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  • Writer's pictureFelicity Neeson

Is it okay to be happy when others are suffering?

Many people are struggling at the moment. People are out of work, experiencing loneliness and fear for their health and safety. In the midst of this, others are getting engaged, being promoted, welcoming new babies into the world and enjoying time at home with their families. Is their happiness insensitive?

This topic was suggested to me by my good friend Rachel. While Australia was first coming to terms with Covid lockdown, Rachel gave birth to a beautiful baby girl in the Hospital Emergency carpark, surrounded by nurses in full PPE. The hospital staff were so excited to be around a healthy newborn. I imagine it was a joyful contrast to what they usually dealt with in Emergency.

Life is like that. Highs and lows all tangled up together.

Dealing with guilt

It is natural to feel guilty when you feel more fortunate than those around you. “Do I deserve this happiness?” “Will it last?” “When’s the other shoe going to drop?” Guilt is an insidious emotion that makes it difficult to be present. As I wrote in my previous blog, gratitude is a better emotion to lead with.

Growing up, I learned that not all families were like mine. At times I felt bad because my parents were happily married and all of my siblings got along, while many of my friends lived in unhappy homes or had divorced parents. I later realised that my house could be a place for my friends to embrace as a second home. Friends have told me they look to my parents as an example of a healthy, happy relationship. I love that I have always felt comfortable bringing along another friend or two to dinner, and that we often had international friends join us for Christmas and Easter when they were away from their families.

If you’re fortunate enough to have more than you need, share it.

From guilt to generosity

Being generous is like making tea. Once the teapot is empty, we can’t share any more tea until we boil the kettle. For some people, the effort of refilling the kettle to make another pot of tea is more than they can handle right now. Others have a big kettle and more tea than they can drink. Rather than feeling guilty or trying to hide their steaming teapot, they can share their tea, and refill the cups and kettles of others.

How to be sensitive to others who are suffering

If you have friends who are struggling, and your cup is full enough to support them, then one of the best things you can do is be present with them and hold space. Listen to them, and validate what they share. Don’t force them to “see the bright side” or overwhelm them with stories of how great your life is.

At the same time, it’s okay to be honest about the fact that things are going well for you. Making yourself feel worse will not make others feel better. It’s all about balance.

How to be happy for others when you are struggling

I saw a post recently from someone in Victoria who was imploring their Facebook friends in other states to stop sharing happy photos at the beach and holidaying because it was unfair to those in stage four lock-down. While we can encourage others to be mindful, ultimately the only person we can control is ourselves.

Spend time with people who fill your cup. Venting is important, but if your friendships start becoming defined by complaining rather than shared values then that can be an energy trap.

Ultimately, be patient with yourself. It makes sense if you aren’t feeling one hundred percent; we are in a global pandemic. It is irrelevant if others seem to be ‘coping’ better than you. We are all different, and pain is relative.

One good thing that has come out this pandemic, is an increase in the communal awareness of mental health challenges and the importance of self care. Hopefully this will also lead to a rise in empathy for those who have experienced loneliness, depression and isolation for a long time. If we can all be a little bit more understanding, a touch more patient and more willing to share our tea, then we can do our part to bring a little light amongst the dark.

Photo credits

Newborn photo by Hu Chen on Unsplash

Teapot photo by 童 彤 on Unsplash

Camping mugs photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

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