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Sadness as a "character flaw"

I guess it might make me feel better if I expounded a bit on the topic that set me off earlier today. Someone over on FB made one of those ubiquitous “only you are responsible for your own happiness, no one can ever contribute to your unhappiness, and if you aren’t happy, it’s your fault” type of posts. And of course, everyone was heartily agreeing with it, because that’s the Rugged Individualist’s creed. I made the incredibly stupid mistake of wading in. It went badly.

See, here’s the thing; there are grains of truth in that notion. Certainly, it is NOT possible to be happy unless you make the decision that you want to be. There absolutely ARE choice points where you can make decisions about how to react to the actions of others. But I’ll never understand how that is supposed to translate into the thinking that no outside force can ever contribute to a person’s unhappiness, and failure to be happy is a character flaw.

Clinical depression exists. Also, people can come up to you and do you violence, which may result in your being unhappy. People can come up to you and do you *emotional* violence, and if you are not yet a fucking Bodhisattva, that can sometimes cause you to be unhappy too, especially when the perpetrator is someone you trust. When those choice points come around, you can’t always get into the right head space right away and avoid being thrown off course. At least I can’t, and I know I am not the only person in the world who can’t.

Despite pretty severe, treatment resistant depression, I am generally a pretty happy person. But I have bad days, like anyone. Shantideva said “Putting up with little cares, I'll train myself to bear with great adversity” and I try to live that. It helps a lot. But it isn’t a fast-acting panacea, and… I have bad days.

But I am damned if I’ll let anyone tell me that I’m bad or weak because I suffer, just like all sentient beings do.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 27th, 2013 09:33 pm (UTC)
Do you think those people also believe that no one can ever contribute to your *happiness*, and if you ARE happy, it's entirely your own doing? I mean, if you reverse the terms, it's a description of severe autism or sociopathy, right? No-one else can contribute to my happiness?

In short, I think they enjoy feeling strong/empowered but have not thought this through.

Nov. 27th, 2013 09:41 pm (UTC)
Madame, I am in your debt. I really wish I had taken a moment to turn this around and think about it that way. You're totally right!

And I think you're onto something important with the "I think they enjoy feeling strong/empowered" thing. I see this attitude coming from people who also hold some pretty fear-based beliefs about life in general. The whole boot-strap approach to life seems to come out of this idea that the universe is a hostile place, and you gotta be tough and arm yourself against the ever-present enemy, etc, etc, ad nauseum. I dunno. I am drawing some fairly unempirical conclusions here, but it makes anecdotal sense at least.
Nov. 27th, 2013 09:56 pm (UTC)
It does sound like it could be a fear-based bravado. If you cut yourself off from suffering, you also cut yourself off from the possibility of joy. (But of course *I* would think that way!)
Nov. 27th, 2013 10:17 pm (UTC)
Moreover, sadness is sometimes a good and appropriate thing. If someone you love dies, and you can "choose" not to be sad, there's something wrong with you.

(Also, I dyslexicized "putting up with little cares" to "putting up with little bears," which sounds much nicer.)

Heidegger had some interesting things to say about the public character of mood, that it is never a purely internal phenomenon, but I can't do it justice typing on my phone.
Nov. 28th, 2013 04:11 am (UTC)
If someone you love dies, and you can "choose" not to be sad, there's something wrong with you.

Yeah, here's the crux of it. Life provides sadness provoking situations, fer chrissake.
Nov. 27th, 2013 11:20 pm (UTC)
I hear you; the broken makes me unhappy, and I can't always think it'll be okay. Although my default is often angry - and I try to use that energy to combat the broken. We do the best we can to live our lives well, and hope that it is enough.
Nov. 28th, 2013 04:12 am (UTC)
Nov. 28th, 2013 01:04 am (UTC)
Depression is no more a character flaw than a broken arm is. It's also not going to get better without treatment, and some work on your part, and a little understanding from the people around you. But who looks at a broken arm and says, "No one can break your arm for you, and only you can make yourself have an unbroken arm!"

The first is patently false, and the second is almost completely wrong...though of course, you do have to do the work to heal. But that's not like...a flaw.
Nov. 28th, 2013 04:12 am (UTC)
Yeah, I have it on good authority that someone certainly *can* break your arm for you!

Edited at 2013-11-28 04:13 am (UTC)
Nov. 28th, 2013 02:19 am (UTC)
In my psych textbook there's a section saying, if someone offered you a happy all the time pill, run. Nobody should be happy all the time. Depression is not something that people can overcome by blunt force. In most cases it's something that has to run it's track and hopefully we come out on the other side. Heck, lots of people effect other peoples happiness. I felt 8 years plus of unhappiness with President Bush in office.
Nov. 28th, 2013 04:13 am (UTC)
Hahahaha! So true!
Nov. 28th, 2013 03:32 am (UTC)
Fuck those people right in the ear. I have similar thoughts when I see that shit, not to mention the rampant need to advertise negative body stuff all up and down FB. Ugh. Anyway, I just wanted to poke at you with love, or something.
Nov. 28th, 2013 04:13 am (UTC)
Re: Indeed!
Thanks hon. Love right back atcha.
Nov. 28th, 2013 04:53 am (UTC)
I expressed my thoughts on this on FB, but...yeah, what everyone else said.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )



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