These words are printed on a yellow card in a rather large stack of prompts devoted to the topic of happiness:
“When it’s possible, distance yourself from people who are chronically unhappy.”
The little yellow memos are designed as painless conversation starters. The thing is, my friends and I are inveterate talkers. We never lack things to discuss, so the cards remain unused.
This particular prompt stays visible on top of the stack in one of my bookcases, though, because it reinforces something I’ve been taught to do, although doing it always makes me feel guilty. I need the reminder.
Chronically unhappy people need for others to share their misery, so they instinctively try to eradicate happiness wherever they encounter it. Happiness makes them uncomfortable. To them, joy seems illicit, or at least unearned. If you’re a person who experiences much empathy, then when you’re around a chronically unhappy person, you’ll feel compelled to conceal your happiness. Suppressing a more upbeat nature is not fun, but you might experience temporary satisfaction if you believe you’ve been supportive or helpful—until you realize you haven’t been.
Eventually, if you don’t protect yourself, despair can be contagious. Distancing yourself affords protection, but it can seem an awful lot like accepting defeat. Remember, it’s OK to take care of yourself, too.
Eternal sunshine isn’t the objective. Being able to feel a full range of emotions, including joy, is the idea. Isn’t it a pretty one?