Is your heart heavy? Like this heart of stone? Do you feel weighed down by holding such betrayal or unrequited love? Or is it frozen solid in fear? That one tug of your heartstrings will unravel everything you keep sacred? That if you get too close to love’s light you might melt through your boundaries and no longer be safe?
Does everyone around you seem happier? Put together? More successful?
Are you discouraged? Lonely? Overwhelmed? Pissed off?
It’s ok. You’re not alone.
The Pursuit Of Happiness Can Lead to Loneliness
What constitutes true happiness? The majority of us see wealth, education, and marital status as major contributing factors to our level of happiness. According to Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, & Schkade, 2005, author of Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change, this only accounts for 10% of actual happiness levels. There are many answers to what experiencing real happiness is and how to get there. Researchers have proposed that a large variation in human happiness can be explained by individual differences in cognitive processes, particularly those that relate to the perception of self and others (e.g., Lyubomirsky, 2001). One such cognitive factor that may affect everyday well-being is the perceptions of the norms of both the negative and positive emotional experience.
Negative emotions are typically kept private whereas most are quick to inform the world of the positives in their lives. All of the accomplishments, the career success, and the happy relationships are shared and left open to others perception. The issue with this is we can perceive our own emotion in every setting including negative and positive. Solitary and social. But, we can only perceive others emotion in a social setting creating a limitation and a bias on our perception.
Social Comparison & Dissatisfaction
Research has shown people “are lonelier and less satisfied with their own lives when they think other people’s emotional lives are cheerier than they actually are”. How might the belief others’ emotional lives are in better shape than they really are in reality affect someone’s own well-being? Are people really lonelier and less satisfied with their own lives when they think other people’s personal lives are going better than theirs? Let’s examine closer.
- Individuals regulate negative emotions 9 times more often than positive ones. Because of this we readily assume that everyone around us is happier than we are. This wrongful perception can lead to feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and depression.
- Many are reluctant to express genuine feelings in fear of embarrassment and rejection from peers. This makes people feel even more alone.
“Participants who thought that negative emotional experiences were rarer among their peers reported greater loneliness, more brooding over their personal problems, and less satisfaction with life, whereas participants who thought that positive emotional experiences were more common among their peers reported less satisfaction with life.”
Peer Prevalence Of Negative Emotion
Because social comparisons, can affect people’s well-being (Olson & Evans, 1999; Wheeler & Miyake, 1992), it is likely that perceptions of peers’ emotional lives impact the quality of people’s own emotional lives. From this perspective, the connection between perceiving a lower prevalence of negative experiences and greater loneliness becomes more interpretable. The UCLA Loneliness scale asks participants to indicate how often they “feel isolated from others.” Thinking that few other people go through negative emotional experiences may make people prone to feeling isolated and lonely in their own problems. With the knowledge that loneliness has been linked longitudinally to depression (e.g., Rich & Scovel, 1987; Treynor et al., 2003), the likelihood that if the students in the study were tracked for a long time, more of those who perceived a low peer-prevalence of negative emotional experiences may begin to show depression later on becomes a greater possibility. Much like loneliness, rumination over personal issues was related to perceiving a lower peer prevalence of negative experiences.
Express Instead of Suppress Negative Emotion
This research sheds light on why people enjoy tragedy in art or entertainment such as listening to sad or angry music or watching a fictional drama. Since we rarely observe our own dark emotions, concealing and suppressing at all cost, we take comfort in the pain of others. We are relieved in the devastating or heartbreaking story we see on the news because sometimes it’s our story too and sometimes we need to know that there are others suffering just as we are.
Not because we are evil or a disgrace, but because we are human.
Because we want to connect. Because we need human connection to know we are alive and not alone.
However, social networking can intensify common misperceptions of others’ private lives because of the complete control it allows users to have over the public image they project to the world through their photos, status updates, friendship networks, and so on.
Past studies indicate suppressed negative emotion is associated with less social support, more depressive symptoms, lower well-being, and less life satisfaction (e.g., Gross & John, 2003; Srivastava et al., 2009). Chronic suppression of emotions is not only harmful to an individuals well-being, but research suggests that suppression might also be harmful to peers in people’s social networks: “the more that participants showed preferential suppression of negative emotions, the greater their peers’ errors in overestimating the quality of their emotional lives, and such errors were associated with loneliness, rumination, and reduced life satisfaction .”
Happiness can only be discovered by discovering ourselves in our weakest moments, our most shameful moments, and our greatest.
We have to allow ourselves to feel the darkness that is part of being alive in order to reflect on the light that is within us all.
We have to nourish our souls through expression just like we have to nourish our bodies. Love yourself enough to reflect and share your genuine feelings to make connections that matter. #Loveismedicine
What do you do to feel less alone in your dark hours?
Razi Berry is the founder and publisher of the journal Naturopathic Doctor News & Review that has been in print since 2005 and the premier consumer-faced website of naturopathic medicine, NaturalPath.