You know that saying, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all?” Well, I think that’s my problem. I overdid it on the optimism. Got a little too gung-ho about gratitude. Was hell-bent on happiness at all costs. To the point where, when life wasn’t just a bowl of cherries, I found myself with nothing to say.
I’ve started a half-dozen blog posts in my head, only to cast them aside. Too negative. Too whiny. I’m supposed to be the “more good, less grind” girl now. I should be grateful for what’s going right, not complain about what’s going wrong. (I’ve heard this type of self-talk referred to as “should-ing all over yourself,” BTW.)
As usual, it took one of my kids holding up a metaphorical mirror in front of my face to change my thinking. Saturday morning, after his soccer game, my 9yo was practically in tears trying to get his cleats off. This is not normal for my natural-born optimist. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I’m frustrated,” he sobbed. “We lost and the other team was cheating. And I keep feeling sad for no reason. This is a bad day!”
Immediately, I was seized with the urge to lecture him: “Winning isn’t everything. Were they really cheating or are you just being a sore loser? Cheer up! You got to play soccer on a nice day and you’re going to see your friends later – that’s hardly a bad day.” But I resisted.
“I’m sorry you’re having a bad day. Sometimes I feel sad for no reason, too. What would make you feel better?” I didn’t add, “Sometimes life sucks, doesn’t it? People are disappointing. It’s frustrating when you feel like you’re doing your best, playing by the rules, and not getting the results you expected. And what makes it worse is when people don’t even let you feel your damn feelings without lecturing you about how you should be grateful all the time!” But I didn’t because that seemed like bad parenting.
“How about going to the library? Would that cheer you up?”
The sniffles stopped. “Yeah. And Chick-fil-a after?”
So off we went, my little booklover and me. A couple books for me, a couple dozen for him, then some chicken nuggets and fries. This is the part of the story where I should say how grateful I was for this one-on-one time with my son and that we skipped off into the sunset full of joy. But what actually happened is we went back home, he dove into his graphic novels, and I still felt melancholy.
In the self-help world I immerse myself in a large part of the time, it’s encouraged to “feel your feelings.” Part of the practice of meditation, which I’ve been doing semi-regularly for over a year, is not blocking or shunning negative thoughts or emotions, but acknowledging them and then releasing them. The kids’ meditation Miles listens to sometimes has a good visual for this: imagine your thoughts as bubbles you can pop in the air. Sadness – pop! Fear – pop! Loneliness – pop! Frustration – pop!
But in my real-world experience, I’ve found that most people, including me, are much less comfortable acknowledging and allowing the negative feelings. It’s hard to see a sad child and let that child be sad. It’s hard to say no and allow someone’s disappointment or even disapproval to wash over you.
I don’t think I’m doing my child any favors, though, if my response to him saying he’s sad is, “Well, you shouldn’t be and here’s why.” So by that logic I guess I’m not doing myself any favors if I say, “You can only speak up or write on your blog when you have something positive and uplifting to say, preferably with a humorous slant and some well-composed photos.”
An article I read recently describes the difference between relentless or idealistic optimism and “realistic optimism.” The former is the equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting, “Nah-nah-nah, I can’t HEAR YOU!” to the negative thoughts. While the latter is about remaining hopeful and confident in your ability to persevere even in the face of adversity or cheating 10-year-olds on the soccer field.
So my hopeful ending to the story is this: my mood, and my weekend, got better the minute I stopped trying to make them better. And look at that, I got a blog post out of it. Relentless optimism – pop! I’ve always been more of a realist, anyway.
NEWS O’ THE DAY: This weekend my husband and I celebrated 12 years of marriage. I’m sure that has NOTHING to do with how hilarious and scarily accurate I found this article: 14 Things You Need to Start Doing Now for Your Spouse’s Sake (Excerpt: OK, nobody’s perfect. But seriously, you really need to start putting a new roll of toilet paper on the spindle when it’s out. Related: “Why is this so hard for guys?!”)