It’s spring. The soft air gently caresses my skin, the sun wakes me, and when I walk in the park I see tulips and daffodils and smell sweet honeysuckle blossoms. Could it get any better? And yet, at this moment, I am not happy.
It’s not just me. In fact, many people feel more miserable in spring than at any other time, because if you feel depressed, spring joyfulness makes you feel worse in comparison. You’re out of step with the times, so you may just make believe to yourself and everybody else that everything is okay.
One name for this experience is “cognitive dissonance,” defined as the discomfort you feel when you’re holding two opposite trains of thought simultaneously. In this case, “It’s spring! I should feel wonderful!” versus “It’s spring and I feel more like dirt than flowers, but who wants to feel like dirt? That means my heart isn’t a bouquet, it’s a wasteland. That just can’t be.”
Leon Festinger developed the concept of cognitive dissonance; he theorized that people like to maintain inner consistency, even in the face of contrary facts, which can lead to irrational behavior. So people smoke, even though they know they might develop cancer; others vote against their best interests because they believe empty political slogans. People buy things they don’t need because advertising tells them they’ll feel good, happy, and powerful as a result. So we tell ourselves we are not really addicted to cigarettes, or the politician is someone we might like to have a beer with, and we really can afford that new thing, we want it so much, and it’s really not so expensive at all, in fact, it will save money in the long run, and so we’ll just charge it now and pay for it next month—there’s a reason charge cards are sometimes called the “never never.”
So what can you do about that?
- Don’t deny your feelings—you’ll only feel worse. Plus the feelings will come out anyway, and you won’t be in control of them. And believe me, the consequences can be a lot worse.
- Examine your belief that buying something or other will make you feel good. That’s called retail therapy, a product of advertising—don’t fall for it.
- A quick fix, like a cigarette or new shoes or video game, will not help you feel better for very long.
- If you feel bad, what do you feel bad about? If something is bothering you, figure it out—you could do something about it if you knew what it was.
- Try smelling the real roses, not some manufactured false scent.
Let’s look at feelings:
- Are your feelings and thoughts at war? That’s another way to define cognitive dissonance.
- Can you figure out which is right, your head or your heart? Sometimes, if you sit still, or conversely take a good long walk or run, you will find clarity.
- Spend some time with good friends, and talk it out.
- Write in your journal or paint. You might learn something new about yourself.
- Feelings can transform, like the weather in Vermont. You know what they say, “If you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes; it will change.”
- I like to tell myself that I don’t let things bother me—but sometimes they do. I think that I should be able to handle everything, but clearly I can’t, and nobody else can either. It’s called being human.
How else do I deal with uncomfortable feelings?
- I recognize them and give them their due.
- I work on figuring them out.
- I meditate.
- I find ways to soothe my feelings: reading a good book, going to the movies, taking a restorative yoga class, walking near the river, planting tomatoes.
- I count my blessings.
- I remember that not even Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama is happy all the time—and I’m definitely not either of them.
What are some other ways that work for you?
If you like, write in with your suggestions—sharing ideas helps everybody!
What’s wrong with this woman?
Why am I blogging about misery and spring? Why don’t I have it all figured out? I’m a psychologist and a yoga teacher, so some may think my life should be one stream of continual bliss. Don’t I like spring? What’s up with that?
You know what? I love spring, flowers, trees, birds, soft air, but sometimes I feel sad anyway, or strung out; I know I’ll feel better eventually when I figure out what’s bothering me. I bear in mind also that feelings are temporary—soon I’ll be overcome by the sweet air.
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