The Happiness Project. Spontaneous Happiness. These titles were ones I picked up when I was about 24 or 25. I devoured them, hoping to etch the contents onto my young and eager mind.
I wasn’t feeling especially inspired in terms of my career, and I struggled with anxiety and sometimes depression. There had to be some magic answer. There had to be a key. Something I wasn’t getting.
With the help of a therapist — Surprise! Therapists use therapists — and lots of life practice, I soon learned a very simple, though not-always-obvious answer:
There can be a massive appreciation for where we are in life, an acceptance, without being UP.
I didn’t understand this for a very long time. In our culture, there is a huge focus on being happy, as if it should be our natural, resting state. Other emotions are not sought after in the same way, despite the value they hold. Jealousy, fear, anger, sadness — all of these can have value. Underneath all of these, there is information. So why is there all of this focus on being happy?
Short answer? Discomfort and ignorance. Things outside of happiness don’t feel as good, and many people don’t think about how those “icky” feelings could serve us.
Given that my specialty is in perinatal mental health, I naturally connect this expected happiness to the pregnancy and postpartum periods. You just had a baby. Why aren’t you feeling happy? You’re supposed to be happy. Feeling traumatized? Don’t go there. Just be happy that you and the baby are healthy.
People surrounding new parents don’t often know how to handle emotions other than joy around birth. Just like us, they haven’t been taught about the value of our huge range of emotions. And if you’re not the one having just gone through a major life transition, feelings other than happiness can be puzzling, and maybe even scary. Non-happiness-centric feelings can be hard to sit with. They can be hard to hold, hard to witness, and hard to admit.
What was it that prompted you to birth your business? Were there some hard things you were feeling that pushed you to go for it?
For me, the hard thing I had been feeling was a lack of inspiration. I wanted to feel inspired by my work. And though some days I feel like I’m chasing contentment and acceptance without ever catching up, I know that this goal is so much more realistic for me, and that when I do find spaces in acceptance, it rivals happiness in its feel-good quality.
MotherHustle Panelist Emily Souder is a mama, author, and clinical social worker in Maryland. She provides therapy to pregnant women and new moms who are experiencing anxiety or depression, or who are just needing some help adjusting to this new time in their lives. She is married, has two children, and loves spending time outdoors. Follow her on Facebook at Nesting Space Therapy LLC and on Instagram at Nesting_Space. Make sure to check out her book here.
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