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Honoring my Mother | Embracing the grouch in you

Most often, one would hear people say ‘cheer up’ or ‘smile’ during those times when one is having a particularly-bad day. As your luck would have it, almost always, these are not the instances when one is not exactly in the mood at all to show some teeth, except perhaps, in a growl.

This frequently happens in office scenarios, especially when during deadlines because of the pressure, you begin to feel like a rabbit frozen at the headlights. On cue, there will always be someone who will come along cheery-o, pats you on the back and says, ‘no worries’ and Voila and Alakazzam! But the pressure stays, you still feel lousy, and wanting so bad to shout, “Now, is that supposed to make it go away?”

Take heart, a recent study (2017 exactly) has shown that accepting the fact that one is in a rut at the moment is significantly much better for one’s long-term psychological health than say, smothering it with feel-good and then suppressing it till the negative feeling is past.

I am wont to say “Embrace the dark side of the Force!” as Darth Vader proclaimed, but that is different, galaxies away and pure movie fiction. Truth is, the study might have a thing there, because there is a zen-like attachment to feeling miserable. If one might prefer a cheat code, it can likewise be simplified if we whistle, “once you are down, there is no way but up,” just linger a while, there’s a lesson there.

The said study, funded by the National Institute of Aging (sigh), conducted by Iris Mauss at UC Berkeley, and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, involved about 1,300 adults and studied the relation between negative emotions and its effects on psychological health.

She said that people who accepted their experiences of negative emotions actually felt fewer negative emotions. In toto, these “feelings of disappointment, sadness or resentment appeared to inflict more damage on people who avoided them or criticized themselves for experiencing such emotions.” so there.

“With people on the street asking you to smile and friends telling you to cheer up, it begins to make sense why ours is a culture that tends to value happiness and devalue negative emotions.”

There is definitely nothing wrong with valuing happiness, but one has to admit that to wallow in the blues ultimately strengthens one to deal with the blues and what reaps what comes after.

Another article that might come of as less acad for some, deals with the Buddha-like personality of Sesame Street’s Oscar, the Grouch. According to Buddhist teaching, we are all locked up in a constant cycle of happiness and misery, and preached that pleasure by nature is temporary, which therefore makes the pursuit of it unsatisfactory. The moment the fix subsides, we tend to strive for more. Misery, on the other hand, we have a strong aversion to, and we miss out on the fact that it is just another side of the same coin.

Oscar the Grouch on the other hand, is aware of this, and although we know him as preferring to be miserable, his acceptance that both exist, makes him more ‘on the ground’ than many of us. Even his unkempt looks stamps of protest against being cheery (because it is fleeting) and embrasure of being unhappy (because unlike ‘happy’, there is wisdom to be gotten from it). So Gandhi and Siddhartha.

All these for me, boil down to acquiring a habitual acceptance of negative emotions because, once we look closer, they are merely our reactions to the outside stimuli around us. Once we realize this, our framing and attachment to being positive emotionally at all times becomes less important, while we try to rationalize and deal first with what is before us. As such, let me wallow in the blues awhile. Once I get the hang of it, jam is sure to follow. Then you can say ‘cheer up’.

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