empath m. scott peck life is difficult quote

This weekend, I was sitting on the floor in the corner of the Psychology section of Barnes & Noble reading a book when two women walked by and I overheard 6 words that made me want to leap up and be one of those rude people who intrude into other people’s conversations when it’s none of their business.

But I didn’t.

First, because my partner is traveling and I absolutely LOVE my rare, stolen moments of alone time. Going (alone) to a book store or library, surrounding myself (alone) with books, and getting completely lost (alone) in stories is one of my favorite things to do and I don’t make much time for it, so I didn’t want to engage in a conversation and take away from my alone me-time.

Did I mention, I love my alone time?

Second, I thought it best not to interfere since I didn’t have the entire context of the conversation, had only heard a small snippet of it, and, well, that alone thing again.

But here’s what I heard.

It was just one sentence, six words.

And I honestly believe these words, often taught in self-help and spiritual circles, can really damage a person.

One friend said to the other: “Life is supposed to be happy.”

What an awful thing to tell someone. 

Especially when they’re struggling and clearly NOT happy.

I wanted to jump up and say, “NO! LIFE IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HAPPY!”

Life is not supposed to be happy, easy, fun or perfect.

It can be any of those, but it’s not supposed to be any one thing, all the time, until you die.

Life is supposed to be exactly what it is, as it is, and how it is. 

In any given moment.

I remember when I was suicidally depressed in my early twenties, during what I call my dark decade of the soul. My biggest problem was not the depression, it was that I was beating myself up for the depression. I looked around and saw happy, smiling people and I thought, “why can’t I be like that? What’s wrong with me that I can’t be happy and smiley too?” 

It wasn’t until I grew out of my own emotional and mental self-flagellation that I realized that those happy, smiling people I saw were just like me on the inside. They weren’t happy, they just learned how to master the art of putting on a fake smile and looking happy on the outside.

As empaths, we know that external appearances often conceal inner sorrow, pain, and desperation.  We not only see underneath people’s social masks, we feel it. 

We inherently feel Henry David Thoreau’s quote in our being:

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.

Except for us, it’s not so quiet. We feel your desperation loud and clear. We have 20/20 emotional vision. 

Looking back, now I understand about being empathic and highly sensitive, and I know that a big part of my depression was that I was absorbing everyone’s underlying pain without knowing it. I carried the burden of my own pain and slapped everyone else’s pain on top of mine to the point where I couldn’t breathe and life felt like one difficult gasp of air after another. 

But I didn’t know this. 

And to further exacerbate the problem, my eyes saw one thing and my heart felt another. On the surface, I’d look around and see happy smiling people who seemed to have life all figured out, but in my heart, I deeply felt their unhappiness. 

This confused me and I blamed myself for feeling things that weren’t there.

I was a jumble of emotions that I couldn’t make sense of and had no idea what to do with. I thought I was the crazy one, when in fact, it was the world that was upside down. 

The upside down world taught me that life is supposed to be happy, just look on the bright side and turn that frown upside down. 

Because it wasn’t as easy for me to simply “don’t worry, be happy,” I thought there was something inherently wrong with me. 

When I started reading self-help and spiritual books, and especially when I learned about the Law of Attraction, the “life is supposed to be happy” theme was even more prevalent and further embedded itself into my being like a sinister evil lurking below the surface facading as great spiritual wisdom. 

I think this is one of the biggest and most harmful lies in the spiritual, self-help world. It does more self-hurt than help. 

If life is supposed to be happy but you’re not and your life is a big hot mess, what does that say about you? How does that make you feel? 

My bet is it doesn’t make you feel good, since you can’t seem to get life right. 

The belief that “life is supposed to be happy” mixed with the idea that what you focus on increases makes many of us avoid, deny and otherwise resist painful feelings when they arise.

Glennon Doyle, in her courageously raw book, Love Warrior, writes:

You are not supposed to be happy all the time. Life hurts and it’s hard. Not because you’re doing it wrong, but because it hurts for everybody. Don’t avoid the pain. You need it. It’s meant for you. Be still with it, let it come, let it go, let it leave you with the fuel you’ll burn to get your work done on this earth.

Because many of us resist our pain and push it away without fully facing it, it never really goes away. It remains inside us, throbbing beneath the surface waiting for a moment, any moment, to release itself and before you know it, you’re walking up to a comedian at the Academy Awards and slapping him on live television. 

We’ve all done this. Maybe not on a grand, public level as Will Smith at the Academy Awards and maybe not a physical slap. But we’ve all snapped angrily at our loved ones, gone off on another driver in traffic, or unkindly vented to a customer service rep on the phone, only to come out of it later feeling guilty, ashamed, and regretful, after we’ve fully regained our selves again.

When we can accept that life is supposed to be exactly what it is, as it is and how it is, and that we are supposed to feel exactly what we’re feeling in any given moment (not just happy all the time) then an odd thing happens…

Life becomes free. 

We become free. 

Because we’re no longer forcing a false perception of life where everything’s supposed to be happy, we free life up to be what it is and we free ourselves up to feel what we feel. We can then feel the pain, accept it and let it flow. And when pain flows, it goes. 

Like any emotion, let it flow, let it go. 

Emotions are simply energy in motion. If it doesn’t move through you because you’re pushing it down, denying, resisting, numbing or avoiding it, then it gets stuck in you. Like a beach ball held under water, it’s only a matter of time before it pops up because you can’t spend every second of your life holding it down. 

It’s exhausting.

No wonder many of us are chronically fatigued. We’ve spent our entire lives trying to hold down the pain, to keep things together, to be happy. 

We’ve been trying to force a square peg into a round hole but it just. Does not. Fit.

Life is not supposed to be happy. 

Life can be happy. 

You can be happy. 

But first you must accept everything that’s NOT happy. 

The liberating truth is it only takes seconds – SECONDS – for pain or any emotion to flow through.  We don’t have to hold on to it. We are bigger and stronger than ANY emotion we can feel. 

We can take it. 

We’re strong. 

We’re powerful. 

We’re a force of light. 

Life IS hard. 

But we’re harder. 

Our souls are impenetrable. 

We got this.