Post-happiness doesn’t necessarily feel so good…
Today, I’m feeling kind of shit. Not about anything in particular – life is okay. Just a pervasive low mood, a sort of apathy and sadness. I can feel it across my face and pressing down on my shoulders. It makes me feel like retreating to my bedroom, eating some shit food and distracting myself with some form of screen-based entertainment. Writing it down makes it all feel kind of laughable, especially as it has no clear and obvious object. But it’s still there, in the background, colouring my day and how I am seeing the world. I feel like the world fuck off right now and leave me alone.
The reason I wanted to share this with you is not because I think today’s feelings are particularly profound. They are not. It’s my reactions to the negative feelings that I find interesting. Last week, I wrote about a post-happiness way of living – to live without having to control everything to our liking, without having to improve things all the time, without having to be happy. But, to let go of control – and open up to connection – is not an easy thing to do. What, for example, would a post-happiness approach to a day like today look like for me? I honestly don’t really know, which is why I thought I’d write about it. (Bare with me.)
I do know what it would be like to try and control my low mood. I can already hear the usual voices in my head: “You have nothing to be sad about, snap out of it!” Or, more practically: “You’re probably just tired – go for a run or something.” Or, taking my mood more seriously: “Maybe you’re not in the right relationship? Maybe you’re waisting your time with all this writing stuff...” All the way to: “Fuck it. Just sack off today and watch a film instead.”
None of these thoughts are particularly helpful. They either want to get rid of my low mood or endorse it completely – to make me do something to change my mind or do something to change my circumstances. “Do something!”, “Make things better!”, “And do it now!”
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to change things. But mindfulness practices are at pains to tell us that our actions needn’t be so reactive. We can see our thoughts and feelings simply as thoughts and feelings – neither things to ignore or repress nor states to lose ourselves in. From a more curious perspective, I can view my low mood as information – which I can either take or leave. Even if my currently mood provides me with some useful info, it isn’t telling me anywhere near the whole picture. A grain of truth is nothing to be scared of it. I can just accept it and let it go.
This is all very well. But, the control mode – what people often refer to as “the ego” – is sneaky. I find myself writing these words while thinking: “Ah yes, that’s good – I’ll be mindful of my low mood and then it’ll go away.” Or, even sneakier still: “Mindfulness tells me that our thoughts and feelings come and go – this low mood will go eventually too.” The problem with these thoughts is I’m still trying to control my mental state in some way. I don’t like being sad. I don’t know what I do about it. So maybe I can do some mindfulness! Being mindful just becomes another technique or activity to make things better. It might work most of the time, but each time I’m endorsing a picture of reality where I have to make things bend to my liking – where I fundamentally don’t trust either myself or the world the way they are. So, what do I do about my low mood?!
Right now, I don’t feel like doing anything. I don’t mind my mood so much. I no longer see the fact that it’s still lurking around as some kind of personal failure or as a warning sign that something about my life is off. I no longer feel there’s anything to fix, at least not immediately. Life is complicated. Something it looks beautiful. Somethings it feels shit.
I’m not saying any of these things as if they’re the answer. At another time, I might want to be a bit more pro-active about the mood I’m in. I might want to go for that run or think differently about my job. My point is that it doesn’t really matter what I do in response to feeling sad and low. What matters much more is how I respond. Do I respond in an attempt to control things – to ultimately get reality to correspond with my feelings and desires? Or do I respond in a way in which, whatever happens, something new and unexpected will emerge?
I could never have predicted writing this blog post in response to waking up in a shit mood. I have no idea how useful this response will be. But I trust that – somewhere along the line – it will be more valuable and meaningful than my usual attempts at control. A post-happiness way of living may not provide me with any quick wins or obvious results. It’s an ongoing process, which requires trust. And because it’s a process, I can practice building that trust whenever I feel it’s safe for me to do so. I am slowly learning how to do that each day. Today is no exception.