SI 009: Riding the rollercoaster

Perhaps we have fallen into a trap...

The trap of labelling any difficult emotion or low mood as being a 'mental health problem'.

Is it really?

Is feeling sad really a sign that you're unwell?

Should we strive for happiness in every moment?

There are two sides to this, and they act in a cyclical fashion - feeding off each other.

One is the constant promotion of happiness as being aspirational. The idea that we should feel joy and pleasure all the time, or at least as much as possible.

The other is the pathologising of low mood and so-called 'negative emotions' such as anger, envy, frustration, worry, and so on.

The more we believe one, the more we believe the other... on and on, ad infinitum.

This week I felt a range of these unpleasant emotions: low mood, despondency, frustration, worry, and more.

Does this mean I'm unwell?

It wasn't enjoyable, sure. But it doesn't mean something is broken.

It just means I'm a human being.

My concern around this is that more and more people are labelling low mood as 'depression', worry as 'anxiety disorder' and so on.

Sometimes those things are the case, but there are specific diagnostic criteria.

Feeling sad doesn't mean you have depression.

Feeling worried doesn't mean you have an anxiety disorder.

Sometimes they are just normal emotional responses to our circumstances.

If these things last a couple of weeks, and are dramatically impacting your work, relationships etc then it's worth speaking to someone, such as your GP or Samaritans.

(If it doesn't last that long but you still want to speak to your GP or Samaritans then I'd say go for it too - there is no harm in talking)

My own approach these days is to take the 'joy and pleasure' form of happiness down off the pedestal that society has placed it upon, and instead focus on a more balanced form of happiness, or contentment.

The kind of happiness I seek is one which allows mood fluctuations without judgement.

A happiness rooted not in enjoyment, but in the understanding that life is hard sometimes, and we will feel unpleasant things, but that's ok and we have the capacity to cope with that and return to a place of balance.

I tend to use the Greek term 'euthymia' to describe this balance, but some may refer to contentment, balance, serenity, equilibrium, or any word which feels like the right fit for their understanding.

It's also beneficial, I believe, to see life somewhat as a movie or a musical composition - there are ups and downs, high notes and low notes, dramatic scenes and lighthearted scenes, major keys and minor keys.

A movie which is lighthearted and happy all the way through is utterly boring, we want the drama (even though it might be hard to watch at the time).

A composition which is high major key melodies all the way through would get irritating after a time - we want some dark, dramatic crashes and crescendos as well.

This rollercoaster mirrors the human experience, which is why we crave it in our art.

So lets stop trying to be happy all the time, and instead embrace the ups and downs for what they are: experiences.

Unpleasant experiences sometimes, perhaps. But experiences nonetheless.

Do I have a clear answer or piece of guidance here? No, this is just something to perhaps get you thinking differently about how you feel and why you feel that way.

What are your thoughts on this?

Does this ring true for you?

Do you think I'm totally off the mark?

Drop me a reply and let me know 😊

(and subscribe to get the newest edition of the Slight Improvement newsletter straight to your inbox every week)

Until next week…

Big love,

Jay x


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