The happy meme. You know the one. That one all over your Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. The one with that perfect picture, the perfect people, the perfect words. The one that throws out a perfectly crafted quote, as if it were a key to unlock the secrets to happiness, fulfillment and love. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike these pretty, positive little nuggets. I even occasionally post some that I really love on my Instagram and Facebook pages (shameless plug IG- placervilletherapy, FB- Yasmine Binghalib, LMFT).
But there’s a problem with these beautiful little quips (this is where you’re probably thinking why on earth I would set out to ruin these for you). In small, little doses, they’re great reminders to stop and reflect on your behavior and thoughts. They’re pretty pictures to momentarily dream about. Maybe inspiration while you’re dealing with a particular struggle. But what happens when we become inundated with these lovely pieces of advice? Ah, well that’s when we step into the cult of the happy meme. You know, that place that tells you your relationship would be better if you just did this, or happier if you thought that. The place that reduces meaningful relationships and contentment into bite size pieces of thoughts or ideas.
Now you’re probably saying “come on, what’s wrong with some positivity in such a negative world?” And to that I say-positivity is great! Shoot, my entire career rests on helping people essentially lead happier lives. I WANT you to enjoy your life! But, here’s what disturbs me about the cult of the happy meme. It’s not always the case that all you need to do is “stop and smell the roses” or “be grateful” and nirvana will fall into your lap. In fact, it’s most often NOT the case. These positive post it notes simplify our messy, complicated and extraordinary lives to one sentence. It doesn’t reflect the hard work that it takes to make an action or thought become a habit. It doesn’t encompass the reality of clinical depression or anxiety. It fails to portray the real life carnage that is the death of a loved one or extreme trauma, that makes getting out of bed a victory. It is selling you happiness packaged gorgeously and topped with an exquisite bow.
And then you open that package. And instead of happiness, you feel shame. Failure. Dammit, why can’t I just get my shit together so I too, can be that person happily strolling along that beach or taking in that mountaintop? Maybe I’m not trying hard enough right? Because this works for everyone else. What’s wrong with me?
Do you see where I’m going with this? Happiness isn’t a list of “to-dos”. It isn’t that gorgeous couple kissing in the rain in just the *right* spot for that IG picture. It isn’t sitting with a perfectly toned body on a mountaintop, while you serenely meditate in Lotus pose. It’s a messy amalgam unique to each individual person, trying to get through life and the crap hurled their way. It’s tirelessly working on things that that are important to YOU. It’s knowing that happiness may not be achieved without the support of things like medication if YOUR unique body chemistry demands it. Life is made up of ecstatic and tragic moments and constantly reducing it to a picture with a great phrase doesn’t do it justice.
So, don’t delete all those pretty pictures. Don’t stop looking at them if they bring you joy. But remember that they only give you a minuscule piece of the puzzle. You are not a failure because even after that perfect walk in the woods you still feel nagging anxiety or sadness. This all takes work, and at the end of the day YOU are the expert on what you need.