Ann Baldelli’s article “Choosing Happiness” about Alexandra Stoddard, featured on the front page of The Day’s Thanksgiving Day edition, was a breath of fresh air. I agree with (and live by) the premise that we can choose what we feel. This is what makes us creative and powerful as human beings.
This is why I was taken aback by something else Stoddard was quoted as saying, “I don’t believe in grieving.” I’d like to offer an alternate view. Choosing grief can be one of the most transformative and life-affirming things a person can do for themselves. Healthy grieving allows us to remember the importance of a loss, but with a sense of peace, rather than suffering. Healthy grieving helps us transform the loss from something which is at first painful and depleting into a source of wisdom and creativity.
I have learned to grieve well and it has served me in an unexpected way. It has shown me just how strong, resilient, and grounded I am. Is it uncomfortable? Absolutely. And I can do uncomfortable things without suffering. Here’s another way to look at it. Clean pain is pure. It is real pain generated by a real, hurtful experience and felt in that moment — be it the death of a loved one or someone screaming in our face that we’re a terrible person.
Dirty pain is the result of thoughts about how wrong the hurtful experience is, how it proves we are bad, or believing that it shouldn’t have happened.
Dirty pain keeps us stuck, while healthy grief is clean pain.
Beyond the importance of grief, there is a larger issue, the premise that so-called “negative” emotions are to be avoided or glossed over and that, if you are feeling anger, sadness, fear, or grief, you must be doing something wrong.
This can lead to depression, anxiety, shame and addiction. When we deny, ignore, suppress, or delegitimize any emotion, we traumatize ourselves. It’s the disconnection from our bodies, which is where our emotions occur, that is the trauma.
Trauma expert Dr. Gabor Maté says, “The essence of trauma is disconnection from ourselves. Trauma is not terrible things that happen from the other side — those are traumatic. But the trauma is that very separation from the body and emotions. So, the real question is, ‘How did we get separated and how do we reconnect?’ Because that’s our true nature — our true nature is to be connected. In fact, if that wasn’t our true nature, there would be no human beings. The human species — or any species — could not evolve without being grounded in their bodies.”
Feeling anger, sadness, grief, bitterness, guilt — or any of the myriad emotions you might feel — means that you are a normal, functioning, human. It’s acting on those emotions, without due consideration, that can get us in trouble.
Emotions have something to teach us. When you make room for uncomfortable emotions, actively allow them, and not be in a hurry to change them, you can learn something you wouldn’t have otherwise learned.
Fear teaches us to assess risk. Sadness teaches us to let go. Anger teaches us to have healthy boundaries.
Because our culture encourages us to turn “negatives” into “positives” and labels some emotions as right and good and others as wrong and bad, we often miss those lessons. Not to mention that when we make ourselves feel wrong about certain emotions, we create one of the most misunderstood and corrosive emotions — shame.
Alternatively, when we allow for and trust ourselves to feel all emotions, we have a richer, more resilient and intuitive life.
So yes, absolutely choose happiness. But choose grief, too.
Karen C.L. Anderson lives in New London. She is the author of the upcoming book “Difficult Mothers, Adult Daughters: A Guide for Separation, Liberation & Inspiration” (March 1, 2018, Mango Media).