I met up with a group of friends last weekend and we packed in a lot into 24 hours in London. We have not seen each other as a group for a long time. Lots of news to catch up on, some serious, some sad and some utterly hilarious. The passage of time made no difference, and we picked up exactly where we had left off. For me, that is one of the true markers of friendship. No hidden agendas and no expectations. I left London exhausted but with happy memories, a full heart, and a phone full of obligatory selfies.
What do I mean by “A full heart?”
I have been thinking and speaking about emotions a lot this month. I have made a series of videos, which you can find here.
I used the term “a full heart” to describe how I felt when I said goodbye to my friends. I was happy to have experienced our friendship in real life, filled with joy at the laughter we shared, regretful for the brief time we had together, and sad at our parting of ways. My heart was full of positive, negative, and neutral emotions. All of them valid and all of them completely normal.
Is it normal to feel happy all the time?
We have been conditioned by society, culture, and the media to think that we should constantly strive to feel positive. We have been conditioned to think that happy is the “normal” state to be in 24/7 and that anything else is somehow abnormal.
We are constantly bombarded with messages to think better positive thoughts and to banish negative thinking. The media often paints a negative picture of the world, which can make us feel anxious. At the same time, social media shows us that everyone else is having a better time than us. There are adverts everywhere encouraging us to buy stuff for quick fixes to get us to happiness.
No matter how hard we try not to – we constantly compare ourselves to everyone else. We measure ourselves and weigh up where we fit in. It is tempting to think that everyone else is happy all the time, but we see a snapshot of the life they want to portray to the outside world. I have written about the comparison trap here. Most of us want to be somewhere in the middle of the pack. Some of us strive to be better than everyone else and some of us want to be (or just are) outliers.
What is toxic positivity?
I am not suggesting that feeling positive and wanting to be happy is a terrible thing. Instead, I suggest that the quest for continual happiness can become toxic. Failing to achieve a state of constant happiness has a negative impact on how we think and subsequently how we feel. We can inadvertently set up a negative feedback loop, that makes us feel steadily worse over time.
I spent my 20s waiting to be happy. I had learnt, in my early years, that being a “good girl” and working hard was how I earned love and happiness. I thought that achieving goals (education, professional success, marriage, children etc) should make me happy. I was unprepared for what happened when the positive feeling that came with success ebbed away, and I felt flat again. I could not understand why I did not feel happy all the time. I thought that the best way to attain happiness was to set another lofty goal and achieve that. I did this repeatedly until I finally experienced burn out in my 40’s.
I had set up a feedback loop of thinking, that was unhelpful and eventually made me ill. My road to recovery included Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and I started to understand the link between how I thought about things and how the thoughts made me feel.
I learnt that it was not normal to feel positive and happy all the time. I learnt that all feelings are valid, normal, and that they come and go. I also learnt that I was incredibly good at negative thinking. When I was able to recognise my patterns of negative thinking, I was able to question if what I was thinking was true. We tell ourselves stories all the time and I had told myself a negative story about me for a long time.
I found it transformational when I linked thinking and feeling together. I did not find a quick fix or the secret to permanent happiness, but I became aware of feelings in my body that were linked to certain emotions.
I became aware of the thoughts that were linked to those feelings and then I could question their truth.
I did not substitute a positive thought for every negative one that I recognised, but I was able to reject the ones that were not true and sit with the rest. I could accept that I felt flat or negative for a reason, that it would pass, and that it was normal. When the positive feelings and thoughts came along, they too were there for a reason, and that they too would pass.
I learnt that I needed to know what flat and negative felt like so that I could also experience warm positive feelings and true joy. I learnt not to be scared to feel.
Now I can check in with myself when I notice familiar patterns of negative thinking sneaking up on me. I can take the time to pause, reflect, and use the tools, that I learnt, to stop the unhelpful thoughts and embrace the others.
Does negative thinking always make you depressed?
Sometimes negative patterns of thinking and feeling can lead to depression. This is different from feeling flat or low some of the time. A clinical diagnosis of depression may require more than one approach to treatment, and if you think that you have depression it is extremely important to seek medical help.
Your doctor needs to assess you and make a diagnosis. Then they will discuss the best type of treatment options for you. There are options available like taking tablets and there are talking therapies too.
Will working with a coach help me to get over my divorce?
Heartbreak and divorce will make you feel a vast range of emotions. Your brain is busy thinking all the time and the internal chatter can be incessant. It does not matter if you have requested the divorce, or your partner wants to divorce you; your thoughts and emotions will affect you deeply.
Thoughts and emotions can act as powerful blockers to forward movement in life and at work. Fear and pain are the two main blockers that stop you moving forwards from heartbreak and divorce. Behind those two blockers can be many more emotions such as: anger, anxiety, shame, guilt, vulnerability, stress, dread, resentment, jealousy, envy, regret, disappointment, frustration, sadness, grief, anguish, despair, humiliation, embarrassment, insecurity, loneliness, invisibility, contempt, disgust.
The list above does not include any of the emotions that make you feel good. When you work with me, you will learn how to explore your thoughts behind your negative emotions. This has the added benefit that that you will get good at the positive ones too. You will be better placed to seek out the things that make you feel good about yourself. That will make you feel happier and enable you to move forward with life during and after divorce.
I have written more about working with a divorce coach here.
What is the difference between therapy and coaching?
Coaching is not a form of therapy.
It is helpful to think of therapy and coaching like this:
Therapy is something that you have when you do not feel well or like your usual self. Therapy looks back at why you have become unwell and helps you to heal. It helps you to return to your “normal” state.
Coaching is something that you have when you feel well, but you need help and support to move forward with your life. A coach will challenge you and give you the space to work out what you want, what is stopping you, and use coaching tools to help you work that out. A coach supports and guides you without telling you what to do. You already have all your answers, and a coach helps you to find them.
Can you be happy again after heartbreak and divorce?
Yes, you can.
Is it normal to feel happy all the time?
I think not. But it is normal to want to feel happy. It is much nicer than feeling sad. But there is a reason that we feel a wide range of emotions.
Emotions and feelings inform you about what is going on inside you. They also help you to make sense of the world and your place in it. Emotions help to keep you safe.
Your thoughts have a significant impact on how you feel. Your thoughts do not always tell you the truth and they often tell you terrible things about yourself. You can learn how to adapt your patterns of unhelpful negative thinking, but it is also important to note that negative thinking can sometimes be helpful as this video explains.
When you learn how to:
- Accept your feelings,
- Not to be scared to feel them,
- Recognise what the feelings mean,
- Be curious and gently explore your thoughts when you feel all sorts of emotions,
- Check your thoughts – what is true and what is unhelpful
- Regulate your thoughts and see how they impact your feelings
you will feel calmer, more content, and happier not all the time but more of the time.