Letting both sadness and joy co-exist in life

Kim McKinney

Photo by Kim McKinney

I have been known to laugh at funerals. That does not mean I don't mourn or miss those I love who die. I love my people and some of who they were has become a part of who I am. If they brought joy and laughter to my life, I keep that. Even if they didn't bring those good things, I choose them to be part of who I am. I want a life where all the emotions of life are allowed to flow simultaneously.

I didn't realize this was not everyone's reality. I grew up in a family that let emotions flow into each other. Even the stoics, the outwardly unemotional, didn't have issues with those who put their emotions on display. We'd cry, then smile, then get in a serious conversation about life, then tell old family stories that made us laugh until we cried.

For a long time, I didn't realize there were people who tried to compartmentalize their emotions. They believed opposing emotions could not co-exist. Funerals were sorrowful. Birthday parties were joyful. Never the twain should meet. In my eyes, this type of behavior limits our capacity to live life fully.

There is much sadness in the world today. There is the coronavirus. There is the inability for some to accept people with opposing views and reach compromise or give people a chance to evolve their thinking in their own time. There are families that are estranged for stupid reasons no one remembers. There are people working too many hours who never seem to find time to get off the roller coaster. They fail to connect with the people in their life they purport to love and don't even notice. There are economic disparities - the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and where did the middle class go?

Life will seldom be perfect. If we push pause during the sad times and allow only sadness to reign, we miss out on opportunities for life to be multi-faceted. We miss moments we can fully be living all of the dimensions of the emotions of life. Joy and hope can definitely co-exist with sadness, and it should.

If you find yourself unable to balance the complexity of multiple emotions, there are things you can do to add some emotional dimension to your life.

  • Actively look for the opposite emotion. If you are grieving the loss of someone in your life, for example, remember a time of joy you shared. Focus on that time. Find a way to commemorate that time, doing something new. Write a poem, take a picture that reminds you of your feelings about that time, find a way to help pass on those feelings to someone else.
  • Watch a child. In the same five minutes, they can tell you you are their best friend, and then they glare at you as though you are their greatest enemy. They can go from a screaming temper tantrum to an angel sucking on a lollipop. They can go from fighting sleep to restful and content slumber on their daddy's shoulder. This was the way most of us were created. What changed your ability to do that?
  • Pay attention to your health. So much of who we are is based on the physical. Are you eating good and healthy food? Are you keeping to a normal sleeping schedule and making sure your sleep environment is optimum? Are you exercising? Are you checking in with your primary care doctor at least annually, and more often if you are unable to keep these other things in check? Are you taking medication as it was prescribed?
  • Do something. Too often we marinate in our feelings without taking any sort of action. That often leads to a feeling of hopelessness that feeds depression and a negative cycle becomes the heart of our life. We start to act paralyzed. What is one problem that is on your mind? What is one thing you can do to make it better? It doesn't have to be something major. Just one small thing. Do it. Then make a list of ten other small things you can do. Work that list, adding to it as you have ideas. Don't feel you are in it alone. Ask others along to help. Change happens when even little things are done to improve it. When you see the results of these small changes, it changes you.
  • Find your spiritual side. There is a dimension of who we are where we gain our understanding of the universe. Or maybe we grasp that we will never understand the universe. What are the things in your life that get you to a place of acceptance and peace? Some people pray, some meditate, some get out and breathe in nature. Some need a church service, some need a hike, some need to watch a silly tv show. Some need all of the above. We all need to find a way to get to that place where we accept the power and hope of the universe, though. Sometimes it takes a personal journey to find those things that will bring us peace.
  • Spend time with the emotionally healthy. Emotionally healthy people aren't afraid of emotions but also don't steep in them endlessly. They feel and move along. They encourage you to do the same. Check your relationships. Do they encourage you to a place where you can authentically be at equilibrium? Do they understand the complexity of emotions, where you are allowed to feel sad, for example, but also can feel happiness?
  • Find someone to help you sort out your feelings. There is no shame in seeking the help of someone who is trained in the area of mental health to help guide you to a good place. Find someone who acts as your partner to help you come up with a plan to make your thought life less chaotic and recognized when you are in a good place emotionally.

We all have times in life where emotion can consume us. That is in itself not a bad thing. When this becomes our way of life, however, we need to find ways to break that cycle.

My goal is for my life to contain as much joy as I can possibly cram into it. Still, I will not run away from sorrow and any of the negative realities in the world. There are so many issues we must resolve - poverty, racism, addiction, climate change, illness, crumbling families, and people who exist in isolation, to name a few. I can care and help produce effective change in those things, and yet still celebrate the things in the world that are good and beautiful.

In the poem from The Prophet, "On Joy and Sorrow," Kahlil Gibran writes "The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain."

I will allow sorrow to carve my being, so I can add more joy. Living life fully requires we take on both, and any of the host of other emotions that are normal, natural ways to feel.

You may feel laughing at funerals is inappropriate. I hope a lot of laughter is going on at mine. As people remember me, I wouldn't want my death to be the thing they focus on. That was a part of me over which I had little control.

Instead, I hope they remember my life. I hope the good memories we shared make them smile. I hope they laugh until they have trouble getting a breath. I hope remember me living my purpose. I hope they feel every single emotion that makes life so complicated and wonderful. I hope they feel the part of me that stays with them. What a wonderful tribute that would be.

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I love stories of people and places and enjoy telling these stories. I live in my hometown of Statesville, NC, in the Charlotte area, and love to show how lovely life is here. More is going on than may meet the eye. I also enjoy expanding throughout North Carolina to show the places and activities and people that make me believe life is fascinating and travel as much as I can, so write about that, too. I also have a passion for justice and a special interest in accessible healthcare, including treatment for drug and alcohol dependency. I am a woman of faith, joy, laughter, adventure, and live life to the full. Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/kimmckinney719 or my blog KimberleyMcKinney.com or https://kimmckinney719.medium.com.

Statesville, NC

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