Like my characters, I am still a work in progress, but at least I feel like I’m progressing.

(Image is property of its owner and is used here without permission. I don’t know how I feel about that.)

Can you relate?

Image

I spent three days this week wandering the show floor of a conference on stem cells, interviewing scientists and corporate executives for a series of articles I am writing. As this is the first time I have met most of these people, the conversation usually starts somewhat tentative as the people try to figure out how to address my journalistic needs while fulfilling their marketing agendas. This is just the nature of such interviews.

Luckily, I have a secret that tends to break the ice a little. Early in the conversation, I try to find an opening in what they are telling me to relate a personal anecdote or observation about my own scientific training as a protein biochemist—yes, I actually used to be quite smart.

Within seconds, the interviewee’s posture changes, their voice takes on a new timber as they realize that I am a kindred spirit even if my uniform has changed. Suddenly, they know I can relate, and the conversation becomes one between friends or colleagues.

The same holds true for storytelling.

When the reader picks up your novel or short story, the viewer sits down to watch your movie, the initial engagement can be tentative as the reader tries to figure out what you’re doing, where you’re taking them. The reader holds back from completely engaging with you as they wait for that magic moment when they can relate.

No matter how fantastical or mundane your story, the reader must be able to latch onto something, to find a kindred spirit.

More often than not, it is your protagonist—the canonical Everyman or Everywoman—who has some visceral need to fulfill or challenge to overcome. Killing the dragon is the superficial challenge, but damned few of us have had much experience killing dragons. Most of us, however, have fought for the respect of our community or have had to overcome a fear and step forward to take control or responsibility.

Hell, readers might even relate to the dragon, as in the movie Dragonheart, where Sean Connery’s Draco finally explained that his assaults on the townsfolk were [SPOILER ALERT] his attempts to save the last dragon—him—from extinction.

In the rarest of cases, it may not be a character, but the environment to which someone relates. This is my situation with the series Mad Men. I find it difficult to relate to any of the characters and their hyper-exaggerated soap opera problems. Having spent more than five years in advertising, however, I can relate to the creative challenges within the office. I find myself getting angry or frustrated as I watch pitch meetings or client presentations because of my own baggage.

As a creator of your story, you cannot hope to know everyone who will come across your story. Thus, you cannot—nor should you—build your story to accommodate these varied experiences. You have to tell your story to tell it effectively, but you can broaden its appeal by making sure your characters (and possibly your environment) offer clear parallels to the current human experience. (If your primary audience is dogs or fish, then change the word “human” as appropriate.)

At their most basic levels, what are the human conditions that your characters express or are trying to repress (oooh, subtext)? When you get a good handle on that, you’ll have a better understanding of how relatable your story will be to your audience.

(Images are used without permission.)