We live in a culture that attributes happiness to be the pinnacle of emotions that we must always be striving toward. So much so that when our circumstances prevent us from feeling happy, we feel as if we’ve failed at life. It’s as if we can’t measure up to these ideal feelings and that it is nobody’s fault but our own.
True happiness doesn’t operate like that. Rather, the most authentic happiness is best felt when complemented with a wide range of other emotions: sadness, anger, boredom, love, excitement. The most satisfying state of happiness is like the dessert at the end of a meal or a hot shower after coming in from the cold. Conversely, while being sad is an uncomfortable state, it's a genuine and necessary emotion. Sidestepping and choosing to ignore these melancholy feelings (or anger, boredom, or any negative emotion) can cause it to build inside and then explode unexpectedly.
For me, the aftermath of ending a significant relationship resulted in a long spell of sadness. There were moments when I’d burst into tears unexpectedly in the car, in my office, or at a restaurant with a friend. Although it was painful to feel this way, a part of me relished it, too, because I knew I was allowing the emotion to flow through my body.
Being the one to end the relationship, there were moments that I questioned the grief. No matter the catalyst, ending a relationship of any kind after many years is akin to death, which no Band-Aid or happy pill can quickly ameliorate.
Meanwhile, other aspects of my life were amazing - I had moved to a new city, I went on some trips to some incredible places, I was making new friends, and I was writing and publishing on top of looking for a new job. I was becoming who I was supposed to be. And all the meanwhile, a cloud of sadness loomed over me. And you know what? I allowed the sun to shine and the rain to fall simultaneously. When I felt like crying, I did. When I felt like laughing I did that too. On days that I felt like going to work sans makeup, I did. And if all I wanted was cereal for dinner, I let myself.
Slowly, the tears began to dry up, the fatigue was replaced by bursts of energy, and my sugar cravings dissipated. Now, happiness feels different than it ever felt before. It feels earned, and simultaneously authentic, vivid, and prismatic. More importantly, having experienced that intense sadness, I’ve realized how the depth of emotion can be both an agent for self-betterment and a catalyst for developing enhanced compassion for others.
It is okay to not be happy all the time; in fact, it’s normal not to be happy all the time.
More importantly, experiencing the depths and range of all of our emotions makes us more creative and innovative. It ultimately makes us better workers, lovers, and citizens of the world.
As Khalil Gibran said, “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” So, just remember: it’s okay to have cloudy days – the sun will shine again.
[A version of this article appeared on Career Contessa.]