For a span of several months, I had a Holbrook Jackson quote as the wallpaper on my computer screen. Happiness is a form of courage, it read.
I remember reading this for the first time, years ago, and feeling electrified. I found it so empowering. Every day, we’re confronted with myriad reasons to be angry, bitter, disappointed, discouraged, worried, or frightened. People get sick. Friends move away. Relationships fall apart. We lose jobs, miss trains, trip on the stairs. We say things we don’t mean. Do things we wish we could take back. Take risks that lead us nowhere. To choose to celebrate the good in life in spite of all of this—to focus on the positive when really, it’s the last thing we want to do—is a beautiful thing.
I believe this wholeheartedly. But. I’ve learned a curious thing recently.
A few days ago, I finished telling someone a story by saying, “I was so annoyed, but . . .”
He held up a hand. “Why don’t you just stop at but?” he said. “If you were annoyed, you were annoyed.”
Believe it or not, I really hadn’t ever thought of it that way. I always figured it was the right thing to do to turn the page on a negative situation right away, to try to make things okay as quickly as possible. To focus on feeling unpleasant would be wallowing—and wallowing, I thought, wasn’t productive.
It seems funny to think that I need to get better at feeling bad. I used to think that letting myself get too angry or too sad or too bored or too disappointed meant that I was losing control. I tend to react to negative situations swiftly and efficiently, with statements like, well, on the bright side . . . or there’s really no reason to be upset. But, I’m relieved to find, giving in to feeling upset from time to time doesn’t make me less of a positive person. It makes me . . . a person.
To feel these things is human. Acknowledging them, it turns out, can be a form of courage, too.