Processing Time: Why Happier Does Not Mean Constantly Happy

I had a day on Sunday. You know, where I just couldn’t shake my sadness the way I usually can.

Ever have one of those? (If you say no, then you may want to check your pulse.)

As a “happier” writer, and the person people seem to seek out when they want a more optimistic perspective, it isn’t easy to fall into the occasional hole of a less-than-stellar mood.

But, boy, is is necessary. We just might want to be careful what we do while we’re down there, wallowing or figuring it out or whatever.

Moody thoughts are normal. All feelings are not only acceptable, but often necessary. Nothing wrong with that. But, as I teach my kids and grandkids, it’s what you do or say to others during those moods that can have a lasting, negative effect.

So – much as I wanted to “reason” myself out of the funk, I knew what I really had to do:

I just let myself be sad.

As a singing teacher once said to me, “Honey, your mind just has some work to do. Let it do its job, and let go.”  (I may be paraphrasing here, but you get the gist)

Sometimes, we just need processing time. Marinating, for you Food Network fans.

Think. Feel. Dwell. But don’t – please, don’t – say mean words, make rash decisions, do hurtful things to another human being until you feel in balance again.

Also, don’t judge yourself for your fall from “happier.” Human, human, human.


To be fair, the day had started out great.

The weather was fantastic, my husband had finally gotten around to buying mulch and dumping it in the garden, and my little grandkids were looking forward to coming over again to swim. Ordinary, beautiful, pleasures.

I picked up my son from his group home in a nearby town for a home visit. (My son has schizophrenia , which totally sucks for him, and for the family. Trust me. You can get more details about this in my book and blog, Ben Behind his Voices.- or our podcast Schizophrenia: Three Moms in the Trenches)

The 20-minute car ride to my home with Ben (not his real name, but the name he asked me to use when I mention him in public) actually had made my heart sing. If you know anything about having a loved one with schizophrenia, you know that “ordinary” is a miracle.

We’d had a miraculously ordinary car ride home. Ben talked about his group meetings: topics ranging from medications -which he finds “boring” – to yoga – which he liked. He was alert, and even asked me some questions. At home, he ate a healthy salad, and went off to see a friend in the neighborhood.

Then the day fell apart. When Ben came back home from that visit, he was an entirely different person. Eyes glazed over, cagey and paranoid. After six months of sobriety, he had clearly fallen off the pot wagon.

Then, one grandchild (age 3.5)  got a boo-boo and wouldn’t swim. And another (age 2.5) started stuttering for the first time. And no one would eat the pizza we ordered for dinner. And my son was acting weird. And it all got to me. The “perfect day”, brought crashing back down to earth –  and no amount of positive self-talk was helping.

Nothing earth shattering had happened, but for some reason I felt shattered.

Sometimes it happens. And it means we have some processing to do. And processing takes time, and letting go of control, and doing the hardest thing ever: just letting it be, without controlling it.

My favorite core phrase in these situations is “Whatever happens, I’ll handle it somehow.” — but on that day, I had to go all Scarlett O’Hara on my own brain and just say. “I’ll think about it tomorrow.” Today I will just sit here with my sad mood – not force myself to learn a lesson. The lesson will come clear – someday. Maybe tomorrow.

I had to trust my negative emotions to do some work, to just be. Yikes, that’s hard.

But I did. I drove Ben home and didn’t try to make any small talk. I set my boundaries for what he’d have to do before I’d allow another home visit. I reminded myself that my grandkids’ lives won’t be perfect, nor can we expect them to be.  I came home, sat by the fire pit with my husband, and told him I was feeling sad, that I’d be ok but not to “talk me out of it.”

And that was good. Very good. Not fun, but good.

I felt much better the next morning. I’d let my emotions lead me somewhere, while I usually lead them. Things are working out (for instance, my son seems to be on the road to making amends and getting more help.)

And – as always when we need processing time – there are lessons in there. They just often don’t show up until some time has passed.

  • We can’t control another person’s life, no matter how little they are and how much we love them, and want to. We can affect, we can nurture, but we can’t control.
  • Sometimes the gratitude attitude needs a rest – it has to wait until we process something else and can sincerely feel like going back there. Then – focusing on what’s so good can help heal. But not if the timing is really off.
  • there are times in life when we get reminders that we have to lower expectations. Not our hopes, but our expectations. Or set/reinforce our personal boundaries.
  • We contain multitudes (paraphrased, Walt Whitman)
  • Eventually, things balance out again.

Happier Made Simple means we embrace the balance, the contrast, the yin/yang of times that are not so happy. Human.





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