From an early age we are told that there are two types of people in this world. Those who see their glass as half full and those who see it as half empty.
Many of us strive to be the person who sees their glass as half full. We want to be a positive person. We want others to think we are bubbly, cheerful, fun to be around and most of all – happy. But a lot of the time we are not in a good mood because yes, bad things happen. When I was younger I was terrified of people finding out I worried, got sad or experienced so called ‘negative’ emotions that made others uncomfortable. People often pass judgement on others when they show they are anything other than what is classed as a ‘positive’ emotion or happy. If someone responds to your casual ‘how are you?’ with anything other than ‘fine thanks’ we start to panic. We don’t want to deal with the other persons emotions and we don’t want other people to have to deal with ours.
The general focus on ‘positive’ emotions is clear to see from the constant movements, quotations and social media posts about staying positive and happy. In books shops there are shelves upon shelves of self-help books focused on how to be happy. Just try these few tricks and then you’ll be happy for life. You can overcome anything if you just keep being positive and look on the bright side of life. These how-to guides are dedicated to creating a following of positive, smiley people who are always happy. Feeling upset? Well then it’s your fault for not following these rules.
It’s no surprise there is a focus on positive feelings. Feeling good is amazing. When you feel like you can take on the world nothing compares. When you feel confident, happy, loved, secure it is wonderful. Happiness is amazing and it is important.
But what happens when there is no brightness? When you look over to the grass on the other side and it’s not greener than yours – both are a shade of grey? What happens when you try to be positive and not ‘let things get you down’ and bad things happen anyway? When your mum dies, are you supposed to just focus on the good things in your life and be fine? When you lose your job are you supposed to just be grateful for everything you have and stop being so negative despite not being able to afford to live?
Focusing solely on the positive is not realistic nor is it healthy. Bad things happen. That’s a fact. Forcing the notion that you need to focus on the good undermines essential elements of human existence. It ignores the hundreds of feelings and emotions you can feel in one minute alone. It also puts the onus and responsibility for feeling down on the person feeling that way. It blames you for having a completely honest, authentic and normal reaction to events going on in your life or the world around you and creates a society that judges you for feeling the way you do.
I have spent years trying to push uncomfortable emotions away. ‘I must stay positive’ was a repetitive thought in my mind. But the constant ignorance of emotions I didn’t like to feel became unbearable and a strain. Putting on a happy, playful mask every day was tiring. Anger, sadness, anxiety, happiness, wonder, love, heartache all exist. Ignoring the uncomfortable half of your emotions results in a half empty glass.
Poets, musicians, artists, authors and creatives connect with so many people because they are honest about their uncomfortable emotions. They talk about their half empty glasses and they show people that it’s okay to feel this way. They don’t run from their emotions. They use them as fuel to create wonderful things. Ignore the sadness or anger and you’re getting rid of the majority of inspiration for the art that is created.
Everyone has a desire to be happy. However, this happiness should not come at the expense of uncomfortable emotions. It is not a failure to sometimes feel like your glass is half empty. It is not wrong or self-pitying to notice the negatives or to worry. As humans we have natural perceptive and cognitive biases which make us focus on negative experiences because these experiences give us information about the world we live in which is essential to survival. It’s how we learn. It’s how we protect ourselves. Sadness or anxiousness or uncomfortable emotions tell us that something is not right or that something needs changing and they can motivate us to do things to help ourselves. That is why it’s so important to acknowledge when you are experiencing them.
The idea that happiness could be your constant emotional state sounds wonderful. To never feel bored, sad, upset ever again. But it is not. This is not reality. We need positive emotions and we need emotions that aren’t regarded as positive. This is what makes us human. This is what allows us to empathise. If you never felt low, how on earth would you begin to understand someone who is suffering from depression? If you have never felt the pain of rejection, how would you ever know to be mindful and caring when having to let someone down? Uncomfortable emotions can help us understand, empathise, communicate and support others. And with the world as it is, this is needed now more than ever.
There is a third option when looking at your glass. To see it just as it is. No judgement. No half this or that. It is just what your glass is right now and accepting that that’s okay. It doesn’t matter whether its half full or empty. The most important thing is to see what’s in your glass. Acknowledge it when it is empty, acknowledge when it is full. Show up for the sorrow and the joy. Sit with your glass, when its full of dazzling champagne in celebration, orange juice when you have a cold that makes you feel miserable or hot chocolate when you need something to pick you up after a difficult day. Sometimes, it will be empty, sometimes it will be full. And that’s okay.
– Lydia Hextell