Is “lying in front of the TV feeling sorry for myself” a marketable life skill? Asking for a friend.
Shortly thereafter, sometimes tweeted back to be happy because life is good.
You don’t know me
Never, ever tell someone you don’t know to cheer up or be happy.
Even if you “know” the person through social media postings, you probably don’t know the full story of her* life.
Maybe a loved one died. Maybe she just got a terrible medical diagnosis. Maybe she’s being sexually harassed at work. Maybe she’s a depressive experiencing a bad spell.
If you knew those factors, would you dare tell that person to buck up? No, because then you’d (hopefully) feel like an insensitive asshat.**
The damage you may do
No matter how well-meant your encouragement, telling someone to be happy is minimizing her feelings — including potentially very serious, very devastating emotional turmoil.
It’s especially dangerous if the person is depressed. Someone just diagnosed with cancer or who just lost a parent will know her feelings are valid, and she’ll probably feel more comfortable telling the person to go fornicate him/herself.
Depressives, on the other hand, already tend to suffer from self-doubt. They often downplay the validity of their symptoms. They feel like they should be able to snap out of their “funk.” Since those funks are actually their disease flaring up, the power of positive thinking usually makes about as much dent as chanting affirmations to get over pneumonia.
Alas, the depressive rarely sees it that way. Instead, it’s just one more way she’s failed, one more shortcoming to scold herself for, one more reason not to like herself.
So your cheerful urgings can exacerbate depressives’ existing suspicion that there’s something inherently wrong with them. Rather than making them happy, you may have further convinced them that there’s something inferior or deficient about them.
Most of you know my situation, but just to recap (in case any new readers find this post).
I spent most of the summer struggling with Tim while he was severely depressed, sometimes suicidal. Since I have chronic fatigue and am a depressive myself, that pretty much depleted my energy and coping skills.
Then we got the puppy, which Tim has mainly taken care of. But he did have a short (but bad) fibro spell a few days into puppy-ownership.
So for about three days I was the one mainly taking the dog to relieve herself. It’s only about 100 yards to the park, but I was doing it while very weary — and carrying a 12-lb dog back and forth. (Hot AZ sidewalks and tender puppy paws don’t mix.)
Then things went back to normal — that is, Tim taking over the bulk of puppy-tending, including cleaning up lots and lots of pee — but by then I really had nothing left.
FinCon was supposed to recharge me, but that whole sepsis thing kind of nixed that and left me significantly worse for wear. I felt pretty awful for the full 12 days of antibiotics and then several more just for good measure.
And that’s where I was when I did the Facebook and Twitter post.
I was (mostly) kidding — or at least trying to find humor in the situation. So getting even a well-meant, forced enema of positivity was not helpful. Or desired.
I know the guy meant well, and I told him so. But I also politely told him that I’m disabled and clinically depressed, so he really can’t speak to my life. And that well-intentioned sentiments like his could inadvertently minimize someone’s legitimate pain and suffering.
What it says about you
I’m about 70% sure he came away thinking I was just overly negative. That there’s nothing wrong with putting out positivity in the world.
But sometimes there is.
You are, however benignly, trying to dictate a person’s emotions. And no matter how selfless you think you’re being by spreading all that cheer and sunshine, you’re actually probably being a tad selfish.
After all, when has telling someone to be happy ever actually resulted in the person saying, “You know what? You’re right! Life is amazing and my worries/concerns/frustrations are meaningless and moot. Thank you, stranger, for this valuable perspective!”
Never. (I hope.)
Which means you aren’t really expecting that kind of reversal. Which means it’s far more likely that you’re saying it because, deep down, other people’s unhappiness makes you uncomfortable. And that discomfort is a very common, very understandable reaction.
Not our problem
But it’s not our job to keep you comfortable. Our job is to navigate our own lives. And sometimes life just sucks.
Whether or not you feel we’re validly assessing/reacting to said suckage is completely moot. It doesn’t — or shouldn’t — matter. All that happens when you voice that positivity is that we occasionally feel worse. Which, I assume, is rather the opposite of your intent.
So please stop telling me to be happy. That’s not your decision to make.
How do you react to being told to be happy? Does it upset you or do you appreciate the sentiment?
*I’ll be using female pronouns because I feel like men rarely get told to cheer up. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, fellas.
**Asshat being the technical term. It’s a very real, very serious, chronic medical diagnosis. But hey, cheer up.