It’s okay to feel good when things are bad

Has this happened to you? You’re at a funeral home and family and friends begin telling favorite stories about the deceased. The next thing you know, you’re laughing. And then you feel guilty, because people are in mourning.

The Coronavirus is generating a lot of sadness. The pain is real. So is it okay to feel good again? When? Is there a period of mourning we have to respect? And if we find a way to feel better when others are still suffering, is this tantamount to Schadenfreude — seeking joy in other’s suffering?

No. It means we are humans coping with a human situation.

Seeking happiness — even as temporary coping strategy — must be encouraged and even shared. Especially during bad times. In fact, it’s almost a civic duty.

That doesn’t mean we aren’t empathetic to people who are in a bad place. It just means we are wired to pursue happiness. It doesn’t have to be at someone else’s expense. On the contrary, our moments of joy or humor may help lighten someone else’s day.  (John Cleese is pretty brilliant when he talks about the importance of humor and the need to distinguish  between being “serious” and being “somber. ”)

Psychiatrists talk about working through the stages of grief and there is a similar process for people dealing with trauma. The thing is, even though the pandemic is a shared experience, it is more traumatic for some than for others. And we’re not all in the same  emotional stage of dealing with it. In fact, speaking personally, I sometimes experience a daily sine wave of emotions, ranging from depression to feeling blessed, depending on whether I’m listening to the news or playing with my dogs.

Perhaps the best we can do is just be authentic and deal with our emotions as they arise. Be empathetic, but be authentic. Don’t maintain a gloomy state – or be the Debbie Downer of social media – out of a false sense of shouldering the burden of sorrow. We all need to do what we can to cheer ourselves up and help each other move on to a better part of the healing cycle. And we all know that we can function more effectively when we feel good than when we are locked in the cycle of anxiety, sorrow and helplessness.

During the darkest days of the Blitz in WWII England, the most popular radio show was a comedy called  It’s That Man Again. It was actually credited with helping boost national morale.  Things that make us happy are especially therapeutic in anxious times. I hope you have a coping strategy that works for you — whether it’s old TV shows, videos of your grandchildren, or just watching the sunset. Seek moments that make you happy.

I have to go play with my dogs now.