The guilt of being happy and the shame of feeling sad

At what point can we truly be honest with our emotions with our closest friends and family?

At what point can we truly be honest with our emotions with our closest friends and family? Photo: Stocksy

I have a confession to make: I'm happy.

Guiltily so.

Let me provide some context: I haven't always been happy. In fact, if you rewind back a year, I was standing at the proverbial crossroads of life: not quite knowing where I was going and why I was doing what I was doing – fulfilling the trope of the disillusioned twenty-something year old suffering from a quarter-life crisis.

I was dare-I-say-it: lost.


Fast-forward to the present day and I've since found my way, having experienced an interstate move, a short, enlightening stint of solo travel, marriage and the challenge of starting my own freelance business. I am living the life that I had envisaged for myself exactly one year ago when I lay on my couch, despondently staring at the ceiling, hoping that a pumpkin carriage would magically materialise and whisk me away from all of the angst and uncertainty.

It would be reasonable to assume that I would now be revelling in the joy that had eluded me for so long. Instead, I feel compelled to play down my newfound happiness. When asked how I've been, I shrug nonchalantly and mutter vague nothing-sentences along the lines of 'Oh you know, same-same.' In reality, I could prattle on for hours about what I've been doing and how life-changing the events of the last year have been for me.

It's a paradox because as soon as you notch one too many successes on your belt, you suddenly become more aware and self-conscious of your fortunate situation.

As reluctant as we are to admit it, we measure ourselves against the successes and achievements of those closest to us. There is an invisible power struggle that takes place on a daily basis, which affects the way we perceive ourselves and influences the decisions we make, resulting in a continuous game of one-upmanship. Subsequently, we are sceptical of, and perhaps even condescending towards, those who are doing well because we are placed in a scenario where we are forced to look inward and to assess our own situation.

In an ironic twist, though, during my melancholic period, I didn't feel like I could voice my feelings, because of the stigma attached to being sad. I couldn't face the shame of being seen as 'weak'; the shame of being deemed a 'failure'; and, most of all, the shame of being unhappy when there was no apparent cause for unhappiness.

Therein lies the conundrum: if you can't tell people when you're happy and you can't admit when you're sad, then at what point can we truly be honest with our emotions with our closest friends and family?

There is a continuum where the optimal goal is to remain perfectly centred. Teeter too far to one end and you may alienate people with your woe-is-me attitude, and hover too close to the other end and you're at prime risk of being a victim of the dreaded Tall Poppy Syndrome. It is a delicate balancing act to master, and put simply: it's more agreeable to be neutral.

But is this how we want to spend the rest of our lives?

We need to consider the two polarising forces at play here, which is, above all else, a reflection on the state of our society.

Traditionally, and particularly in Australia, we are not brought up to celebrate our achievements. We are taught to extol the virtues of humility and modesty, and to celebrate the underdog. There is a limit as to how high we can succeed.

Conversely, in this new age of social media, where individuals possess the power to curate their online personas, we are saturated with daily benchmarks in which to measure our own successes. When we feel as though our lives don't align with the flawless images being presented to us on the screen: we surrender, we retreat and we remain silent. We don't speak about our fears, or our doubts, and lord forbid we talk about our mental state because doing so would fracture this perfectly curated world of immaculate holiday snaps and degustation dinners.

It's troubling to think we operate within this superficial state, where nothing is really as it seems; where individuals aren't given a platform to succeed nor fail. It's akin to adhering to pack mentality in the most perilous of ways, in that you are pressured to suppress your feelings in order to remain in the middle of the continuum.

Ultimately, we have to be honest with how we feel and the emotions that we are experiencing – positive, negative, or neutral.

We need to remove the masks and finally have an honest conversation with those closest to us.

We need to stop being afraid of teetering to either side of the continuum.